CHAPTER III: Mean To An End
One of the greatest books I've ever read is "The Count of Monte Cristo". It is the ultimate tale of revenge. No, this isn't the start of a bad book report. I only bring up Dumas' classic as a reference point for my own story of getting even.
It all started when I joined a wedding band back in the early 70's. As has been the case for most of my life, I was an aspiring rock'n'roll drummer, but rock'n'roll wasn't cooperating. I needed to pay rent on my new-found digs ? the bottom floor of a small duplex on Fifth Street in my hometown of Plainfield, New Jersey. So I get this gig drumming in a very straight four-piece wedding band. I'm talking about the old fashioned tuxedo clad traditional four man outfit whose foray into rock was a daring rendition of "Song Sung Blue" by Neil Diamond. The bass player was one of those guys who was too old to get with the swingin' 60's program and was now working overtime to catch up with the youth culture spillover in the 70's. He looked like a cross between Ted Baxter, the bumbling newscaster on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and Jack Cassidy, David's (Keith Partridge) actor dad. You know the type ? the semi-chiseled good looks ? what I like to call professionally handsome" ? the phony insidious smile, the blow-dried perfectly styled grayish blonde coif ready for the TV close-ups, the vacant blue eyes devoid of any redeeming thought process, and the pseudo hip demeanor of one of the attendees at a Playboy mansion party. I could have tolerated all of these superficial attributes, but this jerk had it in for me. For some reason, he had a bug up his butt over the fact that I played in a rock band doing my original songs. Why he would care about this I have no idea. He simply couldn't let an opportunity pass without belittling my quest for something greater than the wedding band circuit. Never mind that he never heard any of my songs, he still put me down. It's one thing to be criticized by a knowledgeable music industry bigwig, but this shmuck could hardly keep up on bass during "The Girl From Ipanema".
After months of this verbal abuse, I found ? or should I say I was given
I like to think of myself as a nice person. If a little old lady needs
So old Ted the bassist wants to dabble with the now socially acceptable reefer. OK, I will procure said groovy weed.
The lead singer of my rock group had recently come across an incredibly potent strain of marijuana called Thai Stick. Two or three tokes of this stuff was enough to send any experienced hippie into the Thai-dyed zone for the rest of the day. Make no mistake ? this was grade-A, user beware, don't dare try to function in any way, you're on your own devil's weed. I purchased enough for my devious plan and laid in wait in my lair until the Sunday wedding gig.
Now here's the scene: this wedding band is comprised of Ted on bass; yours truly on drums, and let me add that I was sporting hair halfway down my back and layered on top in a sort of Jewish Keith Richards cum Johnny Thunders motif, which didn't go down well with Ted the bassist; a guitarist who was a nice enough guy who looked a bit like Tom Friedman, the political columnist for the New York Times; and last and possibly least, our leader Joe, the most short-tempered middle-aged Italian musician this side of Sicily. He played that magnificent instrument, the Cordavox, a fancy way of saying an electric accordion. These guys were all in their early to mid forties, which back in the early 70's meant pretty old. It's not like today when we Baby Boomers refuse to let go of our youth, clinging tightly to our beloved classic rock and hair dye.
After our first set, I inform Ted that I've scored the goods and to follow
The two of us sat in the front seat of my Opal Cadet, strange head fellows indeed. I instructed him on the proper procedure in the fine art of toking. Inhale deeply into the lungs, keep it down there as long as humanly possible, and then slowly exhale. On his first gulp he goes into a gasping convulsive coughing fit. I calmly tell him, that's cool, man, everything is groovy. Coughing is a good thing. I, on the other hand, have experienced Thai Stick and know not to even let one puff into my lungs. I simply blow into the joint, faking the toke. Hell, I'm getting zonked enough from the contact high. The whole interior of the Cadet is thick with smoke. Ted starts to get the hang of it. He's suckin' it down. Bill Clinton would be proud.
We're in uncharted territory here. First-time pot smoker with enough Thai Stick in him for the Grateful Dead and their entire entourage.
Thai Stick has a delayed reaction of about five minutes, but when it kicks in, it's about as close to a hallucinogen high as you're gonna get. The phrase "ton of bricks" comes to mind as you attempt to dig your way out back to reality.
So Ted ambles into the reception hall for our second set, unaware of what is about to hit him. He's probably thinking, I can handle this groovy grass trip, when boom! The Thai Stick whacks him in the head. I watch as he slows down to the pace of an intoxicated snail. He just makes it to the bandstand where he sits down and begins mumbling incoherently. He's shaking his head from side to side, in a "no no no" gesture. I get in earshot and I'm pretty certain I hear him say "I have no business being a musician, I'm a fraud, I don't know how to play the bass, I have to go home right now. " He's basically having a psychotic breakdown in front of an entire Italian wedding. It's as if he's been given some kind of truth serum and sees himself for the ridiculous pathetic spectacle he really is. This isn't good, this is bad ? and I'll tell you why. Our band leader Joe, the Cordavox man, has the temperament of Mussolini on a bad day. And if Ted mentions one word about pot, let alone my involvement with this illegal drug, I'm done for. This guy would squeeze me to death in a wild uncontrolled rage of Cordavox bear-hugging mania. I did not think this through; this whole revenge thing is backfiring big time.
Ted is now moaning that he doesn't have the right to live, while slowly picking up his bass and placing it inside its case. Cordavox Joe is eyeing him suspiciously. And I'm more terrified than I've ever been in my life. I can't bolt ? my drums are all set up on stage. All I can do is wait for the inevitable. I see the headline ? "Wedding Band Drummer Strangled By Cordavox Wielding Mad Man". Ted is unable to get up; all he can do is sit on the edge of the stage and cry. The tears are streaming out of his bloodshot eyes, right onto his tuxedo pants. I've gone too far, but there's nothing to be done now. He's probably as scared as I am of Joe, so he doesn't mention why he's turned into a sobbing paranoid paraplegic. He simply says he feels sick, really sick. Joe goes over and helps him up from one side while the guitarist hoists up the other and they semi-carry/drag the poor bastard to the lobby where he collapses onto a couch. Ted is slurring out something about food poisoning. Our Man on Cordavox is, thank God, so concerned about his buddy's sudden illness that the thought of foul play doesn't even enter his mind. There's no way Ted's playing the rest of this wedding. I have a feeling he may never be playing again. One thing's for certain ? that's the first and last time old Ted ever experimented in the world of cannabis resin.
My impending doom has been reprieved. The wedding band slogs through the rest of the gig, sans bass, and I have learned a valuable lesson. Revenge may be sweet for the likes of Tony Bennett and the Count of Monte Cristo, but not for me.