Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Music Hath Not Charms to Soothe the Savage Bra

cartoon by Davey


When committing to a war of attrition, psy-ops is everything. As teenagers, we had already at our disposal a vast array of psychological torture devices that send grown men and women to their knees, weeping, pleading, "Mercy! Have Mercy on me! I will get you the damn puppy, and I WILL DO THE DISHES....you don't have to...just stop repeating everything I say....pleeeeeease?" And because we were compassionate and just, and because we had reduced our elders to helpless neurotic piles of spent humanity, we did stop, and we did get the puppy, and they DID do the DISHES....

So, the question was, which weapon would end this sham marriage and restore our names back to "White Trash Hooligans"....from "White Trash Hooligans with Perv Dad?" Enter the Tin Clarinet. Horn of Doom. Woodwind PainStick of Horror.

One night, while pretending to be a great jazz flautiste, sitting in with the boys on my Dave Brubeck albums, and with Maynard Ferguson Live at Jimmy's album, I stopped. Bra had been pounding on my locked door to tell me to give it a rest...it was past 10 pm and "People Were TRYING to SLEEP." Well, I didn't know those people, and I certainly wasn't one of them, but I was quite winded, and sleep didn't sound half bad, but Bra gets irritated at loud noises...and she hated me practicing anyway, so that became our first weapon of war. She becomes so irritated at all the noise, that she often becomes one with the noise and outlouds the noise we were trying to irritate her with in the first place. The flute, being a girlish and pretty-sounding instrument...once you got over the passing-out-while-learning-how-to-play-it phase, simply did not suffice. In the bottom of my closet was the instrument which caused weeping and suffering so great, that my grandfather banished it from his house and gave it to my brother, who, not having anything remotely to do with practice, eventually gave it to me.

Grandmama's tin clarinet was so old, the pads came off when the keys were pressed. In the bell was a large dent...probably where Grandmama's mother, angry at the fact that her husband had built a house for his mistress in back of the family homestead, and proceeded to cuckhold himself there, hurled the offensive demon horn against the door, and dented it. But I digress.

Grandmama's tin horn was of no use in any orchestra. It couldn't be tuned, it couldn't be pawned, it could only collect dust. During those times when I attempted to play it, the low notes would stray upward...not gradually, either, but with unexpected suddenness, causing my head to collapse into my shoulders, in a vain attempt to shield itself from the pain. I would immediately stop playing it at that point, since it was a futile attempt to keep the cursed instrument under control.

The next morning, I sat in with the Firehouse Five Plus Two Dixieland All Stars Band and when it came my turn to solo during the Tiger Rag, I gave it my all and then some. The horn couldn't keep the pitch, but sounded like a police siren that couldn't be turned off. And then it sounded like a wounded cat, begging for the car to come back and finish him off. And then, well, just high pitched squalling and all the other noises that occur when one bites down on the reed and blows. The effect was almost immediate. Bra knocked furiously on the door for me to stop, but she couldn't use the "it's past 10 and everyone is sleeping" ruse, because I checked, and it was 9 am,
and it was Saturday, and it was raining out, and I still had several days left of being grounded, so I continued to play. And she continued to scream, and threaten, and beg, and cry....it only took an hour and she was crying! Finally, at around noon, I gave it a final rest. Later that week we allowed Dad to drive over it with the car. It could inflict pain no more.

Now, it is at this point, where I will simply refer to Bra as R., since that is actually the first letter of her name. R. is also easier to spell.

We had our first truce after the clarinet incident. The next battle involved drum sticks with plastic tips. (Hint: Formica countertops being tapped upon with plastic tipped drumsticks has a spine shattering effect guaranteed to let you go to the movies, even when R. said no six times already. You can probably get popcorn money, too, depending on the proper amount of tappage.)

The next battle involved a promise my father had made to me. He promised me that I could have a finely crafted pearwood descant recorder, if I could master the cheapo Yamaha 2 dollar one, first. And so I did. And this was no weapon, either. In no time at all, I went from playing Hot Cross Buns, to Handel, Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi. And my prize was an Israeli hand made Gill pearwood recorder, which was special ordered and very expensive....but the difference is that the sound was so much sweeter. My favorite place to practice was in the branches of our apricot tree, or on the rooftop that overhung the backporch. My window opened right onto the roof, and from there, I could climb into the tree and practice my recorder. I usually played the recorder when I knew no one would be home. But whenever R. was home, she would complain about the noise.

R. did not like the recorder. Even the larger alto and tenor and bass recorders...but what she really didn't like, was the fact that my father had spent 50 dollars on a whistle. And so, she disappeared it. She came to me and told me, gloating. I looked everywhere for it, but I never found it again,and I took the loss personally. This was beyond mean. It was cruel and spiteful. It was war.

Lacking a clarinet, I found an even more useful instrument of torture. The ocarina. I bought the clay ocarina from the music store for a few bucks, and instead of being loud and piercing....it was a sub-neural type of instrument. It lacked the ability to play anything melodic. At first, it sounded sweet enough, but the toy could only play three random notes. So playing it was like a Chinese water torture. The same three notes, softly played, over and over and over, sent her crashing into my room, where she grabbed the porcelain three note wonder and flung it against the wall, shattering it to pieces. She turned and walked out, slamming the door behind her, leaving me with a stupid grin on my face.

The following instruments were used in battle with less effectiveness: The Jew's harp....I kept getting my tongue pinched, or the middle boinging device kept hitting my teeth and hurting me. The brass fife....not as irritating as the ocarina or the tin clarinet. Playing Spike Jones records loudly....she only laughed...she was getting wise to me.

Ultimately, nothing worked, and I had to resign myself to the fact that she was married to my father....for better, or hopefully worse.

Next: Cry Havoc and release the Frogs of War!

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