New York Sympathy Orchestra

New York Sympathy Orchestra – by Kathleen Brandt

Mrs. Emilia Jameson gathered up her long taffeta skirts awkwardly to step across the gutter, running with foulness, into the bright orange taxicab. She settled herself and the big square box, tied with string, in the back seat.

“Where to, ma’am?” The voice had no trace of Pakistani or Brooklyn, being instead a well-modulated east coast voice, coming from a rather lovely young blond man of about twenty-six. From her advanced age of fifty-mumble-something, he looked like a child too young to drive. But his hands on the wheel were big, rough and competent. The nametag on his dashboard read “Jack Leonard.”

“Lincoln Center, please,” she said, tucking in the last fold of her extravagant skirts and closing the door. “Avery Fisher Hall.”

“They’re demolishing practically the whole Upper West Side,” he said as he put it in gear. “The whole north Center is closed off. But I’ll get you there, Ma’am.” He eyed her in the rear view mirror, displaying a cabbie’s perfect assurance that traffic was an incidental hazard, not to worry about too much. “Are you going to the Philharmonic Opening Night Gala?”

“Why, yes!” Emilia suffered a sudden attack of worry and fished her tickets out of her matching taffeta clutch. They were both there, thank Heaven. “I go every year, but this time, I finally got my husband to join me! He has to meet me there—-he’s a lawyer—-but I’m going to surprise him with a new tuxedo.” She ran her hand fondly over the top of the box. It was a very good tuxedo.

Jack stopped at a light. “I’d kill to go to one of those. I’m a bassoonist myself.”

“Oh, do you play?” She looked at him again. No, he hadn’t magically turned into a man of quality. Still a scruffy young blond with a hook nose, blue eyes and big hands, driving a taxi. “How…” She trailed off, not wanting to embarrass him.

“I’ve got my masters degree in composition,” he said quietly, to the wheel. “I played for the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra for three years. Then I thought I’d take a chance, go to New York, get into the Phil or NASO at worst. Turns out I just wasn’t good enough.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Emilia said.

“I had to take a job. This one. I should have stayed, really.” He swung in front of a sausage truck and stomped on the brake to meet the next traffic light, ignoring the furious horn blast behind them. Emilia braced herself on the front seat.

“You’re going to see Gustavo Dudamel conduct?”

“However did you know?” How nice, she thought, to have lucked into someone who knows what they’re talking about. The taxi driver on my way there. I’m truly blessed today.

He shot a look over his shoulder and revved the engine restlessly at the red light. “I read all the news about it. I wish I could see it. He’s so joyful, so dynamic. Exuberant, soaring… ah, if only I could see them play for him. The music, it’s like flying. Nothing else in the world comes close.”

The Lincoln Center, indeed bounded by construction and half-dark buildings, loomed ahead. Jack’s earnest blue eyes stared ahead, visible in the rear view mirror. “I won’t be a cab driver forever,” he said. They passed a great dark cavern of an empty parking garage, orange cones lining the road. “Someday I’ll be able to afford to go to the Philharmonic and see them play. Then the inspiration will hit and I’ll start practicing again… maybe take on some lessons… I’ll get motivated. But I never get to go. You have to get in line at 4:30 a.m. for the free dress rehearsals, even. I have to be at work at six every day. And I can’t afford tickets on what I make in this car. The music… the music has gone out of my life.”

“Oh, dear,” Emilia said. In the mirror, his sorrowful blue eyes met her sympathetic ones. She looked down at the tickets in her hand.

Jack wiped tears out of his eyes hastily, in the dark. The tall cream walls, lined with riser after riser of angled seats, were unlit while the orchestra played. In his tuxedo, a very good tuxedo although it didn’t fit him very well, he blended in all right among the toffs here. He had slicked back his hair and put it in a ponytail, like any young artist, and washed his hands. He thought with fond gratitude of the wonderful old lady who had afforded hi m this opportunity.

The music lifted, joyous, powerful, surrounding him with its light, like the ocean of brilliance the Philharmonic itself played in, on the grand stage. He surged to his feet as it came to a triumphant conclusion, and the audience burst into overwhelming applause. The conductor, his long curls bouncing vibrantly, bowed to them all as the orchestra rose. Jack picked out the lead bassoonist, smiling faintly along with the others, in acceptance of their just accolade.

The police took three days to track down the location and cab records of Mrs. Emilia Jameson. Jack was brought down in the middle of 65th Street by screaming sirens, guns pointed at him, and stern voices. A lucky reporter caught a photo of him as he was splayed against the orange side of his cab, and the picture went national. It wasn’t that the case was unusual. It was the look of serenity and grace on the ordinary young blond man’s face as his life as a free man ended in a welter of flashing light. “I Have No Regrets,” Says Killer.

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