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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Noncommittal. By John von Daler

                  These Danes sure do listen a lot to Bob Dylan, I thought. I could hear the plaintive whine through several closed windows and across a courtyard in my little cubby hole on the second floor of a mansion in one of the rich suburbs of Copenhagen. I paid for a room and access to two burners in the hallway where my next-door neighbor and I were allowed to cook food that did not emit odors. In practice this meant that I ate a lot of stuff that you boil in plastic bags.

                The people across the way in the chauffeur's quarters on top of the garage paid rent and did a certain amount of work for their landlord. But he was dissatisfied with their work. The young man did not have time to mow the lawn because he was writing a novel about distant mythical countries while he was listening to Bob Dylan.
                I watched out the window as the budding author and his girl friend quietly closed their door and shuffled quickly along the driveway towards town. I guess the landlord was watching too, because as they passed his front door he hurried out in his suit and tie and confronted the young couple in their hippy plumage, a penguin hopping around two peacocks.
                I closed my curtain and went back to my reading. Soon there was a knock on the door. It was our landlord. He was red in the face.
                "I know you are getting married and need somewhere to live, right?"
                "Ja," I said in my best Danish.
                "Well, I just kicked out the writer and his wife. You can take over the chauffer's quarters if you'll do some weekly work like mowing the lawn and driving us to and from parties - plus paying a monthly rent. I'll get back to you on the exact price. Are you interested?"
                I did not know Danish customs very well, and perhaps I was thinking, Maybe you should give the writer another chance, but I heard myself say, "Yes, I'm interested."

                A year later I was at work at my new job in a bookshop. I sold books in the foreign language department. This was a well-stocked bookstore, perhaps the last of its kind in Denmark. We had dictionaries, study books, literature in any number of exotic languages. Some of the dictionaries had been there for years.
                Today the writer who had previously lived in my apartment walked in. I saw him engage my boss in an earnest conversation. Moving closer I heard him say, "But it's been lying there for years. And I now I really want to learn some vocabulary before I leave on my trip. Couldn't you give me some kind of deal with monthly payments?" The boss, a woman in her fifties, a real fox at bookselling, looked him over. I knew she wanted to get rid of that dusty old dictionary.
                "Can you get someone to co-sign a contract? Someone who will guarantee that you can pay the monthly fee?"
                The young writer ran his hand through his rich mane of hair. His right, sandaled foot was tapping uncontrollably.
                "I don't know anybody. I'm not on speaking terms with my family. I just broke up with my girlfriend. Couldn't you just trust me?"
                The boss looked, well, like a closed book. Then I heard myself say, "I'll co-sign the contract!"
                The two of them reacted quite strangely. My boss looked shocked and tried to wink me off. The young writer looked as if my words were the most natural thing in the world, as if this kind of thing happened to him every day.
                "I mean it!"
                My boss wrote up the contract, I signed it, and the writer walked out of the store with his dictionary of TransArbalinguian or whatever it was. He must have paid regularly, because I never heard about it again.

                Still more years later I had become a fairly well-known violinist and the young writer had become established as a great teller of exotic tales. We were both going to perform at a beautiful museum of art in the suburbs of Copenhagen, he to read from his books, me to play with a famous singer.
                We had adjacent dressing rooms backstage and I decided to go in to him and tell the story of how our paths had crossed.
                I knocked on his door and encountered for the first time in decades this great writer who now had the short hair of the times together with a more staid version of the colorful dressing habits of his hippie years.
                He hardly looked at me as I told the story. He was looking at himself in the lighted mirror, straightening his tie and dusting off his expensive but casual jacket.
                " I signed the papers really without knowing you and you must have paid the monthly fee because I never heard about it again." He did not answer.
                I stopped at this clearing in our onesided conversation.
                "Maybe I learned something that day about trusting my fellow man...hmmm...thanks," I heard myself say.
                "Well," said the great writer, "I guess that's that then."                 
                As I left his dressing room I thought to myself, No, damn it, I did not learn to trust my fellow man. What an idiotic thing to say!
                These many years later I still wonder what kind of a person speaks without first knowing what he is going to say. A person like me, I guess. Maybe I trust my intuition more than my intellect.
                 And as for the writer? I've taken a kind of revenge for his silence: I never buy his books.

My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces at the top of the blog. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!


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