When they got to the gig, Will, the drummer, was just setting up. He nodded to George and Isolde as he fiddled with his equipment. The bass player hadn’t arrived yet, but that was no surprise. He had told George three months ago that he was playing a wedding in Ocean City “on a Friday afternoon, for God sakes! Doesn’t anyone get married on a Saturday anymore?” he had rhetorically asked.
“Maybe they got a three-day weekend special,” was George’s laconic reply.
“Yeah. So now they are fucking officially, they can’t wait an extra day,” said the bassist. He had been married once, years ago, and was still bitter about how his wife’s lawyer had raked him over for every cent he had. She had a reputation for being a ball buster, and Dan had hired a woman attorney to represent him, hoping to get a better deal. What he didn’t know was that his attorney was the femme to his ex-wife’s domme. He figured that out years later, when he played at a “ladies ball” and saw them come in together. His attorney was wearing a backless sheath, slit up the front to nearly her crotch, and a rhinestone choker. His wife’s attorney was in a tux and held the end of a leash that was connected to a ring at the back of the choker. They did not recognize him and he pretended not to notice them, but he played badly that night, and never got a call from that keyboard player again. He was bitter about that, too, ‘cause he figured it was their fault.
Isolde came up to the bandstand, lugging George’s Peavey and said to the drummer, “You need to find yourself a chick groupie.”
“Just what I need,” he replied. “A groupie grope-ie and another mouth to feed. I can eat myself out of house and home without any extra help, thank you very much.” Isolde laughed and said, “Well, yeah, there is that.”
“Besides,” he went on, “I always have chicks chasing after me by the end of the gig. I get them to help load my shit in exchange for a quick lay.”
“Well, I hope you’re using condoms, otherwise we’ll have to make a cross out of a pair of your sticks when you die of aids,” Isolde said.
“I’m crazy, not stupid,” was the reply.
Their banter was interrupted when Dan arrived, still wearing his tux from the wedding gig.
“Damn, Boy! You clean up real good,” Isolde said to him as he sauntered up to the bandstand.
“Do you think I’m overdressed for a polka crab feast?” he asked.
“Yeah, man. You need to change into lederhosen,” said George.
“Nah, just take off your pants,” said the drummer. “You don’t want to get Old Bay on your expensive leather shorts.”
“Okay,” he replied, and unzipped his fly.
“BOYS!” Isolde broke in. “Behave yourselves.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m wearing swim trunks under my tux.” And he proceeded to remove his trousers. He tucked the shirt into the waistband of the trunks and put his cummerbund back on. The whole effect was slightly Jamaican party-like. He was still wearing his tuxedo jacket, bow tie, shirt, studs, links and cummerbund with swim trunks and bare feet.
“You need some Jesus shoes or something on your feet so you don’t ground your amp and zap yourself,” said George.
“Or cause feedback,” quipped the drummer.
“You’re worried about feedback when we are talking life and death here,” said Dan.
“Well, I just want the band to sound professional,” was the drummer’s reply.
“Yeah. Professional’s important. Especially when the bass player lights up like a KISS concert and keels over dead,” laughed George.
“Didn’t Jimi Hendrix play in bare feet?” asked Isolde.
“Sure. And so did Janis, and they both died young,” said Dan.
“That was the drugs,” said George, ever the stickler for historical fact.
“But it coulda been the electricity,” replied Dan.
“Nah. They were already wired.” Said Will.
Their banter continued as they finished setting up their equipment. At exactly eight o’clock by Will’s Mickey Mouse watch he said, “Okay, let’s git it,” and kicked off a polka two beat on his snare and bass drum. They immediately swung into Pennsylvania Polka
. Dan did a fair job on the vocal, so after a couple of choruses George played a quick transition and they went into the Too Fat Polka
with no break. The dance floor filled up as Dan sang
“I don’t want her
You can have her
She’s too fat for me
She’s too fat for me.”
Isolde found an elderly bald man tapping his foot at one of the picnic tables and dragged him out onto the floor. The band went into a tarantella and, man, this guy could dance! It was all Isolde could do to keep up. It reminded her of dancing in the kitchen with her daddy. The radio was tuned to the Lithuanian Hour playing music by The Polka King. Wayne maybe? She couldn’t remember.
They played two more polkas and another tarantella, and the first set was over.
Isolde brought three bottles of Natty Boh up to the bandstand as George, Dan and Will prepared to leave the stand.
“Who was that geezer you were dancing with?” asked George.
“Dunno. Just somebody’s grandfather, I guess.” She replied, then added, “Sure can dance though. He had more energy than an eighteen year old coke head.”
“Maybe you should try him in bed,” quipped Dan.
“Nah.” She said. “He probably snores and has bad breath in the morning.”
The four of them made their way over to the picnic table reserved for the band. It was piled high with crabs and corn, fresh off the grill. The elderly gentleman came over to the table and asked Isolde, “May I buy you a beer, young lady? You remind me of my late granddaughter.”
George stood and stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m George and these two chow hounds are Dan and Will.”
Dan and Will both looked up and nodded. Dan had an ear of corn slathered in butter and dripping off his chin. Will was carefully dissecting a crab and trying not to get his hands covered in Old Bay.
“I’m Bob,” the man replied. “I used to play clarinet when I was younger. That was before the accident.” He held up a left arm that ended just below his elbow. “I was pretty good, too,” he went on. “Now all I could do is play the drum part for Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.” Isolde laughed, but Will said, “That’s not funny.”
“Yes it is,” said Dan. “That guy might have been a one-armed studio musician for all you know.”
At the mental image of a one-armed studio drummer, they all laughed.
“Now THERE’s a drummer who needs a groupie,” said Will.
“AND a grope-ie,” said Isolde, as they all laughed again.
She turned to Bob and said, “May I open a crab for you?”
“Nah, I can do it myself,” he replied.
With that he picked over them ‘til he found one to his liking. He tore off a paper towel and placed it between his knees. Then, with his good hand, he opened the apron and, grasping the shell in his teeth, broke the crab neatly in half.
“Man, you are hard!” exclaimed Dan.
“Well, you do what you have to,” was the reply. “I tried to play clarinet one handed, with my right hand on top, but it was too awkward and the notes were too limited to be musically interesting, so I gave it up.”
Isolde could not contain her curiosity any longer, and she said to Bob, “What was the accident, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I don’t mind. Everyone does, eventually. It’s kind of hard to disguise a missing arm. I tried once. I went to a Halloween party dressed as an octopus, but when they realized that only one of the eight arms worked, I was busted. Anyway, “ he went on, “that’s another story. It all happened about eleven years ago. I had just finished a gig outside Ocean City at a place called the Chicken Shack. Maybe you remember it? It was an old chicken coop, converted to a crab house. No? Well, no matter. The gig location is not strictly germane anyway. So I had drunk more than I should have to be driving. My daughter and her husband had both mis-drunk themselves, as well, and were passed out in the back seat. My granddaughter was driving. We were headed back to Easton on Route 50 and a tractor trailer rig came across the median and sideswiped us. My daughter and her husband were both, as I said, passed out and not wearing seat belts. They were thrown out of the car and killed. I came to at Maryland Shock Trauma without my arm.”
“What about your granddaughter? Was she killed, too?” asked George.
“Oh, no. The truck had struck our car behind the driver’s door. Other than a few bruises and being shaken up a bit, she was all right. But something snapped insider her head and she got really round heels.” He stopped and took a sip of his beer.
“Round heels?” asked Isolde, confusedly. “What does that mean?”
“Oh, she fell down a lot. Mostly on her back with her legs open and a man on top. But sometimes it was a woman. The final straw was when she was working as a temp secretary, and ran off with the boss. He was a married man with an unwed pregnant daughter and I just could not abide that. So, as far as I’m concerned, she is dead too.”
Isolde was stunned. She sat silently, looking down at her half-eaten crab.
“Well, we have to go back to work,” said George. He had been watching Mickey’s big hand approach Goofy, who was where the twelve should have been on Will’s watch. George decided, rather arbitrarily, that the exact hour was when Mickey’s thumb was about on Goofy’s ass. He thought it apropos that Goofy was being goosed as they had to start the next set.
Isolde danced all evening with Bob, but she did not enjoy it so much, after his description of his granddaughter’s actions.
During the second break, George somehow managed to gash the heel of his thumb on a crab shell tip. Isolde went to the car and came back with iodine and a band aid. George dutifully allowed her to minister to him, but complained that iodine made the cure worse than the disease.
“You are such a wuss,” she said. “It’s a good thing that men don’t have to shit a watermelon in order to make babies.”
“Damn right it is. I’d have been out of the game years ago,” Will remarked.
In the middle of the next set, when he thought she wasn’t looking, George took the band aid off and put it across one of the folds on the bellows of his accordion. Isolde smiled to herself.
In between numbers, Dan said to him, “Someday, you’re gonna stick one of those on and it will be the final straw. You won’t be able to squeeze that thing anymore and you’ll either die of a heart attack or a torn pectoral from trying.”
George just grinned at him. It was true, though. He was constantly banging his knuckles at work, or cutting himself working on his car. Isolde always insisted on “doctoring him up”, as she put it, but he couldn’t play right with his fingers stiffened by band aids, so his accordion was plastered with them. Will said it gave new meaning to the term “band aid”.
At midnight forty-five, Mickey was about to knock Donald’s hat off, and Will gave George the high sign. They played the Blue Skirt Waltz
and Goodnight Sweetheart
, and another gig became one for the record books.
George said, as he always did, “Well, another one’s over and nobody got hurt.” Which wasn’t true, because he had, but that didn’t count, because it wasn’t a musical faux pas.
As they were packing up, Isolde noticed a particularly well-endowed pair of twins helping Will load out his gear.
“Well, all of those rococo breasts will have both of his heads spinning.” She thought. Aloud, she said to George, “Good thing you guys are not playing tomorrow. I don’t think Will could do that two nights in a row.”
George glanced over al Will and his entourage and said, “My hat’s off to him. I don’t think I could do it one night in a row.”
Isolde linked her arm in his and squeezed it. “How about a half a night in a row, Big Fella. Think you could manage that?”
He leaned down and kissed her ear. “Sure,” was all he said.
On the way home, George got tired of the constant highway driving and got off of Route 50 at Route 2, instead of taking the Interstate. At Parole, the light changed from green to red with no yellow phase. George slammed on the brakes, and after a short screech of his tires, the pedal went right to the floor. A flashbulb went off as they sailed through the intersection. He pulled up on the emergency brake and pulled off to the side of the road.
“Shit,” said Isolde. “Just what we need is a traffic light fine.”
“And higher insurance rates,” thought George, but he didn’t say it. What he said was, “Wish I had a camera.”
“What are you gonna do, take a picture of the camera taking a picture of you taking a picture?” She had a quick mental image of standing between two mirrors, seeing a reflection of a reflection of a reflection.
“No, Silly. I want to take a picture of our location and the broken brake line. Maybe I can fight at least the fine and a couple of points in traffic court,” replied George.
“I have a camera in my backpack,” said Isolde.
George peered under the car, but it was too dark to see anything. “Isolde, do you have a flashlight?” he asked.
She got her flashlight, and with it, George could see the brake fluid had leaked out on the front passenger side. He jacked up the car and took off the wheel.
“Look at this,” he said to Isolde. He held the flexible brake line in his hands and bent it so she could see the tear in it. Isolde took a picture as he held it. She hoped the Parole Plaza Shopping Center sign wasn’t too out of focus.
She said to George, “I have tape in my backpack. Maybe you could bandage it?”
So George wrapped electrical tape across the leak, and reinforced it all with duct tape. “Now all we need is a gas station to get brake fluid and go to the bathroom.”
They looked up and down the road, but didn’t see any lit gas station signs.
“I have another can of Coke,” said Isolde. “Would that work?”
“I don’t think so,” replied George. “I think the carbonation would make too many bubbles. I really need to find a place to pee,” he added.
“Why not on your car that’s always breaking down,” said Isolde. She was beginning to be a little irked by George’s self concern. “Didn’t he think she might have to pee, too?” she wondered.
“That’s IT!” George shouted. “I’ll pee in the brake fluid reservoir.” And he did. Having Isolde pump the pedal, he bled the air out of the wheel cylinder using her locking pliers as a wrench. By now, Isolde really had to go to the bathroom. She said to George, “I’m going to pee out the passenger door before we get going again.”
“What if someone sees you?” asked George. He looked at the steady stream of traffic passing by on the roadway.
“If they haven’t seen it before, they won’t know what it is. And if they have, they’ll understand,” she said, as she squatted down.
When they got home, it was after two a.m. It had been a long day and they were both exhausted, but thinking about breakfast food. Isolde went into the kitchen while George was getting his accordion and amplifier in from the car.
As she turned on the overhead light, she heard something skittering around in the back corner of the counter. She looked at the counter, and saw it was covered in mouse droppings.
“That does it!” she exclaimed angrily. Without another word, she gathered her tent, air mattress, and sleeping bag and stomped out of the trailer.
Over her shoulder she barked, “I’ll be back tomorrow for the rest of my stuff.”
And she walked out into the night.
George went into the kitchen and looked around. “Well,” he thought, “I know one place where no mice have been.” He opened the refrigerator and took out a slice of bologna and two slices of cheese.
“You don’t have to have bread to make a sandwich,” he thought to himself as he munched on it. He sat on the couch and turned on the TV. There was nothing on but infomercials, so he turned it off again. He closed his eyes, “just to rest them for a minute,” he thought. Soon he was snoring heavily.
Isolde was carrying her tent, air mattress and sleeping bag in her arms. She had her backpack slung over one shoulder. She felt awkward, and decided to find the first empty lot she could to set up camp in. After walking about a quarter of a mile, she found what she was looking for. She dropped her things on the ground and sat on top of them.
She took her last can of Coke out of the backpack and thought to herself as she snapped the top, “It’s not the first time I’ve had Coke for breakfast.” She looked at the sky and could see no clouds. “I don’t think it will rain tonight. I’ll set up my tent in the daylight. I’ll just lay on it and the sleeping bag while I blow up my air mattress.”
She lay on her side and took the air mattress filler in her teeth. She puckered her lips around the nozzle and began breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth, filling the mattress. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.
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<a href="http://www.lushstories.com/stories/novels/george-isolde-and-the-brass-ring-pola.aspx">George Isolde and the Brass Ring Pola Band (Ch IV)</a>