Oh, the years I spent telling my kids things are good, and done well. Anyway. It's NaNoWriMo review time, and this year's story is dovetailing with 2014, so I'm going over that.
I like this portion an awful lot, so I'm sharing it with you. It's long; will take 10-15 minutes to read. And no, it hasn't been edited, so ignore that.
Vinny's first girlfriend and "White Silver Sands"
Vinny strolled into the studio, kissed Violet on the cheek, went behind Jack’s bar, and poured himself a little bourbon, swirled it with an ice cube, then removed the cube and walked over to the mike stand holding the glass.
“It’s been a long time since I talked about this, Jack. I’m taking a bit of courage first. You’ve got a good selection back there.” Vinny said this so casually, as if he just expected to walk into a room with a fully stocked bar, a wide variety of seating, and a roulette wheel.
“Sure thing, Vinny. Let me know when you’re ready.”
Violet realized she was seeing a different side of Vinny than the old joker who hung out with Tommy, eating donuts all morning. Here, Vinny was confident, sharper, somehow, and she could see the attractive man he’d been in his younger days. “No wonder some of the auxiliary ladies seem to be hanging out for him.”
Vinny’s about the same height as Jack, maybe slightly above medium. Violet thought maybe he used to be a little taller. He has nearly the same hairline of his youth, though his hair is mostly grey and thinner than it once was. Still thick enough for him to wear long and floppy on top; he runs his fingers through it so it hangs toward one side. He has the typically hooded eyes of an older Italian-American man, and deep laugh lines around his mouth. Violet could remember him from her childhood, always sharing a joke with whoever came by the electronics shop he’d inherited from his uncle, yet he never seemed boisterous or loud, like his friend Tommy.
Almost as if he could hear what she was thinking, Vinny caught Violet’s eye, and winked at her. She giggled quietly. Jack noticed the look and had an odd expression on his face.
“Okay, I’m ready, Jack. Let’s do this.”
“I was born right after the war, you know, the big one, World War Two, and my parents had just bought a house here, a few blocks from here, actually, on the GI bill. Dad went to school and got a degree in chemistry. Mom worked in a dress shop, and brought me with her until I was old enough to go to school. I started school when I was four, because then she had my sister, and needed me out of her hair. They didn’t really do preschool back then, but Sea View had a kindergarten by that time, so I went to that.
“No, no, I’m not telling you my whole life story here, but I’m telling you about something I know you’ve always wondered about. I was born along with the first seedlings of rock and roll, and grew up right alongside it.
“Mom and Dad liked to boogie, knew all the dances. Jazz and bebop. We had an old piano Dad would bang away on, and Mom would sing, she knew all the songs, too, all the old ones, and everything on the radio. In the evening, we listened to radio shows, too, and had our favorite stories. I liked the adventure serials, but my parents liked things like *Our Miss Brooks* and *Father Knows Best*, real corny stuff. And Jack Benny, of course. Anyway, we spent a lot of time together in those early years. It was good.
“And then my dad got a job with a big drug company, and Mom quit her job, and we moved to a new house with two bathrooms in it, and a big backyard. I still went to the same school, of course, there was just the one then. I rode my bike instead of walking. One year, in music class, a teacher came in and tried us all out on different instruments. And then my parents got a letter saying I should be in the school band, and learn to play the drums. Well, that sounded all right to me, but I had to talk them into buying the starter drum for the house, because you couldn’t lug one around the way you could a trombone. And Mom liked the idea because she said I could play with Dad on the piano, and maybe my sister Gina would learn the clarinet or something.
“But Dad was teaching Gina the piano, and that was good, cause then he had a stroke, and could only play with his left hand. Gina learned melodies and he played the bass line, and they did a good job of it.
“I loved playing the drum, but I didn’t like playing in the school band very much. I kept at it, though, because it made my parents so proud. And then we had rock and roll! Dad wasn’t so into it, because he said it sounded kinda cheap or something, and he was listening to west coast jazz by then, learning how to improvise with his one hand, which was pretty cool, and now I think I shoulda told him so.
“We played marching band type stuff at school, but before and after practice it was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bill Haley. I remember learning the intro to “You Keep a Knocking” and recognizing it in a Led Zeppelin song years later. But they were all like that, taking parts from each other’s compositions and doing new things with them. Nobody said anything most of the time. Can’t get away with that now.
“And the thing was, the early songs were just like the crooners’ standards had been. Somebody’d write a song and then half a dozen different bands and singers would record it. So you’d hear a song in 1957 by a singer, and the next year, a band would do it with a different tempo, or as an instrumental, or practically the same thing, trying to score their own hit off of it. So we had our favorite versions of different songs, and also we’d do different dances to them, depending.
“In 1960 I was in 9th grade, which was in junior high back then. And you know, we had *American Bandstand* by then. Some of the kids who didn’t have a TV yet would come over to my house to watch it and a couple other shows. Afterwards we’d play records, and when my friend Tommy started playing guitar, we practiced together, cause he did better when I kept a beat for him. Sometimes my sister played the piano for us, we didn’t mind even though she was still a little girl. We needed a piano. So that was kind of my first band, Me, Tommy, and my sister. My dad was only about 40 then, but he wasn’t too active outside of work anymore. He’d watch us play and sometimes make us play the jazz tunes he liked.
“One thing my dad taught us was that we could take the songs we heard on the radio and Bandstand and make them our own. We weren’t very good at it, but we learned a lot more about the music by taking it apart and figuring out new things to do with it, new ways to put it back together. That’s jazz, you know. The early rock and roll guys all did it, the best ones. So we’d hear a song and wonder how it would sound with a different tempo, a different time signature. My sister was the best at it. Learning piano one hand at a time the way she did turned out to be good for her. Because when she started doing the left hand, she was imitating Dad, riffing on chords right from the beginning. Gina was great at that.
“Let’s stop for a minute, I gotta catch my breath.”
Jack said, “This is really interesting, Vinny. You should write a book.”
“Me? No, I’m no good at that. I sound dumb when I write things down.” Vinny went over to refresh his drink.
Violet said, “But you wouldn’t really need to write it down. You’d just talk, like this, and then someone would type it all out. Reading a story of someone telling a story always sounds better, anyway.”
Jack said, “People would buy it, Vinny. They’d buy an audio recording of you telling your story.”
Vinny laughed as he took a drink. “It’s something to think about, I guess.”
He began again. “The point of the story is that I went to the freshman dance and met a girl named Carla. There’d been a hit song by a couple of different people called ‘White Silver Sands.’ But that night, the kid who was spinning the records, a high school student, played a slow-burning version by a combo called Bill Black’s. A lot of us lined up for The Stroll. You know about the stroll, right? They made a song for it. Funny thing, you hardly touch in that dance, but it’s— Wow, it can get electric. It started out sorta goofy and fun, and then goes into this really sexy sax solo.”
Jack and Violet looked at each other, eyes wide, grinning.
“Yeah, well, so Carla really liked that song a lot. And she was a good dancer, too. Of course, everybody could dance back then. Not like it is now. The Stroll was one of the last good ones, though, until they started disco dancing, doing some of the ballroom stuff.
“Now, I was only fourteen years old, but I was hooked on Carla in an instant. She and I started going around together, and she loved that song, so I bought the record, and we’d listen to it. She watched our band practice, and kept saying it was too bad we didn’t have a sax player. I’d walk her home and we’d hold hands, but I never tried to kiss her. I started thinking maybe I could play saxophone, and then she’d want me to kiss her.
“I know this sounds goofy, but I was a goofy kid. I asked my uncle for help, because I was afraid to ask my dad somehow. Uncle Eddie got me a used saxophone and told me I could work in his store in the summer to help pay for it. He sold TVs and radios back then. The band teacher taught me a few things about the reed and the keys, and I got some records that teach you how to play. I practiced and practiced and practiced, boy was I lousy. I had to play in the garage so my parents wouldn’t kick me out.
“I turned 15, and still went to movies with Carla, she still watched us play, but she seemed interested in an older boy called Malcolm. I never liked that name, Malcolm. The thing is, I didn’t tell Carla I was learning the sax at all. Just kept playing my drums, doing all right at it, while Tommy was getting really good on the guitar.
“After about six months, just as I was entering high school, I played for the band teacher again. He was real surprised. He thought I’d improved so fast I might be better at the sax in another year than I was at the drums. So me and Tommy found a drummer, Ricky, and started our real band, calling ourselves The Expressives, which I think is a very dumb name now. Ricky, Tommy, Vinny, and Gina. We didn’t care she was a little girl because she played better than anybody we knew. But I didn’t let the guys say bad stuff around her.
“Carla started going with Malcolm, and I didn’t like that much, but I was too busy with the band, anyway. I wanted to get good at the saxophone because I loved it, and that seemed like enough. Dad paid for me to have weekly lessons, too.
“Mr. Felder, the band director, chose us to play live music for the winter dance. We had three months to practice and learn a whole set of songs for it. Another band would do a second set. And I knew I had to be able to do ‘White Silver Sands.’ Gina was in 7th grade then, and Mom was chaperoning her, which she didn’t like much, but what could you do?
“We wore matching suits. We had brown pants and brown and red plaid jackets with white shirts and red ties. Gina wore a plaid party dress, she was so cute, you know. But some of the kids were whispering about us having a little kid in the band. We were prepared for that and started our set with ‘Theme From A Summer Place.’ Gina sounded terrific, and the couples all danced. Then we started to rock and roll, with a good Duane Eddy tune. The others all sang, Tommy did most of the lead, because he sounded a little bit like Bobby Darin, and Ricky had a falsetto, they could do kind of an Everly Brothers sound, you know.
“And so, you know, for our final song, I stepped up and said, ‘This one’s for Carla.’ Never was I so cool and so nervous at the same time. Then we played ‘White Silver Sands,’ Bill Black-style, slow and steady. Gina did the intro on the piano, then I did the sax solo. It wasn’t a tough one, and I was ready for it.”
Vinny stopped speaking and grinned.
Jack and Violet both waited a minute, and then Jack asked, “Well? What happened??”
“You want to know what happened after I spent a year learning the saxophone so I could impress a girl I once danced with?
“I got pretty good at the sax, that’s what happened. And the kids did clap and cheer, and asked for an encore, so we played ‘The Twist.’”
Violet sighed. “She didn’t deserve you, Vinny.”
They sat and talked for awhile. Vinny asked, “How long you been keeping this place a secret, Jack?”
Jack sighed. “Well, I’ve been working on it for about five years. I had the bar updated, and the floor refinished first. then I bought some furniture, and then I added the sound system. And then last year I bought the recording equipment. Violet discovered it then, by accident.”
Violet said, happily, “It’s my Narnia! I was in a closet looking for something, opened a door, and here it all was!”
“And Jack here is your Mr. Tumnus, right?”
They stared at Vinny.
“What? I’ve read books. Actually, my daughter had those books.” Vinny nodded in approval. “I really like this a lot, Jack. A person could almost live up here.”
Jack said, “I had that idea, originally. Maybe not all the time, but I imagined I could spend weekends here, like, well, you know.” He smiled, a little sheepishly. “But also, it’s insulated and basically sound-proof, which is why we can do the recordings this way.”
Violet said, “It would be easy to put a cooktop in the bar area, actually. You already have a refrigerator. Think of the parties you could have.”
Vinny added, “Maybe you should throw one. For New Year’s, or something.”
Jack mused over this. “It’s been years since I threw a real party. You know, the thing about getting older is that you really do want it a little quieter. However, not a lot quieter. Interesting people who can still laugh and be silly, but not the kind who hang from chandeliers.”
“Listen,” Vinny said. “I got about twenty years on you two. I see things are different now, but they aren’t so different that I don’t know something about this. What you want to do is make it a kind of drop in all evening kind of thing. If it works out right, the dullest and also oldest people get tired and leave first. Then you got your rabble-rousers. They see only so much excitement happening, and they leave to find more someplace else. And then you’re left with the people in the middle; the ones you wanted to hang around with most, anyway. And so there you go.”
Jack and Violet grinned at each other. Vinny has always had a way of cutting right to the heart of things.
Violet left then, to meet Lily for dinner, and Vinny stayed for a few minutes longer, while Jack showed him how the sound system worked, and the rotating casino table that had been used in the room during its speakasy days. Both it and the mirrored shelves behind the bar were reversible at the touch of a switch.
Vinny said, “You’re still hanging out after her, aren’t you, Jack?”
“Well, it’s easy for the rest of us to see she’s settled down, like you have, so what are you waiting for? The thing is, Jack, you don’t know how much time you have, or how much time anyone else has, and the years are going to start passing faster and faster.”
“I have my mom, you know,” Jack began.
Vinny looked at him like he was crazy. “Your mom thinks you’re nuts spending all your time alone. In fact, it is a little strange, all of you unmarried, practically no kids between you, no new Sea View residents to take over after you’re gone.
“But you and Violet, you should take the leap now, while you still can.”
“That’s a lot to assume, that Violet’s just been waiting for me to crook my finger at her.”
“No, because she has already crooked her finger at *you*, Jack. Everyone else can see it, even if you can’t.” Vinny shook his head in wonder.
“Hmm, well, that might explain how things started the other night, after we saw a play rehearsal together.” Jack stopped to think it over for a few moments. “We went back to Violet’s house and were drinking hot tea, you know how outrageously cold it was last weekend, and we had a fire going, it felt really warm and comfortable.” He paused.
“So, then what happened?”
Jack sighed. “Then Robert Halladay came bursting in to whine about something to do with Lily, and then Lily showed up for the same reason.”
Vinny stopped him. “Robert and Lily are even worse than you and Violet. They’re like a sitcom couple people are starting to find annoying because they won’t just up and get to it already.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “What you’re saying is that everyone is following along like we’re all entertainment for you.”
“Well, you are, Jack, only I gotta say, it’s starting to get a little boring. It’s time you spiced up the show a little bit.” Vinny grinned. “Invite me over to dinner. I want to visit with your mom.”