"So you think I'd be terrible at it?"
"I'm sure you would."
"I was pretty good on the guitar in my day."
"I can see now I was totally wrong about you. Your guitar experience would translate over into banjo and soon have you a favorite on the bluegrass circuit."
"So if I buy one, will you go running to your car shrieking?"
"Anything to make a sale."
Later I did indeed see him at a bluegrass festival, picking contentedly in the parking lot.
The next stop was a break in the routine.
I started playing the banjo at the front door as usual. A burly young
man appeared at once, and gestured me in. The house was in a bit
of a shambles. He apologized and said he was remodeling it.
I noticed he had a foreign accent, which I always find interesting, as
I seldom travel to foreign lands--just wait for the world to come to me
(or an alien abduction).
Before I could launch into my sales spiel, he started in on his own agenda:
"Have you ever heard the story of the man who was consigned to row the boat back and forth across the lake until someone took the oars?"
"Was it the Brothers Grimm?" I asked.
"It was real. I too am musician. My name is Vladivostock Bahclava. I have an instrument from the old country. You must see it."
I'm a sucker for weird instruments. Even though I hated to let the topic wander far from my sales spiel, I figured if he already had one instrument he might buy another... He brought out a dusty but intricately decorated relative of a balalaika that, indeed, its like I had never seen before...
"It is called a Bitar. You see, it
has 5 strings like your banjo. I will show you how it plays..."
He started playing a weird modal melody. It was very syncopated and
hypnotic. I started to imagine goats jumping across rocky precipices
as he played. Then he stopped.
"I have had this since I was 5 years old. I am the only one to ever play on this instrument."
"I'd love to have a go at it, I said..."
"I was hoping you would," he said...
When I picked it up, it seemed alive. I checked the tuning--it was indeed a modal tuning not unknown in the banjo circles I frequent. I began to play "Dig a hole in the Meadow." Time stretched, and seemed to have no meaning.
"There's just a couple things I should tell you," he said... "You'll be free of the curse when someone offers to play that Bitar. And don't forget to unlock a door before the moon rises. I forgot last night, and ended up tearing the place up pretty well..."
Then the obnoxious banjo salesman was gone, and I was
alone with my fabulous Bitar. I was free! Free! Free
from my wife (Wife? Did I have a wife?). Free from my business (What's
a business?). Nothing to do but play my fabulous Bitar...
No, that wasn't exactly true... I thought about the goats, the heights of the mountains, the old country... There was something the salesman said I should do before nightfall... Oh, yes, unlock the door! Of course--the door keeps out the night, and the night is my only friend beside my Bitar. I went out on the porch, and played while the evening grew darker. I sang the old songs, in the language I thought I'd forgotten. Rashtucna! Pralsh! Fram Fram!
Foolish young prats came by with their Ipods, unable to hear the real music of the night. As I played, the moon rose full in the east, blood red in the sky made smoky by distant forest fires... I set down my Bitar and walked out towards the moon. A part of me worried that the Bitar might be stolen, but then I remembered the curse, and figured it would be there when I got back...
I walked to the hills, and bounded up the ridge to the brighter moonlight. As I went up, instead of growing tired, I felt myself grow lighter, almost cat-like (or vulpine, being the mot juste). The fur on my paws was long and gray. I hungered for berries. I came to a mountain ash tree. I bounded up in the brush to catch a mouthful of the berries. With my sharp claws I clambered up into the branches. Later I climbed a pine tree, and found a hawk's nest to sleep in. Life was lovely, being a fox.
(Reality Check: Okay, hold it right there, Mr. Crazier-than-thou
Stream of Consciousness writer! I can accept that your alter ego
traded personalities with some nutso Transylvanian or something.
No problem there--lots of presidence in mythology and whatnot. And
that he shape-shifted into a were-fox? A bit wimpier than a were-wolf,
but whatever. But now you're talking about a fox climbing trees...
Are you out of your mind?
Brad replies: I was shocked, shocked to find out today that the Pacific Northwest Gray Fox can actually climb trees, and mostly eats fruit. No wonder I encorporated it into the story, in spite (or because) of its utter weirdness.
Okay, what's with using words like vulpine, and mot
Brad replies: When I read P.G. Wodehouse, besides his liking to use the phrase "mot juste," (which means "the perfect phrase") he'd also every 5 or 10 pages throw in some $10 word just to show he knew his stuff. I don't argue with Wodehouse. I wouldn't mind chatting with him, but then he's dead... As it is, I am cursed to carry on Q and A sessions with myself. Why do I bother? I already know the answers...)
Yes, I woke up in the morning in a hawk's nest, my body
parts dangling off all sides. I made a cautious descent, then felt
drawn to return to the Bitar. When I got back to the house, I picked
it up and immediately started playing. So that was it. A double
curse--forced to play Bitar by day, Werefox at night. Could
be worse, I thought... I'd heard of people cursed to turn into
fruit bats, flying every night to locate overripe fruit and suck out the
cloying essence of them. Besides, my calluses on my picking
fingers ought to get doubly good, what with running about the woods on
them at night...
I was just getting into playing the atonal nuances of the Michael Hurley song, "The Werewolf," when the door bell rang.
It was Vladivostock Bahclava with a banjo case.
"I don't want any," I said. "I've got a Bitar..."
"I know," he said. "I want it back..."
"You can't have it. This is just the kind of life I always wanted." I tried to shut the door on him, but his foot was in the doorway.
I said, "You've learned the Jedi sales tricks quickly. I'm sure you'll be a great banjo salesperson."
"I didn't realize how boring it would be living in the real world with a job. I want my own life back..." He ripped the Bitar out of my hands and started playing. I had to concede that he was very good on the Bitar. Given time, I would probably eclipse him, but...
"So did you sell any banjos?" I asked.
"Ha, I went to your house and had a good night's rest for once without waking up in a hole or tree in the woods."
"So what made you come back here?"
"I couldn't face up to the daily grind. Banjo selling is so boring!"
He had a point.
"Well," I said. We can wrestle all day for control of your Bitar, or I can just sell you a banjo and go away."
That sale was tougher than average.
Later I saw Vladivostock Bahclava playing with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. I just don't practice enough to make the big time. Some guys get all the luck.
|7. The Ravine Runner||8.
|11. The Secret Six||12.
|13. The Old School|
Lost in the City
The Curse of
Pirates of the Puget Sound
Building a platform, plank by plank
How I spent
Help I am trapped
in the future
Nose of Death