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THE OBOE BAROQUE
A travelogue can take many faces; the following is a fictional travelogue from my unpublished novel, Victory Faust. Victory Faust is an historical novel about a mentally handicapped thirty-one year old Kansan who, in 1911, was told by a fortuneteller that he would go east and join the New York Giants to help them win the National League pennant, and he did...
The scene finds Charley Faust and his friend Alby Trunk pausing from their train-jumping journey from St. Louis to New York. The hobo camp they visit will provide a lasting memory for the two damaged souls.
We walked into that camp. So many things we seen and heard crawling across America in our train I should mention, but none was to impress upon my memory as Mr. Oboe and his friends. Mr. Oboe's name wasn't Mr. Oboe, I don't think. It's just the name they called him that night because of what he was so busy saying. Mr. Oboe was a black Negro of small stature possessing very poor clothing and an immensely rich, deep voice that boomed out across the hills and shadows of this probably-Pennsylvania hollow. He was the leader of no one but himself, crazy-faced and he'd shut his eyes tight and grimace and jab his fingers when the point he was making seemed important, and he talked in what I guess would best be described as a monologue, but a monologue without grammar, syntax, punctuation or pause.
"Just yest we done gone this land across and spent wid others here dwelling is me and you so we're all interested and observing the resounding oboe baroque," he ranted to us all, sitting around a campfire with the tents circling, darkness now after we approached with soft words and the hobos welcome. They didn't have much in the line of food but they had hot water and boiled dandelions, which they offered and we accepted. We all shared coffee in tin cups, but without no cream or sugar.
Several people, Mr. Oboe and some Spanish Negroes, five or six white bums and a couple of families, maybe six tents and thirty people down away from the tracks in the darkened forest, alive now with the moans and rasps of evening bugs and Mr. Oboe's beloved frogs. Because that's what he referred to in his monologue, the belching horde of frogs which opened their nightly performance with multiple concurrent strings of bellowed croaks, until Mr. Oboe stands up, waves across this barrage of sound and introduces his oboe baroque.
"It's the oboe baroque," he declared, the emphasis on the last words, waved away behind him, eyes shut envisioning whatever sights and sounds truly occupied his mind. "Listen people to the oboe baroque it's here forever here across the horizon and nobody but I mean nobody know it as do them tantalized voices of the assembled ensemble oboe baroque..." and he waved again across the blackness hanging everywhere outside our small popping circle of light.
Charley and I enjoyed the performance and didn't say nothing, as being strangers allows distance and silence unlicensed in normal, familiar settings. I enjoyed this protection, Charley enjoyed Mr. Oboe's show, framed as it was with three hundred frog voices joined in applause for his every shut-eyed contortion. Not all his audience applauded, however, though I don't think there was any true malice or disgust, but more pretended anger raves from harmless, lonely men who wished themselves tough.
"Oh sit down, Mr. Oboe," one grunted, sipping the passed coffee. "Yes, sit down, Mr. Oboe," said another.
"I'd rather drag a board than listen to this," the first states, but another individual supports, perhaps sarcastically, "It's better than a dry, hacking cough."
Nothing anyone says disturbs the concentrated images racing in Mr. Oboe's head. He stands before us, shaking his finger one moment and jerking to silence the next, his eyes now wide open and staring above us at something we don't see, because Charley and me both turn around to see what he's looking at, but it quickly becomes apparent what Mr. Oboe is seeing only Mr. Oboe is seeing.
"What is it he's looking at Alby I don't see nothing at all!" Charley whispers, and I hold up my hand to shush him.
"There!" Mr. Oboe shouts, jabbing his finger toward the tops of the trees, "There!" now pointing at Charley, "There!" he shouts twisting in the air and landing backwards and pointing, crouched, into the ground. We're jerking our heads back and forth, trying to see what's there, as Mr. Oboe turns slowly back to us, monologueing words together in his odd nonsensical way while somehow suggesting sense: "Walked up transforming all suggested repairs of the soul come with me people all people and see the cries and wails of the healthy and the silented nodding approvals of the sick, and wondering oh wondering why it all ends on this night of the oboe baroque..."
And so I'll never forget the sight of him hanging in that tree by his own belt, his left shoe off and his right shoe on, his toes just inches from the ground. I helped pull him down. People scurried in packing, eager to leave behind that camp as the morning mist rose silently up from the river, devoid now of his precious oboe baroque.
It was the white men who stood over him by the river discussing appropriate death procedures, and with a ghastly picture they bent down and picked him up by his shoeless leg and his arms and they tossed him into the river. One of them turned and caught my eye, which must have relayed my astoundment at their atrocity. The bum smiled and said, "No matter." He walked two steps and saw my eyes hadn't relaxed, and he paused, turned back to me and added, "It's why catfish is all black."