Desire is so embarrassing. At two, three years old, we desire ardently and think not at all. We solve the problem of desire and shame as infants, and forget the solution in wise old age.
My grandfather’s office is at the top of the creakiest set of stairs on either side of the Atlantic. Name it and you can find it here. The walls have been replaced by bookshelves packed with biographies and model cars, rows of CD racks, and, most importantly, musical instruments.
The crown jewel of the collection is a gleaming ¾-size upright bass. When I was little, I had this image of men holding the strings high up on the neck and bowing them near the bridge. My infantile grasp of spatial reasoning led me to believe those men were sitting atop the body of the instrument and playing it. I wanted the same.
At first I tried jumping. My grandfather saw me fascinated by the stringed behemoth and showed me a simple bass line strut. Like me, he is a consummate amateur. Life and pregnancy derailed his dreams of musicianship, so, after a career in car rentals, he turned to music in retirement.
When I said I wanted to be on top of the bass, he looked at me funny. My request didn’t translate well to adultspeak. He hovered around the bass, scrambling between positions as I instructed him—on top! up there! above!. He played again, strumming those thick, bouncy chords to my delight.
He got the message when I started scaling the instrument. Ah, he said, enlightened. J’ai compris. En haut! He lifted me and placed me comfortably atop the beautiful wood. In the moment, I realized the impracticality of playing the bass from that position, my mother came up the stairs and snapped an image. Today, it’s my grandfather’s screensaver. And his mousepad. And his favorite mug.