A Father–Son Odyssey
by Jim Gold
CHAPTER 1: WHAT MAKES A LUNA TICK?
Martha was preparing coffee and baked doughnuts of the Austrian variety for the violinist Dr. Zoltan Zany. the legendary concert artist sat in his living room armchair facing the window. outside, in the garden, sparrows chirped a morning fugue, and a bee hovered above a red rose, buzzing in
Martha stood before the kitchen stove. “hot and fresh,” she called. “Doctor, are you ready?”
A sonorous grunt of afﬁrmation sounded from the living room. Martha carried her serving tray across the turkish rug, placed it next to the master, and rearranged the Viennese delicacies. she poured coffee into the doctor’s favorite herendware cup, purchased six years before in hungary after his performance of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol with the Budapest philharmonic.
Zany sniffed the aroma, dipped his pinky in the dark Columbian brew, stirred thoroughly, lifted the cup to his lips, closed his eyes, and sipped slowly.
“Aah,” he sighed, “those Columbians know what they’re doing. Delicious! Koszonom szepen, danke shoen, and aufwiedersehen. Martha, when your culinary creations ﬁll my stomach, my heart beats faster, my brain improves, my ﬁngers ﬁll with blood, then ﬂy in a ‘Moto Perpetuo’ of Paganini madness. caffeine, my friend, you are my Paganini ‘Caprice.’ Niccolo, how I remember our good times together. Were you really possessed by the devil?”
Zany bit into a doughnut ﬂank. Munching vigorously, his white, bushy handlebar mustache trembled. as the sugar entered his veins, visions of yodeling Tyrolean cows and alpine trumpets ﬁlled his imagination. he drifted from Switzerland to the Eurasian steppes and rode his horse through the high grass on the Hungarian Hortobagy plain in his ancestral homeland. Another doughnut, and he lay, languid, lazy, and stuffed, on a Lake Balaton beach, gazing at a blue magyar sky.
“Mein Doktor, look outside,” Martha cried. “clouds have ﬂed. the sun is shining. plant nutrients sing in happy comfort. It’s a new day!”
Dr. Zany leaned back his armchair. He picked up the New York Times lying on the ﬂoor to his right, turned to the weather section, closed his eyes, and fell asleep again.
He’d been sitting in that arm chair almost a year.
Martha nudged him. He blinked. Consciousness returned. He opened his eyes, pushed himself forward in his seat, and said with resignation, “My favorite and only servant, sunbeams cannot dispel my confusion. Is today tomorrow? Is it the day before yesterday? Or the morning after the night before yesterday? I consulted my ankle. It didn’t know.”
Martha stepped away, picked up a napkin from Zany’s tray, and began dusting the furniture. the doctor’s voice followed her from living room to kitchen and back. “Tell me about your mother again,” she called out.
Zany curled the white ends of his mustache. “Should I blame Mama Zany for my present state?” he asked. “Her goulash helped promote my concert career. But now, after months of sitting at home, my retreat has descended into existential nothingness. Mama said such visits from the weltanschauung powers of misery would occur. Yet the blues and greens hit me all at once. Retirement may not be my way. True, I luxuriate in this armchair, but nevertheless, with such a sedentary existence and spirit sinking so close to lower hades, will it ever rise again? The great Paganini himself claimed, before writing his D major Violin Concerto, that depression precedes creation. Yet sadly, although I’ve been near bottom during these past months, I’ve created nothing.”
Hoping to stimulate his tired brain, Zany shook his head vigorously. A few stale ideas fell out.
Somewhat cleansed, he felt better. Turning to the wall, he said to one board in particular, “I can ﬁnd no reason to rise!
“Ah, but what a career I had! Concertizing in 113 countries and on six continents. or was it seven? Even Antarctica! My agent, Sammy Blickenstein, was too cheap to hire an orchestra on that freezing day, so I played the Brahms violin concerto on an ice ﬂoe with no accompaniment. After a short intermission,
I followed it with the Bach “Chaconne.” Penguins loved it. Ice ﬂoes clapped, and moonbeams seemed to coo, creating a lunar symphony I’d never before heard. ‘Well,’ I said, as my boat left for Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, ‘The hell with Sammy! Those arctic birds were polite. they paid full price, too.’”
Zany cleared his throat. he shifted in his armchair, coughed into his napkin, and took another sip of coffee. “My travels frightened Mama Magyar. She never approved of them. Growing up in the Hungarian-Serbian town of Szentendre, she lived in the artistic shadow of the potter Margaret Mezokoszonem-Nagyonszeppen Kovacs. This created early childhood traumas that haunted her after the transmigration of her soul and immigration of her lithe body to the Bronx. There she suffered from agro-
phobia, claustrophobia, phlebitis of the gastrointestinal porceloid track, and utcaphobia—a fear of Hungarian streets. No doctor could cure or even ﬁnd her diseases. Nevertheless, she blamed
all her ailments on my travels.” Zany sighed, spat a whomp of phlegm across the room in disgust, and gnashed his teeth; his long white hair ﬂuttered. “Am I lost now in my retirement chair because of her? Or has the guilt over forgetting my father’s corpse at the funeral parlor not been assuaged?”
Zany’s face reddened as memories returned; emerging rage seared his forehead. Those had not been happy years.
“Martha, does Zoltan mean ‘sultan’? Mother named me that, but I don’t know why. Was her brain soft?”
Martha began dusting his head sympathetically. “Do not worry,” she counseled. “The road ahead is full of light. Unknown post-armchair glory awaits you.”
Zany raised his powerful right bowing arm, opened his right hand, and looked straight into his palm. Suddenly, he slapped his right cheek. “How ungrateful of me!” he shouted. “Vilify my sacred mother! her shamanistic aura filled my childhood days with wonder. Her compassionate warning, ‘Never bring children up like a truck,’ still resonates in my mind. She worshiped perfection. She strove to perfect her little Zoltan by forcing me to practice violin six hours a day. At night I slept with my violin. I caressed the G and D strings as I dozed off, and even learned a Mozart sonata in my sleep. However, such childhood intensity habits have long-term effects. as you see, in my present armchair mode, I am physically immobile and mentally stagnant. Could there be hidden meaning in this paralysis, a cosmic sign? I yearn for epistemological certitude.”
Rays of sunlight slipped through the Venetian blinds and fell in diagonal patterns across the Turkish carpet. Martha fumbled with the wall plug and pushed the straws of her broom into the electric socket, cleaning its interior. “Meaning is important. Direction is vital.” Emphasizing her point, she straightened up, raised her broom in the medieval order of Teutonic Knights of Jerusalem diagonal spear position, and, in martial tone, trumpeted, “Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Hi-
erosolymitanorum!” Bending towards Zany’s right ear, she whispered three Questions: “Doktor, why were you born? Why are you here? What is your purpose?”
Zany shook his head. “Martha, I’m disappointed. You have worked for me ten years, and you still don’t know why?” He waved his hand, conducting his thoughts in three-quarter time. “My goal has always been self-elevation. even now, in my static condition, I fervently wish to leave my armchair and cross
the living room. Perhaps I might even stand at the staircase, and rise to the second ﬂoor!”
Martha glanced at a cluster of cobwebs on the ceiling. spying their creator, a small black spider hanging from one of the webs, she brieﬂy considered the nature of Tarentella dancing in Naples. after her nimble mind had ﬁltered notions of platonic idealism, Marxist dialectical materialism, the imprecations of
Vladimir Lenin, and faux-Yiddish dialectics of Heinrich von Tubbehoffenspiegel, she turned to Dr. Zany, and said, “I appreciate purposeful thinking about the ends of Man, and the sturdiness of your teleological philosophy. What are your terms?”
She swatted the spider.
Zany remembered his performance of the Bruch violin Concerto before one thousand camels and their riders at St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Imagining Moses holding a burning bush high in his right hand, the doctor pushed himself up from his armchair, stamped his foot on the ﬂoor, and
in stentorian voice exclaimed: “I speak in biblical terms!”
Then he sank back.
Martha’s question had forced him to consider his future. He remained silent, cupping his chin in puzzlement.
A few hours later, he asked, “Martha, do you think Mother and father Zany will join my celestial adventure?”
“Of course,” she replied. “Everyone likes a heavenly quest. But, mein Doktor, there are obstacles. first you must free yourself of lassitude. Ausgeschnel your sitzﬂeisch zeitgeist. Empower yourself. Get up!”
Zany bowed his head in agreement. “I know,” he said. “The mystery of motivation. reach the second ﬂoor. Before such elevation is attained, I must rise again.”
CHAPTER TWO: DREAMS
What would you like for breakfast, mein Doktor?” Martha asked. Rays of cascading sunlight had brightened the kitchen.
Raising his bedtime sunglasses, Zany pondered the question. He leaned hard on his thinking leg while his right thumb, calloused from years of violin bowing, slowly stroked his Magyar nose.
Martha waited impatiently, tapping an Austrian waltz on her frying pan.
“What do you need?”
“A dream. a big one!”
Zany lifted a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped a tear from his eye. “A land without dreams is worse than a desert.”
“Then dream!” Martha declared. “Indeed, life without dreams is unbearable. So is death. But life, especially for you, my doktor, is a dream. Dreaming is part of your shamanic tradition and Hungarian heritage.”
Zoltan’s shoulders sagged in resignation. Beads of perspiration broke out on his forehead as thoughts of his recent concert tour of Jordan rose in his mind. He remembered the Nabatean ruins of Petra, where he had performed the Camel Violin Concerto by the Ma’anian oud virtuoso Ahmad al Aswara
before ten thousand swaying fans. Wiping off the sweat, he sighed, “Where did I lose my dream? How can I ﬁnd another? Shall I invent one? Are dreams born of the same Void from which the Music Master created the world?”
He continued his inner journey along the twisted wadis of his dried- up past. “Once, my concert performances excited me. But now they have reached their apotheosis. I sit here faded and ﬁnished. Where are my new challenges? Can one weave new cloth from old wool?”
“Yes, your skills have been perfected,” Martha remarked. “You’ve gone as far as you can go. Sleeping in the old life is healthy during transitions. But this somnambulance is temporary. New worlds lie ahead.”
Zany considered his struggle. The face of discouragement rose before him. Opposites clashed: an internal battleground soaked in bloody choices of absence or nothingness.
Yet hope glimmered: “It means working harder, sinking deeper into what I’ve got,” Zany declared. “Give up the horizontal. pursue the vertical. Depth instead of width. To regain my freshness, I need not fondle the same old tit. On to new breasts! But where? When captain Marvel said, ‘Shaz-
zam!’ did he mean me? Perhaps I’ll write a new Zany composition.”
“What would you compose?” asked Martha.
Indeed, what sperm cells was the Music Master carrying on his silver tray today? Would notes and majestic sound even be part of the doctor’s future? Only a rooster could tell.
A rooster! Zany turned to face his garden. Bees and gnats ﬂew in all directions.
CHAPTER THREE: LIFE OF ATTILA
Attila Zany a brilliant linguistic student, had graduated from new York’s Maritime high school the previous June at age sixteen. Two months later, after accepting admission to western Bustard University, he drove cross country to copper gulch country, colorado. there, in the college town of spring-
ing tree ten thousand feet above sea level, he settled into his dormitory single, spread his books on the ﬂoor, nailed a hungarian cannon poster on the wall, lay down on the fresh linen of his new bed, and fell into a deep sleep of happy exhaustion. Two days later, waking refreshed and exhilarated, he took
an exploratory walk around town. passing beneath a canopy of leafy maples, he spied a grocery selling fresh vegetables. picking up some tomatoes and munching them carefully, he peered into the window of a clothing store specializing in camping equipment; beside the store stood a weapons disposal unit, fol-
lowed by a book store featuring a sale of Karl Marx’s Das Capital edited by Leslie Lenin, great-grandson of Friedrich Engels. Attila went inside, purchased a paperback copy, sat down on the curb, opened the book, lay back to read a few pages, and soon fell asleep on the sidewalk. Te high altitude with its thin
oxygenation had slowed his bodily and mental processes, quieted his emotions, especially his violent streak, and given him a headache. However, the rariﬁed atmosphere also facilitated etymolog-
ical analysis, creating subtle linguistic shifts, not only in his command of classical Latin and Greek, but in his continued study of Ugoritic, Phoenician, Akkadian, and Sumerian. it was in fact during that ﬁrst semester at Bustard, his so- called “sidewalk period,” as he dozed on cement, that Attila formulated his theory of Linguistic connection, the notion that ancient Sumerian and modern Finno-Ugric came from the same linguistic family.
“Ur,” as in Abraham’s Ur of the Chaldeans, and the biblo-Chaldean city of Erech (Ur-ech), had names closely related to their modern Hungarian equivalent Ur, meaning “master” or “mister.” Attila practiced his developing linguistic skills on his cell phone, calling his father Ur Zany and bowing before the
technology in deep respect. The lad had borrowed many of these ideas from Origin of the Hungarian Nation, by the Floridian scholarette Ida Bobula. Several months later, as mastery of his skills grew, he was discovered by Dr. Babril tsupalensky, rector of Bustard University’s Linguistics Department, who offered him a full linguistic scholarship.
With new funds available, Attila rented a mountain cabin. He spent the next four years surrounded by glorious pine trees, bears, skunks, and birds. hoping to improve his ﬂuency in ancient languages, he spoke Akkadian to passing bears, using phrases like “How Ur you?” or “Give me Ur hand.” The bears
observed him strangely, and their blank response convinced him that better communication skills between bears and humans were needed.
During this “cabin period,” he wrote Grammar of Ursaline Linguistics, which became a best-seller among forest rangers and environmentally conscious Coloradians. Page 16 of the book, ﬁlled with action verbs, was adopted by leaders of the “free the Bears” movement. By assiduously studying its contents as their guide, Podunk Sleswick, Joe “Pebbles” Podushevsky, and Ellen Estretch organized an Ursine March on
Washington. Attila’s ursaline verb forms enabled them to speak directly to bears. alas, the march failed to materialize after the two leaders were clawed to death during a bear consciousness-raising session.
Attila, having spent most of his four college years in his cabin, asked himself one month before graduation, “Where do I go from here?”
Answers to this question along with his story of personal transformation can be found in his autobiography: A Bustard Among Men:
It started during my last year at Bustard. What I would do after I graduated? What path would I take? Self-discovery was my goal; I wanted to understand the Me inside me.
One day, in a meditative mood, I took a walk on one of the many mountain trails outside town. Pines, sedimentary rocks, sparkling granite beauties, sprinkled and popped on the marked trail. The rising sun threw spears of ﬂashing light across my path.
Suddenly, a heard a gunshot! Running further up the path, I heard another. I spied a man sitting in a tree, riﬂe in hand, aiming at the ground. Bang! When he saw me, he aimed at me. Bang! A bullet whizzed past me. Then another and another.
Luckily, he always missed.
We soon became friends. That tall, slender man, balanced precariously on a branch, wore a buckskin shirt, leather pants, an Indian feather behind his ear, and heavy work boots. A red beard covered the right side of his face, and a gray cowboy hat, with a plastic eagle perched above it, sat on his head.
He lowered his gun. “Who are you?”
He raised his gun, pointed it at my chest, and looked me over. “Sounds Hunnish to me.” The man squinted, waited a moment, but eventually lowered his weapon. “The only Zany I know is Brunhilde Zany. She lives down in Cleaver Creek.”
“That’s my mother.”
“Yup. After I got into Bustard, I left New Jersey. Ma wanted to be near me. So she moved to Colorado to keep our relationship close.”
“You’re a Bustard U. guy? Out here we call them U Bustards. Four years ago some Bustards from the Animal Rights Department hired me as a wildlife lab technician. I like animals. They said to me, ‘Bob, we’re doing a study of rattlesnake bites. You’re a winner with a gun. Want to kill snakes for us? I said,
‘Sure, why not?’ That’s why folks call me ‘Rattlesnake.”’
“Right. I’m an aural kind of guy. I like sounds, rattling sounds—tin can rattle, coconut rattle, snake rattle, death rattle, anything that rattles. I like killing things, too. When my lab job ended, my life wasn’t going anywhere. I looked into my heart and decided to pursue my deepest interest. So I bought a gun, came to the mountains, sat down by the roadside, and shot rattlesnakes. Been doing it three years now. A good life until six months ago. . . . I ran out of snakes. The peace and quiet nearly killed me. Then I decided to take control of my life. I took my money out of the Denver bank, headed for Toys R Us, and bought out their baby rattles. I’ve been shooting rattles ever since.”
“Hobby? Shooting isn’t a hobby. It’s a calling! When I realized the importance of it, and the pressure it put me under, I could hardly stand it. I even thought about killing people! I tried a few times, got arrested, ended up in prison. But after a year, the warden gave up on me. ‘You’re too violent for prison,’
he said. ‘I’m putting you on the street where you can do some good.’ I’ve been out ever since.
“But my interest in shooting people evaporated. No one smiled at me when I shot them. I like a good reception. I like smiles. If folks don’t appreciate you, life’s no fun. So now I only shoot snakes, when there are any, and rattles when there ain’t.”
“Did you ever meet my ma?”
“Sure did. She’s some babe. What a sombrero! Does she ever take that thing off?”
“Hasn’t for years. She’s ashamed of her cerebralectomy. The doctor started but never ﬁnished. . . .“ I shifted to one leg. Reﬂecting further on my childhood, I added, “Rattlesnake, you’re making me homesick. Maybe I’ll visit her.“
”Mothers’re like that. Mine sure was until I shot her lemon pie full of holes.” Rattlesnake raised his gun, aimed at one of the broken toy rattles lying under the pine tree, and pulled the trigger. The pop of the gunshot rattled and ricocheted throughout the canyon. “It’s always good to visit your ma. To my knowledge, she’s still living in Schizoid House.”
“. . .She took that name from her sorority house. I’ve never liked it. It demeans her talents.”
“Well, maybe, but as I said, it’s always good to visit your mother.”
“Okay, Rattlesnake. I’ll do it.”
“Good boy.” Rattlesnake smiled. “ Here, take this.” He handed Attila his weapon. “It’s a present.”
“Oh, I can’t do that. What about your—your calling?”
“Someone else is calling. I’m tired of killing. I’m retiring. No rattlesnakes left. Even the baby rattles are nearly gone. Shooting has run its course. I don’t need it anymore. I’m passing it on to you. Here’s some advice: Never hurt a human soul. Hurting is mean, real mean. I never hurt anybody. Kill them if
you like, but don’t you ever hurt them.”
Rattlesnake got up from his rock, brushed off his pants, and walked down the mountain.