I must be the oldest man on earth. Who am I, you ask? My friends called me Raffy. You can call me Samuel D. Raffo, if you please. Some people used to call me 'The Bomb' when I was a kid, on account of my being dropped into this world at the exact same time the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. What's that? Don't know when that was? Look it up on your google machine. I'm not your teacher, and I damn well ain't your dad.
That was all a long time ago. Now I'm old, and feel older. I got pains where my aches used to be, and nothing where my pains used to be. I can't walk more than a few feet, and it takes me longer to crap than to do the crosswords. My eyesight is bad, my hearing is bad, my bladder is bad, my smell is bad. Scared yet? You should be; growing old ain't fun, kids.
Speaking of kids, here's one for ya now. He's knocking on my door like he owns the place. I been expecting him, you see. We got a sort of date, him and me. But he ain't expecting me. Thinks he's hot stuff, probably no older than you. Thinks he knows everything, I bet. Well he don't know me. He will though, he will.
"Hello, Mr. Raffo how are you today? My name is - ,"
"I don't care what your name is."
That shut him up. Pissed him off, too I can tell, even though he's still holding his hand out polite as you please. That's good. A little piss and vinegar goes a long way, but good old-fashioned respect-your-elders goes a long way, too.
"Let's get one thing straight," I say before he can open his mouth again. "I don't want you here. You are not welcome in my home. As far as I'm concerned, you're a tool, got it? You're nothing more than a cane, a can opener, a wash cloth."
Now he's looking at me hard. I can see those cogs turning, even as that hand lowers and retracts back where it came from. Those baby blue eyes are narrowing, and that perfect, full set of teeth ain't shining so white now. He's seeing me now, and I'm seeing him. Now there's an ugly old man, he's thinking. Mean son of a bitch, too, but I got a job to do. That's what he's telling himself. And he's not wrong either.
After a moment of confused hair-ruffling with his ex-greeting hand - and here I realize he's got neon green hair, real short, like that new-fangled fake grass - he speaks.
"I understand this was not an easy decision for you, but I am here to help, Mr. Raffo. My name is DJ, and I am fully qualified . . . "
I can tell he's making an effort to act polite and professional as he can, so I let him blather on about whatever it is he's scripted to say by the whitecoats down at West Chester's joke of an assisted living program. No doubt he's one of those new age whatchamacallit's. I don't even know what they call themselves these days. I call 'em newbies. This one apparently calls himself DJ.
DJ of the lime green hair, with black zigzags like lightning bolts, now that I really look. DJ of the ripped shorts and ripped shirt and ripped shoes. DJ of the triple-pierced ears and tattooed limbs. DJ of the dragon and tiger arms, and bird and turtle legs What does this kid think he is, some kinda zoo?
". . . And meals three times a day, your choice. I'll be by everyday for as long as needed . . . "
Still talking, still running through the script. Sure he talks the talk, but I ain't blind yet. He talks like a trained parrot, but looks like a wild animal. I bet he'll try to steal all my money the second I doze off. Good luck with that, newbie.
". . . So I am sure if we work together, we can make this arrangement enjoyable as for the both of us."
Those eyes are looking at me now, and his face is tight with expectation. He's just standing there in the doorway shifting his weight back and forth, hands filled with official-looking forms I didn't even notice he had. He looks like one of them film projector reels that's just slapping around and around after the movie's long done. Well, let's put the poor newbie back on the track, eh?
"Are you finished?" I say in a tone that might pass for a good sign.
"I believe we've covered the ground rules, yes."
We. That's cute. I don't recall saying a single word while he was going on.
"Good. Get out."
That stops the reel cold. Those eyes have never looked bigger or more like a baby's.
"B-but, Mr. Raffo, I, I thought . . . ," he stutters, and now he sounds like one of those flapping reels, too.
"Look, Dee Jay, was it? It's already noon, I've made myself breakfast and lunch, and I walked myself to this door, and stood here patiently while you rambled on. That's more exercise than I've seen in a month. Consider your first assignment a job well done. You can come back at six when I have to take a crap, and we'll see how good you are with that, hm?"
Those official-looking papers that came out of nowhere are gone again. Must be some kind of magic trick they show down wherever they train these goons. Looks like he got the message. I ain't signing anything today.
All he says is, "I'll be here are six PM sharp, Mr. Raffo. Have your bowels ready." And like another magic trick, the kid's gone.
That was a surprise. Piss and vinegar, all right.
Six rolls around, and there's that knock at the door same time as in my gut. The newbie's back for more. Let's see how he likes some good old-fashioned Italian cuisine. I open the door and there he's standing again, baby-fresh. Or maybe not. There's a look on his face that wasn't there the first time. Like he's ready for round two. Well, ding-ding.
"Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot, Mr. Raffo," he says. No script here. He thinks being jen-u-ine is going to work on me. What do you kids call it? Being 'real?'
"Nope, we got off on exactly the foot I wanted to get off on." Let him squirm for a moment. "Call me Sam," I continue once I think he's stewed long enough. "If we're gonna dance, you oughtta use my first name."
Now he's smiling. Thinks we've reached some sort of understanding, I bet. "You can call me Delano," he says with a smirk I don't like one bit. "I guess you should know a little secret, Sam. I chose you specifically because of your name."
Oh, isn't he precious. Thinks because we have a common bond, he's gonna endear himself to me. Nothing wrong with the name Delano to be sure. Good old-fashioned Italian name. Strong name. This newbie doesn't look like no Delano.
"Delano Junior, or DJ," he continues, smirking right to the ceiling. "My mom liked my dad's name so much she felt like having two of them around."
"That's all fine and dandy, but your personal life's got nothing to do with me." If he thinks sharing a name means he can tell me his life story, or god-forbid, he expects me to tell him mine, he's crazier than he looks.
"Of course not," he starts again, but his smirk isn't quite in those eyes of his anymore. "But I saw your full name on the charts, and I couldn't help but be curious. Sam Delano Raffo, right?"
"Yeah." My guts knocking something fierce now and he doesn't look like he's done yapping. "Look, since you're not going away, you might as well get in here and get ready. I hope you like Italian, since it'll be ready for you in a minute. Since you're so keen on the name Delano, I guess you or you mother got some appreciation for us Italians."
I can see he hasn't caught my drift yet, but at least he's finally sitting down. Just looking at him all limber and anxious in the doorway is making my head hurt. I let him relax while I work my way towards the bathroom.
"Actually Delano's a French name," he says, picking at my candy jar. "But that's not why my mom named me it, and I'm guessing it's the same with you."
Not a question, a statement. I don't like it, and I don't like him acting like a know-it-all. These newbies, gotta act like their generation knows something mine don't. French, Italian, it don't matter. The name sounds Italian, don't it? For all he knows it could be Italian, too. Smartass.
"You see," and here he goes again, "my name's Delano Roosevelt, Junior."
He pops a piece of candy in his mouth that I don't think has seen the light of day in ten years.
"I was obviously named after President Roosevelt." He stops and looks at me, half-stepping my way across the room. "We're not related or anything, but my folks like to act like it. And you?"
I stop my shuffle on the other side of the room, but keep my back to him. The kid's sitting there eating my candy and talking my ear off while I struggle with these damn useless legs of mine, and he expects me to answer him?
"What do you think? Who is anyone named Delano named after, smart guy?" I slap my cane on the floor of the bathroom for punctuation, and turn my head. "You've looked at my chart, so why don't you take a gander at my birth date? Think about that while I'm preparing your Italian."
I throw the bathroom door shut, giving myself just enough time to see the look of comprehension shudder across his face. I swear I see that green hair wilt a bit. But the cringe is gone before I even get the door fully closed, and there's that look of hard thinking on his face again. What's with this kid, this DJ, this Delano? Bah, my head is banging like an anvil just thinking about that peacock in there. Come to think of it, it's been banging for a few weeks now. Getting old ain't fun, kids. You can't even keep straight what parts are hurting and what parts ain't after a while.
"The Bomb." That's all he says when I emerge from my seclusion.
I think he's joking for a minute. "That's one word for it," I say, waving my hand. Then it hits me he's talking about our conversation. Still wants to talk! Sheesh. Well he can talk all he wants while he's plunging.
"August 6th, 1945. You were born the day they dropped the bomb." He's got me there. So DJ knows his history.
And then he surprises me again. He gets up, marches into the bathroom and actually does his job. All the while, he's still talking. The Bomb of December 2012 doesn't seem to impress him nearly as much as The Bomb of August 1945.
"The very day," he almost whispers between lunges, like it's a miracle.
"Not just the very day," I can't help but admit. After all, this is a damn good story right here. "You keep enjoying yourself in there, I'll be back in a minute." He'll love this. And besides, who else am I going to show this to now?
By the time I get back with my little prize, DJ's done in the bathroom. He's not lounging on my couch by the candy jar now, he's sitting up straight in the chair across from my barcolounger, in front of the fireplace. I swear he wants me to sit there and tell him my story like his grandpappy might. Does he want me to put him on my knee too?
"What are you doing?" I snap at him.
He jumps up as if I caught him stealing my rotten old candy. "I just figured you'd want to sit down. I can help you into your seat, if you want. I saw you walking, and it looked like that cane isn't working too well."
"And what? You want to wheel me around like some invalid? Like good old Frankie Roosevelt?"
"No, no! I'm just here to help. Here, sit down."
I oblige him, since my knees are killing me, truth be told, and besides, I got a story to tell, and sitting in a comfy chair by the fire is the perfect place to do it.
"Light that, would you," I manage to grunt as I crack my way into the barcolounger. " It's getting late and Pennsylvania winters are hell on my joints."
He does as he's told with a smile. Guess I remind him of someone.
"Take a look at this." I hold out my little piece of history for him to inspect. I doubt he'll catch on to the point of the ratty old thing, but that's why I'm here. There's a story in that little piece of paper, and it's literally the story of my life.
"It's a birth certificate." The faded square of paper flips around in his hands like a playing card. The kid doesn't get it yet. But he knew the date, so I'll give him a minute. Let those gears rattle a bit before I drop the bomb.
"August 5th, 1945 . . . ," the gears turn. "It's the day before the bomb was dropped, though . . ."
"Look at the time. Do the math."
"7:15 PM," he finally says quietly. "It would have been August 6th already in Japan. Hold on a sec," he stops short and pulls this black thing out. Might be a phone, but hell if I know what a phone even is these days.
"Gonna call your friends, tell 'em your sitting with a celebrity or something?" I ask.
But he doesn't call anyone, at least I don't think so. He clicks and clacks away then slides the thing cool as you please back wherever it came from. I remember when the very idea of sliding a phone anywhere would have been a real good joke, like 'Is your refrigerator running?'
He looks straight at me and announces like he's answering on a quiz show, "The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at exactly 8:15 AM, Japan-time. That's exactly 7:15 PM, here in West Chester, Pennsylvania." His voice drops to a whisper, ready for the reveal. "You were born the exact moment the bomb was dropped. Not just the day, but the hour and minute. Holy shit."
Indeed. "That's why they called me 'The Bomb' when I was a kid. I thought it was pretty rad at first, but most people didn't even remember why I was called it by the time I was your age." I hawk a chunk of phlegm into the fire and cough, inspecting my hands. No blood. Good. "That's what happens. Old things are forgotten, meanings lost. But there's always more bombs, more new things coming down the pipe to replace it all. Lovely world, huh DJ?"
"Funny," he says with that little knowing smile. Yeah, life's funny kid. "My friends call me 'The Drop'," he admits.
Isn't that cute? The Bomb and The Drop. "So what horrible moment in human history is that from?"
"Dubstep," is all he says. Like I know what the hell that is.
"And what war is that from?"
"It's music, man." Laughing, of course. Old man isn't up on the crap that passes for music these days.
"Not quite as momentous as the atomic bomb, but just as horrible, I'm sure."
That birth certificate's twisting around in his fingers, and I'm sure it's feeling hotter now. I bet he feels like he's holding the bomb in his hands. I know that feeling, at least. That's the all-searing hand of history he's got there. Watch this, I'm really going to throw him a curveball now.
"Take a look at the doctor's signature," I say with my own knowing smile, my eyes closed. "See anything strange about it?"
"Doctor Lawrence Sideberg," he reads. Totally clueless. Then, "What's this?"
I know what he's looking at without even opening my eyes. He sees the long, jagged streak and black photocopy mark of a hole in the paper hanging from the doctor's name. "That, my friend, is another moment in history, engraved forever in the history of my life."
I know I've got him just by the sound of his breath. I'm so tired I can't even be bothered to open my eyes and look, but his silence is like music.
"That blot, that grievous misstep in the good Doctor Sideberg's immaculate scrawl is the exact moment, sixteen hours later, when President Truman announced over the radio that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima." I let that stew for a moment, enjoying the intake in breath. "That hole represents 20,000 tons of TNT. The mere mention of such a force of death was enough to make the healer's hand tremble, even as he put the finishing touch on a new life. An awesome thought, isn't it?"
There's silence in the room for a moment. The only thing I hear is the flickering of the flames. A log cracks in the fire, and DJ shifts audibly in his seat. I can feel thepaper sliding back across my palms.
"This should be in a museum," he says, properly awed.
"No, it's just a piece of paper. A series of coincidences. A good story, nothing more." I am unbelievably tired after that talk, and my head is throbbing so bad I can't even make a scowl. "Tomorrow. I want you here at 7 AM sharp for my breakfast and morning paper. Make something good. Got it?" My voice is fading away as I speak, and I know I'm already half-way asleep.
"Got it." I hear him say from where he's still sitting down, utterly enthralled by my little treasure. He better not steal anything. And then I'm gone.
I wake up the next morning and I'm in my bed. I sure as hell didn't walk here in my sleep, so DJ must have actually carried me in here last night before he left.
I try to get out of bed, and nearly die from the pain in my knees. Must have been all that walking for that kid. Maybe that's his plan; hobble me so he can rob me blind.
There's a knock at my door; it's too loud, though. The kid is at my bedroom door, that's why. Just let himself right in, didn't he?
"Sam? Are you up?" The door cracks open and I see a flash of green and a dragon and tiger carrying a platter of food between them.
"Who do you think you are, just barging into my house like that?" I lash out from my bed.
"I never left."
That drains the fire from my belly. What's with this kid?
"I hope you don't think I'm paying you overtime for this," I manage. What do you say to a kid who carries you to your room, stays the night and makes you breakfast in bed?
The kid looks like he wants to run. "I don't get paid overtime. I don't really get paid much of anything for this." He laughs, but his eyes don't. "My friends think I'm crazy for doing this."
"I ain't your friend, but I'm inclined to agree."
"Here. Eat." The platter hovers between those crazy tattoos, then lands on my lap.
"This isn't Italian. I told you to make Italian food for breakfast."
"Actually, no you didn't. This is good food. Pierogies. Better for you than Italian."
My mother and father would roll over in their graves at that. Well, my mother would. My father would probably agree with him.
"Italian food is the best food on earth."
The kid looks thoughtful. It's too early in the day for thoughtful. "You really like Italy don't you? Raffo's Italian isn't it?"
I shove a pierogie in my mouth. Not bad. But not Italy. "Italy is the greatest place on earth."
The kid laughs at that. "Are you from there?" He takes a seat next to me, thinking I'm going to tell him some other mind-blowing story about how my bed once belonged to Mussolini and I'm the secret heir to Leonardo da Vinci.
"Never been there. My father moved here from Italy before I was born. He was what you would call an American-Italian. Not an Italian-American, as he would say."
The kid doesn't quite get this distinction. But he's still expecting some grand confluence of events surrounding my birth, I suppose. This should amuse him.
"My father's name was Dante Raffo." I pause for effect, because God knows the kid's expecting a show. "My mother's name was Beatrice."
Swing and a miss. The still-expectant look on his face tells me he knows his dates, but not his literature. "Dante from Dante's Inferno?
There's that flicker of recognition. "Ah. So you're father was named after that Dante?"
"Who knows? I never asked him. My mother seemed to think it was some sort of sign, however. I think she married him solely because of his name. Beatrice was the name of Dante's eternal love in the story, you see. My mother was in love with Italy, and the idea of her finding a good, Florentine man named Dante to her Beatrice was just too good to pass up, I suppose."
"It is a crazy coincidence," remarks the sage DJ.
"Life is full of coincidences. My mother thought she was marrying a full-blooded Italian, instead she got Dan Raffo."
"He wasn't Italian?" Right on cue. I shove another pierogie in my mouth and let him hang on that.
"Dante Raffo was Italian," I go on, quite full of pierogies now. "Dan Raffo was as American as FDR. I guess that was one thing they had in common. They both loved our good old number 32. My dad loved him because he was so American. My mom loved him because he was so Italian."
"But Roosevelt wasn't Italian at all."
"That again? Look, my mom thought he was Italian, and that was good enough for me. Are you sure Delano isn't Italian? It could be, you know."
That little magic box whips out of thin air again and DJ's on the case. It's not that I don't believe him, you see. I just want proof. That's not too much to ask, is it? In this day and age, anyone can say anything. And I'll take my own mother's word over some kid that just walked into my house yesterday.
"Look, right here on Wikipedia." He flips the phone over and shows me the screen. The print's way too tiny for me to make anything out. A tap of his finger and there it is: 'Delano, Place of origin: France.'
"Can't argue with the Internet, can I? Fine then, Delano is French, happy now?" I push the empty platter away from me and right off the bed, right into DJ's lap. "Now that we're done with pointless trivia, I feel like being alone. Do one last thing for me, then beat it."
DJ just stands there, platter in hand. I don't think he gets the message. I feel like I should be smacking him with a newspaper.
"What do you want?" He manages at last.
"Go out to my study and get a record for me. Adagio for Strings. That's real music, and I'd rather hear that than your voice right now."
"Samuel Barber?" He says in a shocked voice.
The kid knows a little music too, I see. "Yeah, Barber. It's on the mantle above the fireplace."
"You know, he was from right here in West Chester," I hear him say. Does he honestly think I didn't know that? "Funny coincidence . . . ," I hear his voice trail off. Now what?
I hear the famous opening strain of the melody ease its way through the other room and the old familiar tingle goes down my spine. Was there ever a greater piece of music than Adagio for Strings? I'm sure DJ would have a list of new-age noise on his little eyepod or whatever to prove me wrong on that, too.
"This song," he says when he comes back in, "it's, like, the saddest song ever written. Do you really want to listen to this all alone in here?"
"Absolutely. Now git."
I wasn't looking at him before, but he's actually smiling, even as the Adagio wavers behind him. Nothing puts him off, does it?
"I'll be back again this evening to check in on you. And I'll have something new and interesting for you, too." That smile is ear to pierced ear now.
"I don't like the sound of that."
"Don't I know it." He laughs while the saddest song ever written plays, and then is out the door quick as a dream.
I wake up to find out I fell asleep. DJ's knocking on the door again, but this time it's the proper door. I'm still in bed and the very idea of swinging my legs onto the floor sends phantom pains shooting through my kneecaps. Haven't moved since the kid left, but I'm not about to tell him that. The Adagio's long since worn itself down and it's already getting dark. Is this what my days have come to? Waking and sleeping, sleeping and waking? I yell as loud as my voice will let me for DJ to quit banging and come in. The throbbing in my head is going to explode if he doesn't quit that.
I hear him come in, but he isn't saying anything. There's some ruffling outside my door and I hear the Adagio for Strings start up again. This time, it sounds different. That's not my record he's playing. It actually sounds better, more real.
"I had to go through hell to get this," I hear his voice echo from the study. A second later his head pops in the doorway and he's not smiling. Trying to, but he's not fooling anyone. "Sorry I'm late, Sam."
"This recording," I start, not sure what to say about this recording.
"It's the original 1938 recording of the Adagio's first performance. You know, Toscanini's famous radio broadcast. Tough to find, but my dad had it," He doesn't look at me when he says this, but then he does look at me, and I know what he's going to say and I ain't going to let him say it.
"An old man can lay in bed all day if he wants. Just help me to the bathroom and make me something to eat." I stop and realize something. "How do you even know how to work a gramophone?"
Now he smiles. "These things? They're pretty popular nowadays, actually. And besides, any good DJ knows how to work a deck."
I have no idea what a deck is. But the idea of gramophones making a comeback I find hard to believe. Old things die. They don't come back. And yet, that's the Adagio playing out there, older than me.
"Here, I brought a wheelchair from the home for you."
"I told you, I ain't an invalid."
"Then get up."
I try. I really do. I want to prove this snot wrong so bad, but it just isn't in me. I ignore the pain long enough to get out of bed and stand for about three seconds, and then I'm falling. My knees just blow and I drop like a little boy.
And that damn kid is there to catch me. Damn him! Before I can even see through the pain, I find myself in the wheelchair I swore I'd never touch.
"Let's get you to the bathroom, and then I'll make you something to eat. Something Italian?"
"Whatever, just do it."
It's a long time before I manage to sit in my barcolounger again, a hot meal in front of me. Not without DJ's help, of course. He's got me sitting there wrapped up just like his grandpappy and there's nothing I can do about it. My head hurts too much to argue with him today.
"Eat up, it's getting late." I don't like the tone of his voice, like he's my caretaker. Yeah, that is what he is, I said it. But that doesn't mean he has to act like it. At least he actually made something good this time. Gnocchis. Now that's real food.
"Remember what I said about something new and interesting?"
I don't, but I just nod and scowl. I'd nod and scowl even if I did remember, so it don't make no difference.
The record stops, and he takes this thing out of his pocket. It looks like a tiny gramophone, sleek and new, like all the modern crap that's out there. I see something that might be the tone arm, but beyond that I'm clueless. It makes me feel old just looking at it.
"The right tool for the job," he says as he takes out a tiny record. "Listen to this."
The record slides into place smooth as a coin, and begins playing. There's nothing but booming and bleating at first, but then that familiar slow build weaves its way through the garbage and I listen as bombs are dropped on my precious Adagio for Strings, obliterating it.
"What is this?" I demand.
"Wait for it," is all he says, enraptured by this tragedy. "Gotta wait for the drop."
I have no idea what he means, but then I see it. I may not be hip to all the new slang and garbage coming out of the mouths of you young folks, but there is no doubt in my mind what 'the drop' means when I feel the bottom fall out of my stomach. The song explodes and the Adagio has been destroyed, wiped out. And then it builds back into the music, slowly, easily. The Adagio I know is all there for a full minute, and then it warbles and shakes into something different, but not too different, you understand. It's still there, throughout the whole thing. The scratching, screeching mess of bass and drums and god knows what else flows back into it and for one single beat, it all actually works. I will never say it to DJ, but I'll say it to you. For that one second, it all actually works. The song ends as it should, with nothing but a man and a violin, but the echo of the bass is still there, fading alongside the violin to the very last vibration of the strings.
"That's why they call me The Drop," he declares in the following silence.
I'm not sure what to say to that. It was definitely new and interesting. Did I like it, though?
"In case you're wondering, I made that mix," he continues. "I call it Dubstep Adagio. There's plenty of remixes of the Adagio for Strings out there, but I don't think any of them capture the song quite like mine. Maybe growing up right here where Samuel Barber did has something to do with that. I feel a piece of him slipped into me when I made this. That's why I put it on a record. You probably think I'm crazy."
"It has some heart to it. It's no rockabilly, though." I say, then add, "You didn't expect me to fall in love with it did you? I would think you were crazy then."
"I just like mixing things up. My parents don't get the new stuff, my friends don't get the old stuff."
"You should listen to your parents," I hear myself recite from a mile away. The booming bass is still roiling around in my gut and bouncing around in my skull, getting louder every second. My eyes are shut tight, but the pain won't get back where it belongs.
"My parents are out of it. They think I'm wasting my time if I'm not studying the piano or taking classes. They're so old, it makes me want to scream. They're the bad kind of old, not like you, Sam. Sam? Sam!"
DJ's talking but I ain't hearing him. All I hear is that dubstep bass, dropping 20,000 tons of TNT on my brain. I see that little black photocopied hole gaping at me from my birth certificate. I hear Truman's voice saying "20,000 tons of TNT" over and over, the hole expanding with each ton. I laugh, cough, and then the drop.
It's a full week before my head finally stops thrumming to that damn beat. I must have blacked out something grand, since DJ practically sprouted wings and flew me here to good old Chester County Hospital For Useless Old Farts. The doctor, I swear it's Doctor Lawrence Sideberg's clone, tells me I have a tumor in my head. He also says I can't walk anymore, but I didn't need a doctor to tell me that. Says I have to have this fancy new procedure done or I'll be dead in a month. Says it's a high-risk deal, and there's a good chance it won't do a thing for me, but it's the only option. Screw him.
DJ's still here at the hospital. Been here every day for a week. He's still working for that paycheck, I see. Maybe they punish the caretakers if you croak on them. Screw him, too.
"You've got to get that procedure, Sam," he says, just like the doctor. "You won't be able to walk, but you'll be alive. I'll still be here to help you. All day, everyday if you want."
I look at him hard. "You're not on the clock anymore. Just go home, kid."
"My friends are rooting for you too, you know," he says, ignoring me. "I told them about you. They just thought I was crazy for wasting my time with you. They call me crazy so often sometimes I really do think I'm a nut. But look, look what they're saying."
That impossibly small phone appears, and after a few clicks he's shoving it in my face. There's a bunch of lines of words, half of them I can't make out. Geez, people don't even speak the same language any more. Some of it makes sense, like 'The Bomb is still tickin!' or 'You one wild old dude' which I take as a compliment. One line sticks out, though. I notice it right at the top, and I don't think it's supposed to be on the screen. 'Yo Drop where u at? That jerry you took off my hands still kickin? Just take the pay and stop being crazy." I don't mention that one. It doesn't matter anyways.
"See, there are still people out there," he says, hiding his phone.
He shows me Italy next. Uses that google machine of his to bring up all kinds of images. It looks the same as the US with all its skyscrapers and gadgets and people everywhere. This ain't the Italy I know, the one I grew up with.
"Put it away," I tell him. Then I ask him something that's been bugging me. "What are you doing here, DJ?"
"I want to be here. It's a good gig."
"No it ain't. There's a thousand places better than here, better than with me. Go talk to your folks."
He acts like I shot him. "I haven't seen them in a week. And months before that. They don't get me. They're just so old!" He blurts that last one out. Like being old is a curse word now. Maybe it is.
No one says anything for a bit, then I break the silence. "How about you and me make a deal. You make things right with your parents, and I'll think about getting this procedure."
I don't think I'm asking much on his end here. It seems a little imbalanced of an offer. I mean, this is my life we're talking about here. DJ seems to think it's the other way around the way his eyes get.
"Alright," he shudders. It's like he just signed his soul away. "You got it."
And that's that. DJ don't feel like talking much, and neither do I. I know what he wants, what he needs me to say. "Go on, git. Go home."
A week later I'm home again myself, and DJ has cajoled me back into my barcolounger by the fire for the evening. The procedure starts tomorrow, and I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be. DJ's been here all day and I can tell his parents are acting old again. That's all right, because I'm feeling old myself right now. Old and scared and small. I'd tell him to go home, but sometimes these things go both ways.
He's going on about his dubstep, and all the great new things they're doing in the genre. The kid loves his music. It ain't good music, but sometimes it is. Elvis could dance to it, I bet. My dancing days are done, but that's all right. You lose some things, gain some things. That's life.
"Raffy, are you listening?" DJ shouts over his newest mix. "After your surgery, we're going to Italy. Your dad's Italy, not your mom's."
I'm listening. His dubstep's playing full blast, but I still here the Adagio in my head, in the background. Ever since I dropped it's all I hear now.
"You should ask your parents to come with us," I hear myself say. "I'll pay. Nothing else to spend it on."
"Not as crazy as you, kid." The dubstep's fading and the Adagio's getting louder. For a moment, both songs blend into one, and the whole scene works. I know it's time for DJ to go home again.
"Go home, DJ." Now the Adagio's louder.
"Tomorrow, Raffy. Don't chicken out on me. I won't chicken out on you. Deal?"
"Sure," I see him turn to go, and those animals on his arms and legs hit me like they haven't hit me before. "DJ, what in blazes are those things you have tattooed all over you?" I finally ask. Can't believe I've never really asked about them. Just one more part of what makes DJ DJ, I guess.
"These?" He stretches his arms, unfurling the dragon and tiger. "Feng shui, man."
"Feng what? Is that some new-age crap like dubstep?"
And he laughs. The saddest song ever written plays in my head, and this tattooed dream just laughs his green head off.
"No man, it's older than you." DJ smiles that full-faced smile of his as he leaves and I know he'll be okay. And maybe I will too. Maybe the whole damn world will be okay after all.
The Adagio for Strings is creeping all over me, tingling my senses in that way only it can. It's nice and warm by the fire, and everything's fine. And you know what? I think I can still hear that dubstep bassline echoing just underneath my Adagio, and that's fine too. After all, we all gotta face our music sometime.