Episode VIII - Absorbent like a Radiator

“Black covers all mistakes. If one of us hits a wrong note, it will just absorb into our clothes, leaving our sound smooth and wrinkle-free.”

That was Mr. Mysterious with that crazy grin again, as if it was a perfectly common sense idea he had just stated. Mr. Mysterious and I had become fast friends on a trip with the Boy Scouts. We had met on the first day of planning. Our provisional Scout troop was headed to the National Jamboree in god-knows-where Virginia. Mr. Mysterious was slightly shorter than me with a lanky build and in ready possession of that crazy grin. He was a month younger than me and lived close to me, but not close enough to be in same school district.

Mr. Mysterious could talk about anything. Mid-way through our trip, a ferocious storm trapped us in our tent. The excellent sealing job we had done could not keep the inch of water oozing from the saturated ground from under our cots. Despite the fact that all of our possessions were struggling to stay afloat, Mr. Mysterious’ wit was quite dry as he posited a sacrilegious theory about Scouting. His theory was simple: Eagle Scouts would make excellent criminals. His logic on this matter was impeccable. His reasoning went as follows: 1. Scouts received training in a variety of useful activities that would be beneficial in a criminal enterprise. For example, they received physical conditioning by receiving badges in swimming, running, and other dexterous activities.

Scouts also received training in such mental activities as wilderness survival, orienteering, a variety of sciences, and an extensive background in the federal laws. Last, Scouts had the opportunity to learn specialized skills, such as piloting motorboats, firearm training, and nuclear physics, as the merit badge in Atomic Energy demonstrated. It followed that Eagle Scouts could become expert criminals, as they would possess a totality of the requisite knowledge needed for any illegal enterprise as they had completed all of the requirements to become an Eagle Scout.

Such ideas were met by a flat silence by the rest of the tent. I laughed. To mollify the others present we quickly agreed never to turn our Scoutly powers to evil, as that would be utterly reprehensible. Aside from our affinity for a good rambunctious conversation, Mr. Mysterious and I had other common interests. Both of us were musicians. Both of us were also the Drum Major’s of our respective High School bands. Mysterious played the sax which was the natural musical enemy of my chosen instrument, the trumpet. Once we realized that we were rivals, the nerdly boasts and taunts slowly ramped up to a cacophony of unreasonableness. The situation was exacerbated when we learned that our other friend, Hot Chops, was an avid musician in his band. Somehow, the three of us managed to get past all of the posturing, and actually come up with a good idea. When we got back home, the three of us, along with some other friends would try to form a band of our own.

At our first meeting, Hot Chops brought his clarinet, and a friend who played the trombone, “Mr. Trombone”. Mr. Mysterious brought his sax, and a drummer, “Ms. Skins”, and I brought my trumpet, and my friend, “Mr. Basealicious”, who, unfortunately, actually referred to himself by that moniker. In the garage of Hot Chops, we developed a good sound, a real good smooth, swinging sound. After we had played for a while it was resolved that, despite some people’s inability to drive themselves places on their own, and despite curfews, and the fact that we could never play in any clubs, or for that matter, probably anywhere awesome, we would form a band.

At this point the discussion about attire came up, and Mr. Mysterious placed his idea in front of the group. The obvious rejoinder from Hot Chops, who fancied himself a physics expert, was that we should be wearing all white, because white reflected all items, thus expelling any wrong notes quickly away from us. It was Hot Chops’ contention that the black would draw the bad notes back in towards us, as a radiator painted all black trapped all of the heat in a building. I wanted nothing to do with such oddball comments, so I kept quiet. In the end, all black attire was chosen for two simple reasons: it didn’t show stains and it didn’t show stains. After attire, the debate then began about whether we would call the band “the Dead Souls” as per Hot Chops suggestion, or “Ring of Fire”, as suggested by Mr. Mysterious. Hot Chops based his name off of some sort of philosophic scientific book he had just read, and Mr. Mysterious based his name off of a potential inside joke among the band members, as we would be wearing complete black, and “Ring of Fire” was a famous song by Johnny Cash.

I was overly apathetic about both choices as I was in a serious food coma at that point from having eaten too much pizza. In the end, the band was named “the Dead Souls” and we would wear all black. That was all I needed to know. That and when we would practice. As it turned out at the beginning, we had more gigs booked than practices. We had such glorious gigs as mall openings, birthday parties, coffee shops, and a performance at a picnic for Mr. Basealicious’ fathers company who never paid us anything, unless you count the couple of cans of soda we finagled from the tight fisted catering company that served the guests.

After practicing for eleven years, my participation in the “Dead Souls” was clearly my musical high point, as I was an integral role in a swing-jazz cover band. It was even better than nearly beaning innocent bystanders with my Drum Major’s mace in parades. As far as I could tell, being in any sort of cover band carried with it a certain amount of notoriety, but not the kind that gave me a lot of cash. Although Hot Chops did make an extra twenty-five cents the hard way one mall opening when a quarter smacked off his forehead. We were living the musicians dream, poor, struggling, and living with our parents. It was all about the music. We had also made a pact as artists, that we would sell out if we were ever discovered, and that we would never tell our non-band friends about our group because then they might actually want to see us play sometime, and that would be uncool.

Finally, after paying our dues with such small time performances, we had hit the big time with our first international performance. Mr. Mysterious’ Uncle was getting married at his home just South of Tijuana, Mexico, and after having heard us perform somewhere, was very interested in us playing his wedding. Usually people were very interested in us performing when they hadn’t heard us before, so the fact that we had at least one fan was refreshing. Even better, he was going to pay us $2,500.00 for four hours, which amounted to just over four hundred dollars a person, or a hundred dollars or so an hour. It wasn’t a multi-million dollar recording contract and a sold out tour schedule, but it was still better than working at a bagel store. We took the deal easily. On the designated date, we donned our respective all black outfits and got into two cars to drive down to Mexico.