Like its neighbor down the block, The Boppin Robin Jazz Club is another Times Square icon that has survived decades of social, cultural and political challenges, and perhaps no greater than the ego of Mayor Ed Koch who tried to tear it down in the 1980s. By that time, he had a half of century of grease and corruption to contend with. It started in the 1930s as a twenty-four-hour fried chicken restaurant named Birdy’s serving the famished after-theater crowd, news reporters, former bootleggers unable to find profitable new crimes, and various insomniacs who made it their second home. In the late 1940s, its owners decided to capitalize on the bebop jazz craze busting out at the Royal Roost nearby. Whereas the Roost gyrated by way of Charlie “The Bird” Parker on saxophone and Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, the Robin entertained a less enthusiastic crowd with Buddy “The Robin” Quinones and Woozy Willie Grandison. When the bebop craze caved to rock and roll amidst the declining health of many of its innovators, the Robin survived for one simple reason; it served the best fried chicken west of Seventh Avenue. As the neighborhood around it continued to deteriorate into the 1970s, the Robin embraced the criminal element. While jazz continued in the intimate bar upstairs, anything else was fair game downstairs, always among a foggy mist of chicken grease. Slot machines and perpetual poker games co-existed with pool-table hustlers, and often a crude jazz trio would play to little attention in the far-left corner. A resident bookmaker was always available to take bets on local sports events, as well as anything else; the presidential race, the day’s high temperature, the nightly count of arrests at the local precinct, the weight of the bartender, the amount of ice cubes in a rum and coke. While waves of vice reform and crackdowns on police corruption would close it down for years at a time, it had made a comeback in the last couple of years, most noticeably a place to dine illegally on fine steak and lamb in a time of meat rationing.
As the doctor leads us up the block to the club’s entrance, we fail again to elude the presence of the green grocer stacking green and red peppers. “The Great Waldo Pepper – 1975 starring Robert Redford,” he shouts waving a green pepper in his hand.
Misery waves his hand in disapproval. “Ugh, the last peppers I bought there tasted like they were from 1975.” As the three of us enter through the doors of the main entrance, the bouncer hands him a note. “You had a few calls,” he tells him.
“Any from the local police?”
“All from the local police.”
He leads us to a door that opens to a narrow stairway. As we descend, no second-hand descriptions could have prepared me for the spectacle that unfolds. A seemingly endless space of restaurant tables and gambling props lay before me, but at closer inspection this is just an illusion created by mirrors strategically placed throughout the room. The dining is relegated to the center of the room with each mirrored wall along the sides stacked with slot machines. As we walk towards the back of the room, I see the sports-betting window with two large TV screens on top showing the local baseball games. A couple of pool tables are somewhat hidden in another corner, or it may just be one with a reflection in the mirror. “Tonight’s Tournament Prize - $3,000” hangs from a banner above the table. And in the corner closest to the stairs is a jazz trio; a saxophonist, trumpeter and drummer almost lost in the hazy smoke from the kitchen. We eventually settle into a circular table at the exact center of the room with a comprehensive view of the spectacle. Looking up, I see that the ceiling is one great mirror, revealing that we’re in the center of a geometric pattern with the other dining tables forming a diamond around our table. A waitress greets the doctor. “What can I get you?”
“Three bullets roasted whole and a pitcher of milk,” Mizzieri responds.
“What was that?” Alfred asks.
“I ordered well-done steaks and milk for all of us. We’ll need to fill up on protein.”
“But I don’t eat red meat,” I respond.
“Then eat the potatoes and leave the steak for your wife.”
I’m again thinking of Laura and why she still hasn’t returned from downtown. I recall that in another reality we had personal communication devices where I could converse with her regularly, to the point where she called me a pest. “I need to see what happened to Laura. Why is it that in this reality we have far less technology? I can sense tall buildings all around us and various forms of personal communication from another reality, yet I still see vacuum tube TVs in this place.”
Mizzieri opens his mouth and shows me his grinders. “Far less technology? Look at these teeth. This reality we landed in has top-notch dental and health care. The government mandates it and doctors and dentists work for the public good. I’ll take that any day over personal communication devices. This world is a joint creation among all of us who passed through the birth canal. There are aspects of this world I’m sure you’re very happy about, Mr. Bologna. It is a great manifestation of yours to celebrate the classics of film and theater despite any chance of commercial success. You have aspired to eat a vegan diet. We have a City Hall that rations meat, creating the environment for a vegan utopia. And you are married, albeit unhappily for her, to a woman who sacrificed a promising career in the sciences.”
“Now wait a minute. How can you know that Laura’s unhappy?” I ask. “And I have nothing against dairy, except that milk’s now twenty dollars a gallon. And vegan utopia? That’s highly unlikely with that green grocer next store.” I comment.
“Like I said before, you’re both rookies in this. I’m becoming a master and can see aspects of the wavefunction that that you can’t. These nanobots are working like enzymes in the brain, speeding up our thinking processes. We are now perceiving our existence as a wave of possibilities. Think of your mind’s vast unconscious as the wavefunction and mere consciousness as the collapse of the wave. The uninitiated can only get a taste of this each night in their dreams when the wavefunction of the unconscious collapses into a vision. But the evolving mind can now perceive this on a perpetual basis. Freud had hoped that his dream interpretation method would rival all the sciences, but it was often viewed as quackery. I say it’s his greatest work. We can now work through the wave of potentialities in the unconscious and bring the outcomes most favorable to us into the conscious.”
Alfred is perplexed. “What do you mean favorable? My outcomes have been quite unfavorable. I’ve lost big time tonight.”
The waitress pours milk into the doctor’s glass as he admires its creamy thickness. “You have been a consistent loser in all worlds, Mr. Ma, but you can gain the skills to turn around the situation. Drink up, men.” As we all indulge in our lactate libations, the doctor points to the slot machines. “Each play starts with multiple probabilities that end with one combination.” He points to the pool players. “The shooter thrusts the white ball with the objective of moving the others under his direction, yet the balls inevitably go in unintended paths.” Then he points to the trio playing in the corner. “The saxophonist and trumpeter start with a set of pre-conceived notes in their head, yet the wiring of their brains brings about improvisation. There’s no overwhelming rule of determinism; the concept of fate is an illusion; there are merely possibilities that we can chose from if we can perceive them. We have the power to exert great influence over randomness with the strength of consciousness, just like we do each night in our dreams.”
As I watch the slot machines, I can now perceive thousands of combinations as the potential result of any spin. I can also sense those combinations that are more likely than others, at least in the short term. Turning to the pool table, each ball is no longer moving in one direction but seemingly in all directions. Even the music has lost its linearity, moving in circular loops as if the saxophonist had been subjected to a thousand volts of electricity or a month of hot yoga collapsed into five minutes.
The doctor continues. “You are now perceiving existence in waves of energy. We can’t be certain of the exact properties of matter. Once we become enlightened, we’ll see that what is happening before us is just one potentiality in flowing space-time. We need tools to navigate these potentialities and identify the realities that are most advantageous to us. As we evolve, we develop a quantum compass in our brain; photons of light, waves of sound can become entangled to create a path across desirable probabilities, just as they allow the European robin to navigate the earth.”
And now the blue notes emanating from the trumpeter are creating entangled waves of energy in my brain as the doctor drones on, a strange fishy odor emanating from his bellowing speech. “Music is the great enabler; it reaches into those moist, supple, quantum levels of the brain and helps us perceive the patterns that drive our desires. Both of you started doing this when you first went through the birth canal as I played the tarantella. Now listen to the trumpeter and seek out those patterns. Make the dream mechanism of the night the perpetual state of your consciousness.”
As I listen, my brain is gaining more awareness of memories both of this reality and others. My father was a hustler who eventually went to jail for tax evasion but raised me in an apartment above a landmark theater in Times Square. But then there is another reality of my father as a high-school English Literature teacher who stoked my interest in great philosophers and film directors and careers that offered little hope of making a living. Which is right? Are both right? Which is preferred? Then there is the memory of being constantly entangled in the decline of Times Square, living among vices that my corrupt father did all he could to capitalize on; the gambling, the drugs, the delicious yet incredibly greasy deep-fried chicken we’d often eat from the Boppin Robin. But then there is another reality of a revived Times Square with no Boppin Robin, a sanitarium with high-rises and chain restaurants and tourists being harassed by Flash Bob the Electric Eel. Which is right? Are they both right? And then there are my memories of life with Laura. She loves me and devotes her life to me so that I can run publicly subsidized revivals of classic films in the decaying yet glorious surroundings of a century-old theater. Yet there is always that subtle tension, a resentment that she gave up too much to live on the fringe of poverty with a less than spectacular sex partner. And then in another pocket of my mind there’s a very different Laura, incredibly savvy and driven, throwing the same passion for fashion into creating computer code for hedge funds, while seeking endless guidance from the stars and planets. Which is right? Are both right? Surely there are common patterns in both. Can new realities be born of these? My brain is electrified by the trumpet and I now fear that I just may tip into insanity, a place that I can never return from. And where is Laura? My thoughts of her keep me from going over the edge.
The band breaks to weak applause from a crowd already absorbed in gambling, beef, baseball and brain entropy brought on by massive intake of alcohol. Now Mizzieri turns to Alfred who looks mesmerized by the music, his eyes still twitching from the trumpet’s cadence. “How about a wager on the baseball game, Alfred? Despite your history of losing, it’s a new reality and a new book.”
“I shouldn’t gamble. Even when I bet on an event I think is fixed, I lose.”
“The Comets are winning 4-2. Do you think they can hold on for four more innings?”
“I checked the score when we came in. They were losing 3-0. How can the Sparrows lose a run?”
“Yes, you can remember more than one reality of this game. Sports and games of chance have been the foundation of my learning in how to warp probabilities. The abundance of events creates thousands of outcomes. Now imagine all the possibilities evolving around each other. Try to create a path between these so-called random events.” I begin to watch the slot machines again and focus on the results, now seeing a relationship between them. These machines were programmed for randomness, but now a geometric pattern is emerging, one that resembles what I see on the ceiling. And as I follow one combination into the next, I see ratios. I can sense the slightest entanglement between one outcome and the next. Then I watch the roulette wheel roll after roll. I perceive a momentum. I concentrate on number nine. It comes up and it doesn’t, but there is a distinct pattern that I can detect from one nine to its next appearance. “There’s a precise ratio between pi and number nine,” Mizzieri instructs me. “See if you can find it across the spins.”
I’m detecting this pattern and focusing on it. As the next quarter hour plays on, the space between nines becomes less. Every time a nine turns up, I get more aroused and excited, and in a few minutes, I see nine nines come up consecutively! Am I creating these nines, or am I just finding their location among the probability of thirty-seven balls in several realities? Am I able to cross realities and find the result that I want? The toll this is taking on my psyche is enormous and I’m unsure if I can leave this state and return to normal consciousness. I take a sip of milk and it tastes like a medley of fruits, especially oranges and strawberries.
While I continue my dance with the roulette balls, the band retakes the stage and Alfred is concentrating on the baseball games, coaxed by Doctor Mizzieri. “Gambling on people is a bit harder than gambling with balls and machines, but across events we can perceive patterns that can even transcend the disorder of human behavior. There are five games going on before you and I’ll take a bet on each from you. If you want your team to win, concentrate on strikes when your team’s in the field. Link the probabilities of strikes and outs; entangle them and make them more prevalent. And when your team comes to bat, concentrate on the probabilities of walks, hits and home runs. Most crucially, see these games as a wavefunction where a strikeout in one reality may be a home run in another.” Alfred shoves cash at the doctor and watches the games, using the same concentration techniques as I am. Over time however, as I continue to discover the integrated cross-reality patterns of the roulette wheel, Alfred seems gripped as usual in trans-reality trauma. “Damn, how could he swing at 3-0 and foul out to third base?”
Perhaps it’s the consistency of Alfred’s losing that helps me stay grounded in some semblance of normalcy while I see the number nine defy logic and sip milk that tastes like oranges and strawberries. And as the solo of the saxophonist turns into a brain-bopping blowout by the trumpeter, I’ve truly turned into the quantum cuckoo I so greatly dreaded. I scream out at the top of my lungs a bizarre stream of consciousness. “Laura, my dear, where art thou? I am fortune’s fool on lighted window breaks. It is the east and Laura is the sun. The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down. Everyone rides in a filthy hole in the ground,” I cry out in incoherently bad Shakespeare with a touch of Bernstein lyrics and hint of social commentary. At least I’m navigating back to the section of my brain where quotes from the Bard and Bernstein lyrics are second nature.