The Dude lies down with Elvira Madigan "for about 20 minutes"

by Hugh Gilmore
Posted 7/29/21

The Dude's left gluteus max kept seizing up, a major and literal pain whenever he stood still, so he went to see his sports medicine doc.

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The Dude lies down with Elvira Madigan "for about 20 minutes"

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The Dude's left gluteus max kept seizing up, a major and literal pain whenever he stood still, so he went to see his sports medicine doc. The x-rays later showed what a mess he'd made of the small amount of spine he'd been given to face life with, so his doctor prescribed some further imaging for him. "No pain management doctor will even talk to you unless you have an MRI," she said, so he went and submitted his rotting vertebrae to that grand eye that sees all: the giant, pulsating beamer-to-end-all-beamers, the magnetic resonating imager, at Chestnut Hill Hospital last week.

If it may be said that the dueling airship colonels, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, went to outer space last month by thrusting their own gluteals more than 50 miles from earth, then The Dude came out of the hospital feeling he'd gone way-way beyond that paltry distance. Gone to farther reaches of the human mind and its capacity for absorbing contradictions. He experienced an absurdity made all the more awesome by arising (as usual) from good intentions gone awry.  

It all started, as so many bad ideas do, by disrobing. If the creator had truly intended to shame Adam and Eve in their nakedness, he/she/they could have banged it up a full notch by having them put on hospital gowns in late-late middle-age and sport down a shiny linoleum hospital hallway. The opposite of the greatest show on earth is what it was. The Dude is not given to unintentionally mooning the friendlies. 

Whatever. "Follow me," the lady in blue said. They stopped outside a door labeled, "THE MAGNET IS ON AT ALL TIMES" to have an agenda-laden speed date of discovery: Was he hiding any bullets in his body? No. Medical shrapnel under his skin? Nope, clean as a worm's whistle. Was he claustrophobic? Only at faculty meetings, he said. No snare drum response. They went in.

The resonator was a large, long, insulated cylinder that looked like the kind of pneumatic tube you send your deposit slip through at a drive-in bank. Is that what they were going to do here? Send him to where his back would never bother him again? The Dude felt an instinct to genuflect, just in case, but there wasn't time and he eased up onto the table, as bidden.

"Okay, lie down, and scoot up here ... yes, a little more, and lay your head here" – his neck now inside a semi-circular movement-stifling collar. A triangular foam cushion put under his knees, he was ready for lift-off. But, wait: she offered him two small yellow pieces of what looked like ear plugs. "Oh, for the noise?" he said. "No, these are earphones. What kind of music would you like?" "Oh, uh ... classical," he said, afraid they wouldn't have "The Best of Slim Whitman" on short notice. "Curiosity question: How long will I be in here?" "About twenty minutes," she said.

Adding, "Use this if you need me," placing a rubber squeeze-bulb into his hands, already folded across his chest in case this scene morphed into his being the focal point at a memorial service. His slab then moved backwards, carrying him away from a world he'd only half-known, towards a universe he'd always wondered about. Supine, sideways, eyes closed, The Dude slid into the white tube.

And then the noise started. Bang! Bang! Maxwell's ball peen hammer against the steel drum he resided in. Faster. Like being inside a giant robot's gurgling sigmoid colon, but with the volume really loud. Over the speakers, simultaneously, an exaggeratedly fake radio voice, "Good afternoon, it's a warm and sunny day in Philadelphia." Same time: Bang Bang Bang. Then: a Shakira-type pop tune. "This isn't classical music," he yelled. Boom! Radio static. Maxwell switched to a silver five-pounder and started banging all around him. "Traffic isn't too heavy this afternoon." Clang, clang, clang – steel drum music absent any rhythm and heard by a stowaway within the barrel. Thus began the first eon of the rest of his life.

"Relax," The Dude told himself. "Go with the cacophony, let it flow." If Chaos theory holds true, the spaces between notes will prove to be illusions. I'll have distance ...  all this noise will just be one long aural Edvard Munchian screammmm. Cool. He'd entered the realm of Out There! The Universal Jackhammer Drill Team was in full, raucous swing.

Then: What's that? He heard, or thought he heard, or, wait, actually did hear ... a piano note, just barely, under the banging hammers, and another piano note, and, yes, another...Mozart! Sounding like a car radio stopped at a traffic light as a construction crew tore up the sidewalk. How lovely! And, and ... it’s Piano Concerto No. 21! ... known now and forever as the "Theme from Elvira Madigan," the 1967 Swedish movie where the beautiful backlit blonde Elvira quits her career as a tightrope walker to run off in love with an aristocratic army officer who deserts military life for love of her. And they just cavort and cavort, living on love, till they are left to desperately crawl the forest floor, eating nuts and mushrooms and vomiting and so on, until they decide they must end their lives and (spoiler alert) invent the world's first MRI out of tree bark and crawl into it, and ... hahaha...the Dude's laughing by now ... Who knew one could think such thoughts under such duress?  The banging is louder, insistently arrhythmic, just so he can't get used to it, couldn't tap his toes or click his ankles in sync ... and underneath that sheer auditory hell, he realized that if he could just un-grit his jaw and let his head, especially his ears, be open and submissive, and ignore the pain, he could almost hear Mozart's beautiful music and see the glittering golden forests of Sweden and the radiant face of slo-mo Elvira Madigan.

And she danced on, and the barely heard Mozart played on, and The Dude lay there grinning through the static, happy to be reassured that life in the Tube was really just a condensed version of life outside the Tube. "We're born," he thought, "Our lives are assaulted by noise, but gifted with some moments of beauty if we listen."

Then, mercifully, the noise stopped. But so did the music. The tray slid him feet-first back into the cinder-blocked room where the Magnet never sleeps. The ride was over. But The Dude says he'll never stop loving what he saw and heard in there.

Writer's note: In order to transcribe this story for The Dude, he compelled me to go to YouTube on two different devices simultaneously. I went to "The Sounds of an MRI" site and played that while also listening to the "Elvira Madigan" theme on the other. For the most accurate reproduction of that experience, turn the MRI sounds volume to Max and the Elvira music to Min. Wrap yourself in a rug, turn out the lights and train yourself to listen for the Mozart music while the jackhammers try to bring on your next migraine.

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