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The Waterworks

by Ron Simmonds

 That girl is looking at me, Iím sure of it. Oh, theyíre all talking away on the telephone, that is true, but she is definitely the only one who is looking in my direction. She is beautiful. I murmur words of endearment into my phone, and I swear that she is smiling at me.

Great idea this, much better than a singles bar. Big ballroom, intimate pink lighting, here everyone looks good, even I do, I think. I can see at least fifty great looking girls in here; only half as many men. Thereís a telephone on each table with a big number suspended over it. Call up who you like, anonymous, or send a telegram. Oh yes, they also have a postal service, put your message into a metal cylinder and fire it off down the tube, like they used to do in the haberdashery stores. Messages are inspected and censored in a central control room before being sent on to the girl of your choice. You can just see the people in there through the big glass window. Have to be careful what you say here. Very sensuous, suggestive atmosphere. Certainly a place for the lonely and enthusiastic.

Plomp!  One of the metal cylinders falls out of the vacuum tube on to my table, almost landed in the beer, that one. I open it up and inspect the note. I love you, it says. I look up with a smile, but the girl who was looking at me has put her phone down.

ĎYou know what Iíd like to do to you?í whispers the voice in my ear.

I get cold shivers. ĎWhere are you?í I whisper back into the phone.

ĎIím here darling,í says the bandleader, standing beside me, Ďand we are on.í

Funny place to play. Thereís an enormous stage, with drawn curtains, but the band has to sit down on the floor in front of it. There are lights on the music stands. I hate that. You have to bend down with your nose on the music to see anything.

We play a few numbers. The band is terrible, but it is my one and only job with it, so I donít mind too much. The regular trumpet player is sick, and Iím not surprised. What a load of rubbish. Who wrote these arrangements?  I did, said the bass trombonist, sitting beside me.

He is the band bartender, and has a gallon jug of raw bourbon whiskey on the floor beside him. Every now and then he will stop playing to wrestle it on to his shoulder and pour a snort or two for the boys. At that rate he doesnít get to play very much, thank God. Iíve never seen such drinkers.

The bandleader, a local celebrity, plays the tambourine all evening. He has culled it into a fine art, with variations I would never have dreamed of. During fast numbers and the Latin Americans he gets into such a frenzy that I fear for his safety. Looks as if he has been coupled up to a pneumatic drill. Never saw anyone go so red in the face before. Itís a wonder his clothes donít catch fire.

We go into a slow waltz. The couples shuffle around the floor, pan-faced, zombie-like, as if in a marathon dance. The bass trombonist has put down his monstro instrument and taken a violin off of a nail driven into the stage behind him. That is to say: the violin was hanging by one of the strings from the nail, the G-string I believe they call it. Donít know much about the instrument. A violinist once told me that I was lucky.

What he plays on that fiddle is excruciating, but he does it with absolute conviction, sobbing out the notes with genuine tears in his eyes, unless thatís from the whiskey. What the bandleader is doing on his tambourine during this number I canít bear to tell you.

Afterwards, with the violin safely back on its nail, we are told to get out My Fair Lady. I look at the part in dismay. The ink has run all over the place, the way it usually does on trombone parts. Thatís because the spit from the trombone drops all over the music from the end of the slide, whereas the spit from the trumpet just makes your trousers filthy. Do we have to talk about this? Anyway, I can hardly make out the notes on this music.

ĎHasnít anyone here ever heard of waterproof copying ink?í I ask the bass trombonist bartender. ĎThis is waterproof copying ink,í he says. ĎDonít you like it?í

We start to play, and I do my best. Above and behind me I hear the great stage curtains draw back. Simultaneously all the lights go out, leaving only the half watt desk lamp to illuminate my part. I go at once into a myopic crouch, which brings the bell of my trumpet to within inches of the floor. Now I look like Marty Feldman playing Igor in The Young Frankenstein.

There is something happening up on the stage. Brilliant lights have gone on; the ballroom is lit with flickering reflections. Suddenly a small wave of ice cold water hits me in the back, drenching me from head to toe. I gasp with shock and turn around to see what has happened. Behind me up on the stage great fountains of colourfully illuminated water leap, twirl and bound, keeping time with the music. Itís a giant water organ. Nobody told me about that. With each crescendo I get another earful of H2O. I remember that expression from my schooldays in the lab. What was that other one? Salt? Also H two something or other.

I am hit by another ice cold bucket of water. Is the guy up there doing this on purpose?  Beside me the bass trombonist is struggling to get the gallon jug up on to his shoulder again. He has problems keeping his umbrella up while he does this. Reminds me of the painting Der arme Poet, by Spitzweg, except for the jug, that is. I suppose that someone is playing because we arenít. The bandleader still is, thatís for sure, but heís keeping well out of the range of the pumps. The rest of the band are wearing souíwesters and oilskins.

Must be a wonderful sight for the dancers, I think. But when I look up, nobody is looking at the stage. They are too busily engaged with the telephones and in writing their silly little notes to one another. So whatís the point? I meanówhatís the bloody point? as Basil Fawlty used to say.

By the time we finish the gig I look as if Iíve just been rescued from the sea. The girl I thought had been looking at me earlier on has disappeared.

As I leave, carrying my trumpet case, I pass the central control room. An enormously fat girl inside there winks at me, and makes an obscene gesture, miming the telephone. She has got to be the ugliest girl I have ever seen in my entire life. I love you, she mouths through the window. Yeah, I love me too, I say to myself as I squelch my way out.

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved