“There is currently a formula for success in the entertainment medium, that is -- beat it to death if it succeeds.”
Ernie Kovacs, his ever-present cigar in hand, pioneered television comedy. Had it not been for that genius wit, who would have ever hired the likes of a Steve Allen or a Johnny Carson, a Benny Hill or a David Letterman?
Somewhere around the third set, a fight broke out on the dancehall floor, but after catching an amused glint in the singer’s eyes, I just increased my volume and kept right on playing. Another picker, who had sat in with us as a guest guitarist for the evening, quietly unplugged his lead cord, and then just as quietly, him and his new guitar both vanished from the stage while chairs sailed through the air in front of the bandstand.
There is something about the heady atmosphere at the Red Dog Saloon. That, and maybe too many western movies, can make folk think chairs will break over the backs of others, but that is unreserved nonsense. So before the finale of our version of Under the Double Eagle, several bodies lay scattered about while the rest of the drunks tripped and stumbled around, still trying to get in a good lick or two. It never pays to insult another man’s wife at the Red Dog.
Afterwards, Don joined Paul at the vacant bar as I snapped all of the locks shut on my case up on the stage. Way in the back, a lone waitress and the bartender realigned tables and set up overturned chairs, while in the center of the room, a woman and an older man crawled around on hands and knees, searching for a lost contact. A slight haze lay over the dim-lit dance floor.
“Craziest night yet.”
Paul shook his head as he tilted his glass and finished the last of his Seven-up, and then grinned at Don while crunching a mouth full of ice. The lanky red-head then hunched over his drink and surveyed the scene.
“What ever happened to that friend of yours that was playing with us?”
“I guess he took off early.”
Doug and I carried his drums and my rig out to the emptied parking lot before taking a seat beside the others inside for a final drink. On the way home, I drove with the radio blaring Memphis, while Doug, still in the mood, leaned forward and beat along on the dashboard with both hands. It was good to have my energetic friend along for the drive.
He had more rhythm and more talent than the law should allow. I’d known him since the fifth grade, from earlier days when I joined our school's music class to escape boring history. Doug owned a simple snare drum with a stand. Another girl in the class played flute. The third kid tried his best to play a clarinet while I sat quiet and watched the trio for the rest of the year.
Playing the trumpet sounded like a good idea to me, and since the dashing instructor dated my older sister, he allowed me to sit in until my instrument arrived.
It never did. I kept forgetting to tell him I had never owned a trumpet, nor that I had no intentions of ever ordering one. A nice arrangement that was.
Then at sixteen, I heard Marty Robbins crooning out El Paso for the first time, but most of all, I heard the sounds of his sweet guitar.
And now here we both are, Marines, and playing gigs on weekends out in the middle of the vast Mojave.
Two-lane desert blacktop, and many miles lay before us. Tappity-tap-tap, he goes.
Her home is on the south side
Suddenly Doug froze. And then he leaned close to the windshield to stare out for a split-second before yelling a frantic,
I narrowly missed hitting an arm-waving man who stood in the center of my lane, but by dodging him, we avoided hitting an overturned car that lay right behind him.
We skidded to a halt by a second vehicle, its taillights hidden from view by the first one.
Doug turned to look back over his shoulder while I backed slowly to the wreck. Far behind us down the road, another set of headlights twinkled. Doug rolled his window down as we approached the man. One of the last customers to leave the saloon, and now in a bit more sober state, stood next to the black, upside-down convertible.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know, guys. I just got here before you two.”
Leaving our car, we three began looking around while Don and Paul pulled up and stopped. Paul came running with the medical bag he always kept close by. Being a Navy corpsman did have its perks.
But after some milling around, we determined no one was either inside or up under the car, so we fanned out and began searching. Then from over the hill of a bordering sand dune, Paul called out,
“I found him!”
As we rushed up the knoll, two men appeared at the crest, one supporting the other. Paul had an arm around the man’s waist, and held one of his hands as they both stumbled in the sand. The elder man appeared to be very confused.
“Wha’ th’ hell happened?”
Drunk as a skunk. No blood in sight. Not a scratch on him, apparently. Paul had him sit down at the shoulder, and in the glare of headlights, checked him over.
“You hurt anywhere, fellow?”
He looked up at Paul with disgust.
“Hell no! An’ who the blazes are you, anyway?”
Paul prodded around and felt while the man sat weaving with sad eyes, trying to focus on a busted cigar he held up in one hand.
“Alls I was tryin’ to do was light this thing.”
Paul had him raise each arm, testing for sprains or broken bones.
“An’ I remember thinking’ about that Ernie Kovacs, an’ then I looked up at the stars.”
The gentleman waved one arm up at the night sky. Paul glanced up at our crowd, and to the brilliant heavens beyond.
“An’ I was rememberin’ how the man died in a car wreck.” And he sobbed.
Paul patted his shoulder as he stood up, holding his unused bag in the other hand.
“Yeah, pop. He was probably trying to light his cigar.”