I’m not normally the kind of soul interested in prologues and introductions. Nah, I prefer to dive straight into the story, or the work to be done, and figure things out as I go along. However, since coming back from Spain a few characters have begun to make their presence felt and the tale, told by an idiot, that is about to unfold could do with an introduction so here it is.
About a week ago I woke up to find a fellow carelessly draped over a kitchen chair sipping some coffee. A rumpled thatch of black hair crowned his head. His face, wrapped in a pair of ’50s sunglasses and sporting several days growth, was kind and gentle. He wore a bleached white shirt, bleached white shorts, both torn and ragged, and sandals. His nut brown skin completed the image of someone who’d been marooned on a tropical island for several years. “Can I help you?”, I asked. “No thanks” he replied lifting my coffee mug in salute, “I’ve helped myself.” The door bell rang so I left my ‘guest’, who seemed comfortable enough and not very dangerous, and carefully descended the stairs. The process of waking up was still in its earliest phases and things like stairs, strange people appearing in the kitchen and early morning visitors had to be approached carefully. Shuffling through the entrance hall I fumbled for the keys and opened the door to a broad oak of a man. He had a red crew cut, wore a checked shirt, jeans and, despite the muggy summer weather, heavy boots. There was a no nonsense air about the man and as he brushed past he said “Leave the door open, Louis’ll be here in a minute”. As soon as his foot hit the first step of the staircase the coffee drinker in the kitchen shouted “Scratch my man!!”. “Hey Strap. How’s it hanging?” the Heavy Boots responded in a deep voice and he clomped up the stairs. I stood in the doorway scratching my head and wondering a) who Louis might be and b) how long I’d have to wait for him. I turned and there, in the doorway, stood four gentlemen. They were completely identical. They had the same short tidy brown hair, their faces encased in identical sunglasses, and they all wore the same neat off white long sleeved shirt buttoned to the neck and the cuff with a thin black tie, chinos, sensible walking shoes and they each carried an instrument case. Unable to come up with anything better I said, “Come in” and they did. Without a word they glided past, shoes not quite touching the floor, and floated up the stairs without a sound. I turned once more and stuck my head out the door to check if anybody else was going to show but the street was completely empty and silent. I shut the door and headed back to the kitchen. When I got there the kettle was boiling and the coffee pot primed. I surveyed the scene and said “Thanks very much everybody for coming but…. Who are you?”. The bleached white shirt looked at me bemused, took a last swig of his first coffee, placed it gently on the coaster, drew his arms over his head, interlocked his fingers, brought them down behind him, nestled his head in his hands and smiled, “We’re the band.”
The First Meeting
Coffee distribution complete we decamped upstairs to the studio. The four identical gentlemen squeezed themselves together on the sofa and placed their instrument cases at their feet. The oak tree perched on the end of a coffee table and Bleached Shirt settled on the rocking chair. With nowhere else to sit I turned an office chair around. Leaning forward against the back of the chair I held my coffee in two hands and waited to see what would happen next. “Para and Bec-Key couldn’t make it today but they’ll be along when needed.” said Bleached Shirt easing himself into a gentle motion, “In the meantime a few introductions. I’m The Straphanger.” “The King of Rhythm and Groove.” added the oak reverently. “This here, “ continued Straphanger pointing at the oak, “…is Scratch. He’s a master of percussion and irregular loud noises. And, on the sofa here, we have the four Louis. They specialise in spice and flavour.” The Straphanger bent his head over the back of the rocker increasing his rocking motion and the chair released a soft and steady rhythm of creaks and taps. His face set towards the ceiling, The Straphanger continued his story. “Now, their father was a part time jazz drummer and a full time post office clerk. Their mother had the voice of a nightingale….” As he weaved the story of the four Louis his gentle voice and easy delivery cast a hypnotic spell. My eyes shuttered shut. His words became images. Small town New Jersey shimmered in and out of focus. Four young boys, always together, playing on the back porch, marching to school, and marching home again and always with something pressed to their lips, blades of grass, leaves, bits of cardboard, anything to produce a sound….
At some point, I’m not entirely sure when, the story switched to Scratch. His father had been a test pilot but he was mostly raised by his mother on account of his father being scattered over three states when the plane he was testing blew up due to an urgent need to get it passed into production and some faulty maintenance procedures. Together, mother and son did their best to scratch a living out of the poorer neighbourhoods around Los Angeles. The Straphanger drew his story to a close, continued rocking and smiling at the ceiling. Some time had passed. I shook myself awake, rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock. It was four pm. All six visitors were still there. I sat quietly for a moment and then, unable to think of anything else to say, turned to the big guy and asked “How long have you been playing drums?” “I’ve never played drums.” “But… didn’t this gentleman,” I said pointing to The Straphanger, “say you are a drummer?”. “No, I make loud crashes and thumping noises. It can be drums but it doesn’t have to be.” “So, you’ve never played drums?” “Nope”. I wasn’t getting it. I’m sitting in a room with a groove merchant who draw music out of a rocking chair, a percussionist who had never played drums and four clones on the couch. I made a mental note to check whatever it was I’d been ingesting the night before and the next time I felt flush to order a lot of it. I lifted my eyes to the four guys on the sofa and said “Ok, but I don’t see how this works. If you’ve all got the same name how can anybody differentiate?” The Straphanger, still smiling, still rocking gently said, “Think of a song.” Pulling my attention back towards him I said, “I beg your pardon.” “Think of a song, any song at all, past present or future.” After a moment I replied, “Ok, I’ve got one”. “Say, Louis, kick us off”. I said “Louis, kick us off.” The second on the left unpacked his trumpet and released a soft flowing line. The Straphanger set a creaking tapping rhythm with his rocking. Louis on the far left unpacked his trumpet and joined his brother at the end of the fourth bar. The pair of them spun out the introduction of “Twilight”, the very song I had in my head, until Scratch announced the start of the first verse with a deep echoing thump on the coffee table. This was getting to be too much and I was getting very hungry. “Why don’t we head off to the pub for lunch and a chat?” said The Straphanger. “Let’s go to the Bar Mundo.” he added. “It’s only four o’clock.” I said, “They don’t open until six and they don’t serve food.” “They’ll be open” said Louis “…and they’ll serve food” said another. We collected our coffee cups and wandered off.
The Bar Mundo
We arrived at the Bar Mundo and it was, as predicted, open and serving food. On the spur of the moment they’d decided to set up a temporary kitchen and lay out a variety of tapas, hot and cold. A table in the far corner had been set for seven. On it were four Pina Coladas, a very large beer, a glass of rum, and a Duvel. I didn’t bat an eye. Once established in his chair Scratch started thumping the table, “We need a constitution and a reason.” The Straphanger leaned towards me, ever grinning, and said “Scratch here, is very practical, very down to earth, very much concerned with mechanics, logistics and purpose.” “We need a reason for being, a plan, an aspiration” thumped Scratch. “We need another Pina Colada” said Louis, the first having disappeared rather rapidly. The next round arrived without a moment lost and Scratch continued without a pause, “For such a small planet there’s far too much fear, hatred and loneliness. You ask Para, he’s seen hundreds of worlds and none of them are in the mess this one’s in.” “Whose Para?” I asked leaning towards The Straphanger. “Para Normal, he’s the lead guitar player” he whispered back. Scratch was on a roll “There’s too much isolation, indifference, jealousy and hatred. We’ve got to do something about it.” “What?”, I couldn’t think of anything else to say, “It seems all the things you mentioned are pretty well established and hard to shift.” “But shift they must be!”, Scratch, I could see, was not big on compromise, “We just need a plan.” “You’re right of course Scratch but let’s turn it around and focus on good things… good vibes. We’ll write our constitution tonight and fill it full of positive images”, The Straphanger rubbed his hands and warmed to his theme. “Goldenrod, take notes.” “I’ll take another Pina Colada”, came from one, possibly all four, of the Louis. And with that the discussion drilled into positive vocabulary and phrasing and good deeds. Racing every faster, with points of order overlapping, position statements, which where crammed in between extended discourses, the flames of debate, fuelled by constantly replenished glasses, grew to a white heat. Speakers, often several at once, would start on a theme, build their argument into an unassailably tower of logical strength and then, just before coming to the critical conclusion that would solve everything and make Earth a nice place to live…. forget what they were talking about. Unabashed they’d immediately launch into another acute analysis, followed by another round of drinks, followed by a moment’s memory loss, followed by an even better idea than the one they’d just forgotten. The world around me swirled like the view from a waltzer travelling at the speed of light. Shapes became lines. All sounds melted into a single calamity. Life had become a roller coaster and the only thing scarier than being on that roller coaster was the thought of there not being a roller coaster at all. I could feel myself plunging into depths of darkness, wheels screaming against rails, straight down, eyes bulging, cheeks flapping, hands reaching out, finding nothing to grasp… then “That’s it!! That’s perfect!!” rang in my ears, echoed in my mind and then the world went black and silent.
The Next Morning
I woke up the next morning with a raging thirst, a head like thunder and an uneasy feeling that either something very strange had happened or I’d just had the dream of dreams. Mentally I began a systems check. Feet? Two. Toes wiggle and ankles turn. Legs? Also two and they appear to be in the right place and functional. Hands and arms? Yep, everything seems to be in order. It must have been a dream. I reached over to grab my alarm clock to find the time but my hand fell on a beer mat. I cradled my glasses on my nose, read the scribble on the mat and knew immediately. It hadn’t been a dream.