David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 93: Suzanne Vega (Luka)

July 28, 2020

I have been back to work as part of a skeleton crew for several months now. We wear masks inside and so as a habit the few of us who aren't in the student service area work with our doors shut. Speaking for myself, that way I can be mask free. I can go whole days seeing no one, or barely one person, often as I shuffle to the bathroom or the coffee maker. Good or bad, I can minimize the masks that I firmly believe should be worn in public.

It is most bizarre in my interactions with the HR department. HR's office sits right next to mine, and this time of year, I have to sign a bunch of hiring letters for Fall adjunct instructors.  As a result, Diane from HR is often shoving a blue folder under my outer door with letters to sign. I sign them, then shove them right back under her door (I know I could knock and hand them to her, but why make her put on the stupid mask for the 3 second exchange?).  Today, after doing this for the fifteenth time in the last two weeks, I was tempted to put a post-it note on top of the signed letter, saying "Help! I am being held hostage in the Vice President of Instruction's Office. Please call the police."  I hope it would make Diane's day.

However, that got me thinking of Suzanne Vega's moving song about abuse, "Luka." It was a big enough hit that hopefully most readers remember the narrative:

"My name is Luka/

I live on the second floor/

I live upstairs from you/

Yes, I think you've seen me before/

If you hear something late at night/

Some kind of trouble/some kind of fight/

Just don't ask me what it was." 

For years, I have thought of the song capturing an awkward moment between Luka and a neighbor at the mailbox area or on the front stairway ("you've seen me before").  However, that little blue folder made me hear the song as a note shoved under a neighbor's door, casting the song (and the drama) even more pitifully (I write you this note because I think you have been watching me.). 

It's hard to see the victim expressing the thoughts in the middle of the song orally to a neighbor: "they only hit you until you cry/after that you don't ask why." Those lines sound more genuine in the shaky, erratic handwriting of a woman scared to write out what she is thinking, but knowing she can't verbalize it.

"Yes, I think I am o.k.," the narrator asserts, trying to convince herself more than her reader, "I walked into the door again." "If you ask, that's what I'll say," certainly suggests that there has been no ask, more evidence of a plea of help through a note. Vega's voice suggests the note might be controlled for the verses, but provides clues of the internal stress through the flowery lettering of her jubilant choruses ("just don't argue any more/just don't ask me how I am.").

The music is so dazzling with the guitar touches and the fabulous guitar solo by Jon Gordon that, as typically is the case with these profoundly sad songs, some uplifting comes at the same time that the lyrics are depressing as hell.

That's why I can't decide if I should love or hate the blue folder.  It seems unfair to compare my professional life with the sad reality of her narrative, but in the end, there feels like so much resemblance. I do at times feel like I am held hostage to my office. My boss wants me to offload much of my day to day work to focus on reaffirmation of accreditation, which is so much easier said than done when there does seem a ball and chain to my everyday duties. I really am tempted to insert the following note with my next signed letter for Diane:

My name is Dave/

My office is on the second floor/

I work next door from you/

Yes I think you've seen me before/

If you hear a cry early in the morn/

Some kind of angst, something forlorn/

Just don't ask me what it was/

Just don't ask me what it was/

Just don't ask me what it was/

I think it's because I'm anal/

I try not to let it be so clear/

Maybe it's because I'm unable/

But there's a ball and chain in here/

It only hits you until you break/

And after that you try to suppress the ache/

You just don't question anymore/

You just don't question anymore/

You just don't question anymore.

"Luka." Suzanne Vega. Solitude Standing. A&M. 1987. Link here.

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Day 94: Hole "Doll Parts."->

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