Tony Orlando Breakdown
In big cities, breakdowns are common. You see them everywhere – from cars to escalators, from computer systems to nervous systems. Sometimes though, there is something other-worldly in the air. You sense that there are sprites hiding nearby, that anything could happen. Like the time I happened to be riding the SkyTrain downtown after school.
I first sensed a change in the atmosphere when things grew quiet in the seats around me and a voice rose above the distant chatter in hearty invitational repartee. “Come on in,” it welcomed “find a seat. Oakridge station…welcome aboard!” I looked up and there between the sets of doors, hand loosely gripping the central pole, stood a well dressed businessman. He was average height, around fifty-something years old, carrying a bit of extra weight around the middle and keeping up a friendly conversational stream with the passengers. “Come on in and join us,” he spoke a bit louder as new passengers entered the coach, “ there’s lots of room.”
People looked amused and slightly wary. Somehow, the man’s mein host demeanour was not entirely reassuring. When the doors closed and train started toward the next station, they kept their eyes on him just in case he got too friendly.
He didn’t stand still or pay particular attention to any of the new arrivals but seemed lost in his own world, stepping around the pole, looking up at the advertisement above the door, then down to the floor, swinging his briefcase a little. “Lots of places to be. Room for everyone …” he continued to speak out loud. And then, he broke into song. “Oh, tie a yellow ribbon ’round the old oak tree,” he warbled in a kind of tuneful rendition of Tony Orlando’s big hit, “yes…tie a yellow ribbon.” Okay, so he wasn’ t going to sing the exact song but he made at least me feel that this song was second nature to him. We approached the next stop and I hoped that he wasn’t looking for oak trees as we were far underground but he only returned to entry host duty.
“Come on in, find a seat. Plenty of room for one and all.” More looks and smirks from battle weary commuters, some of them already texting the unfolding scene to friends needing a laugh. “Go one stop, two stops, all the way downtown…. Oh, tie a yellow ribbon..” he began again, oblivious to the entertainment he was providing. He didn’t look like he had just spent three years in prison – was he really seeking signs that he was still loved after long separation?
Vancouver has its share of crazies, like the one inhabiting the body of a dear, little granny who had marched down the sidewalk across the street from the bus stop on Georgia and shouted obscenities to us in the well ordered queue, but this guy wasn’t a common type. He looked like he had just finished consulting with a new client and was on his way back to HQ to share the good news. Something must have happened on the way, I imagined. Maybe he had just received a call not to bother coming back because his desk was cleared out already, or maybe he had just seen his wife of twenty-five years kissing a young Goth or perhaps this was just the day he couldn’t cope anymore, took something chemical to blunt the pain and turned into this music man of the SkyTrain. I was transfixed.
Is there any warning, I wondered, when things are about to get a bit surreal for you? Are any of us more than one bad vibe away from a behavioural faux-pas of the grand order? I thought of how I had had to control myself when issued the first “D” I had ever received in my life, on the three minute quiz given us by a visiting professor in my Greek classics class. Every sensory node in my brain had flashed into code red and “abort current calm” mode. With unbelievable speed, I had already come up with a couple of ways of hiding his body and covering my tracks. It took an enormous amount of self control to turn my attention to taking notes on the lesson the class had already moved well into. What would it take for me to go too far? I didn’t want to guess and so I forced myself to mentally whistle a happy tune. “Tie a yellow ribbon ’round ….” At least I thought it was in my head.