Took a week off—in Maine, with my family (the Buskers Deutschland Tour that fell through left me with almost two weeks with no bookings—a rare and wonderful Summer holiday). But the night before we left…
I got a last-minute call as sideman for an oldies R&B band I occasionally play with; a big 50th birthday party in a New Hampshire commuter suburb—all huge, newly built homes in the woods. At the last gig I played in this town the wedding party ended up in the pool while the band played to nobody in a wet gazebo in the chilling rain. This time we played in an open two-car garage, which we shared with a smelly keg of Budweiser, a few drunken dancers and a host of mosquitoes as the night wore on.
And on. The younger generation had a fun time, I guess, beer bonging periodically from a foul-looking oil funnel, plastic hose comtraption right in front of the band, while some of the older generation—friends of the Birthday Boy, (i.e. 50-year-olds) egged them on, occasionally kneeling on the garage floor under the paraphernalia for a stomach full of Bud themselves. But it was the college kids who particularly distinguished themselves and made me proud to be American that night.
Everyone seemed to be smoking cigars, too, which I loathe. At one point a stocky, drunken, under-dressed woman with a bunch of tattoos grabbed one of the young Binge Drinkers and made him dance with her. She did what I thought was a mesmerizingly sad little hands-on-the-hip, slowly turning, come-hither dance, smoking a cigar all the while—until the kid staggered off to safety. She bravely kept it up alone for a while after, but I felt sorry for both of them. Lord have mercy I was glad for her when her tough-looking little husband returned and danced with her--couldn't keep his hands off her. Hey--guess what the guy’s birthday present was? Think big! A car? Good guess, but I mean BIG. Yes, a brand new Hummer. Hey, why not?!
Red meat (there was nothing I could have eaten at the party except hamburger roll and ketchup), cigars, drunkenness, a Hummer—a liberal democrat’s nightmare! But, mercifully every gig has to end. If it didn’t, now THAT be the gig from hell: the show is over––but the load out and drive home take literally forever—that would make Sisyphus seem a sissy.
Eventually I was able to drive my humble old Subaru back up the long driveway and load up my gear. And when I finally slammed the hatch down, the big bicycle rack my wife put on for the next day’s trip to Maine came down in the dark and beaned me on the head so hard I went down "like a sack of potatoes”, according to eyewitnesses. Gave me a streak and a little cut on my bald forehead that looked—and felt––exactly like an exclamation mark for days. Drove home holding ice to my head and shaking it slowly side to side in disbelief that I agreed to play for as little as I did when the guy got a frickin’ Hummer.
“God bless the happy couple, we wish them both good cheer
They just spent more tonight than we’ll make in a year
We could have charged them double but our consciences are clear
So put the fiddles down, boys, and let’s get out of here.”
--from Put the Fiddles Down, on “Ray’s Vacation” (www.thebuskers.com)
Let me end on a nicer note. One guy—friend to both the leader of the band and the Birthday Boy—was very solicitous, helped me get ice and made sure I was all right before I left. But what made a big impression on me was when earlier this same guy came up in the middle of a set and, using sign language, asked each of us if we needed a spray of insect repellant—and proceeded to carefully spray each musician’s arms and neck while he played. I’m not doing this justice, but it really was a supreme act of sensitivity and kindness (especially coming from another guy--you know how homophobic men get). Needless to say, he wasn’t drinking, and I was told that he (like the bandleader and apparently not many others present) is a teetotaler –-with a history, of course.
The next day my wife felt terrible about the bike rack, which made me feel a lot better. Almost made up for the whole repellant evening. Oh, I shouldn’t say that. The music was fun and I like the guys in the band, it’s just….