The Genie in the Bottle
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The Genie in the Bottle<br> By Marc Porter Zasada<p> HERE IN THE METROPOLIS, we all try to preserve our little spark of madness. We all like to think, "Even now, I might do or say anything. Even now, despite 8am conference calls and afternoons at the orthodontist, I might run naked through the next summer rain, take up the slide guitar, or shout something rude in the streets." <p> Often, it-s the possibility of madness which keeps us sane: so we search it out in our late night music and our roaring movies. We encourage it in our painted celebrities, and pay them to act crazy on our behalf. <p> All the same, we learn to keep our own personal genies safely inside their little bottles -- even though for some, it-s not that easy. <p> The other day, I saw my old friend Mara. She-s now in her fifties, and thanks to modern medicine, she has it pretty much together. Mara was visiting from back east with a fine husband and an apparently well-adjusted daughter. <p> I served them a cheerful lunch in my pleasant backyard, and the conversation turned to orthodontists. But at some point, I stopped listening and recalled Mara-s once-magnificent madness. <p> In my mind, it was again midnight, 25 years ago, and I was driving with Mara down a city boulevard. She-d recently checked out of the hospital and here she was chain smoking, drinking countless cups of coffee, and speaking a kind of wild music. Mara had several unused degrees from major universities, and she-d go on a rap that brilliantly tied the latest research on dolphins with Jean-Paul Sartre and J.S. Bach. Words came in cloudbursts, filling the car with eloquent lights and shadows. <p> It was my job to listen in awe. <p> But at last the tank ran empty, and I pulled into a gas station. I remember the harsh light and the tall, lanky attendant who came out to warn Mara not to smoke while I pumped. She got out, lit a second cigarette for him, and launched into a blue streak -maybe H.R. Haldeman, Bobby Fischer, and UFOs. I-ll never forget the fascinated blue eyes of that boy as he listened to this midnight symphony and boldly sucked on a Marlboro. <p> That wonderful madness, promised to everyone in the big city, had come his way at last. <p> When I honked the horn, Mara told me she wasn-t leaving. She wasn-t done explaining something to the attendant - but fortunately he worked the graveyard shift, and they had all night. <p> I was still young and foolish enough to let her stay - promising only to pick her up next morning. I remember pulling away and seeing them in the island of flourescent light, Mara waving her cigarette at the sky. <p> In the end, nothing blew up. <p> Rap music was just being born in those days, and with the right agent, Mara might have hit it big. After all, we love the rapper because he gives in to his genie on our behalf. Unlike us, he really might say or do anything, might sacrifice everything for one eloquent moment on a street corner. <p> Now I find that Mara has successfully got on with normal life. At lunch in my backyard, she keeps her splendid genie locked away. And when she leaves I give her a big hug, and tell her daughter she has an impressive mom. <p> Still, I can-t help feeling like something has been lost. <p> Surely, the Urban Man is now a partisan of sanity. Surely, I believe in normal life. But later that night, driving up a dark stretch of Sepulveda, I can-t help glancing into brightly-lit gas stations. I can-t help looking for a lanky, but now middle-aged attendant, strolling away from the pumps to sneak a lonely and irrational cigarette. <p> Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada<br>
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