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Now's the Time: Part 2-5

Sean Murphy By

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Introduction

The life and times of a minor jazz legend are recounted through his narrated memories. In this fictional treatment of jazz music in the mid-to-late 20th century, issues of race, creativity, addiction and, ultimately, redemption, are explored. With a title taken from the immortal Charlie Parker tune, "Now's The Time" is an extended meditation on the artistic life.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

He hears a voice and looks up to see a woman standing over him, frowning. He heard her clearly but her tone indicated that she did not think he was able to understand what she said.

He opens his mouth and discovers that he cannot speak. This alarms him and he thrashes around on the bed, attempting to lift himself. He panics, gasping for air and trying to look up at the nurse, but she had disappeared.

Then he is no longer there.

He is young again, a boy. South Philly. In the winters that wind followed you, sapping your strength quickly and efficiently. Especially at night. That dark chill came and stayed, obscuring, even overwhelming the day's light. Those winter days were just a dull, gray cloud hanging over the city, clinging to the buildings like a leech.

There were a few things he could remember as having been consistent in his childhood. Things that memories—and the time and tempest which tempered them—did nothing to alter. Among those things were the ceaseless, cold cruelty of those interminable winters; the grinding poverty his family endured; the indignity of wanting: a stain that no thoughts or prayers or deeds were able to effectively blotch out, or overcome. More than anything else, when he thought of his youth, he thought of his father, who had not lived long enough to see him become a man. Therefore, it was his Pops with whom he most closely associated those days—his days as a sullen, often scared little boy.

His Pops: a man, an American, who, despite the prevailing prejudices and mores of the time (which, time has consistently indicated, are not unique to a country, or period; but rather, seem to be the requisite footprints left in the muddy walkways of history: a cumulative lethargy inseparable from any era which enables acts of concentrated—as well as casual—hatred to immolate the innocence that precedes the fears and ignorance which predicate culture) was able to make a living in the factory, the lifeblood of the big city. Factory work: there was a common ground and equality that existed which would have been unimaginable elsewhere. Names, faces and ethnicities: they tended to be alike in that none of them were immune from fear. The fear of God, the fear that they might lose their jobs, or be replaced. And the fear of the factory closing down, a fear that eventually unfurled as reality.

He was a difficult man, a hard man. This is rarely by design—it is not a choice one makes, but rather, the result of circumstances that define the way one comes to regard, and approach, their life. In his father's case, the inextinguishable specter of poverty obliged the development of an impenetrable outer core in order to deflect the obstacles. The relentless doubts: would there be work, a job? Without a job, there was no money, and without money, of course, no security. And for the man with a family, security encompasses the basic requirements such as food, shelter and sustenance. It is, above all, a source of identity. The source. A man that can't attain, or provide, security is a man with nothing to hang his hat on. For a man, there are no excuses, no laments or regrets. What it all came down to was that a man was regarded (by others, by himself) by the ways in which he produced, and provided security. This is the impetus that informs a propensity for silence. It's the solitary burden a man feels rendering him incapable, or unwilling, to share what he considers best left as an unspoken anxiety. For, unlike matters of the heart, or soul, the issue of security (and the man's ability to cultivate it) is something that either bolsters, or erodes a man's sense of self. If he's doing his job, then there's no need to discuss it; if he isn't doing it—or doesn't have one at all—it ought to remain undisclosed, for everyone's sake.

And yet, even more so than a stoic wife, a child is apt to overlook the incongruity. An inconsistent father can still be a reliable provider, even if the cost of this fortitude is his relations with his family. The lines between fear and love and respect get increasingly blurred the longer the consistent security is corroded by a predictable turbulence. And this is merely one of the many ways in which a good man can be perceived, justifiably, as an insufficient father.

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