By on Sep 3, 2023 in Featured, Fiction

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Marching band with superimposed baritone horn

This day, we of the lower brass, the two-member baritone horn section in particular, were running true to form. As usual, the instigator was Archie Foxx, who, as second chair, sat just to my right. Archie had devised a variety of contests for the baritone, all of which bore the name of “chicken.” As the name suggests, they were dares to engage in risky behavior. Utterly antisocial behavior, in fact. Minor atrocities committed at the expense of the band, our sacred cultural heritage, and even the poor innocent horns which the school district had been kind enough to supply to us young musicians free of charge.

The simplest game consisted of punching the instrument with a bent index finger protruding from the fist, a weapon known in the Greater New York Area as a “noogie.” Victory was granted to whoever made the deepest and most obvious dent. The risk inherent in this practice resulted from the fact that the horns were public objects. By this point, the strangely lunar appearance of our instruments was becoming awfully hard to conceal. A week earlier, a drummer had asked me whether my horn had been “made in Japan”—a phrase which, in those days, was indicative of shoddy goods.

(Not that the abuse of our valuable instruments was anything new to us lower brassmen. I, in particular, had earned a reputation for engaging in careless, even unhygienic, mistreatment of my baritone. Most egregiously, I suppose, I would often practice right after lunch. As a result, the bell of my horn exuded the unmistakable aroma of tuna fish. Old tuna fish. Very old tuna fish.)

Another game entailed the intentional playing of wrong notes—generally a half-step off. Which produced both a ready excuse—“I didn’t realize it was a B flat!”—and the worst sound possible. Points were awarded on the basis of both the volume and the blatancy of the “error.” Thus, to proudly hit the wrong note as loud as possible during a solo were to win the gold medal of chicken.

On this day, Archie was to outdo himself. On this memorable day, the Mozart of mischief, the Kabalevsky of chaos, the Beethoven of bamboozle would elevate his game to the level of genius.

“Today,” he whispered to me resolutely, “we won’t play.”

I grasped the concept immediately. And was awestruck. It was clearly the next step. Obvious now. But only someone of Archie’s vast powers could have seen it in advance. Having mutilated our instruments, having filled the unspoiled air with wrong notes, all that was left for us was to play no notes at all. A true triumph of aesthetic minimalism and the final battle of the manly war against all that was good and true and beautiful in the musical legacy that had been entrusted to us.

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Glenn Kane is a former emergency physician who traded a stethoscope for a word processor and the writing of medical articles for fiction. He has just completed a novel about a weak family tempest-tossed and ultimately splintered upon the rocks of what is now a joke, a meme, a muttering online: the irrepressible conflict between the baby boomer and millennial generations, which he foresees thundering out into the political arena in the mid-2020s when the story unfolds. Born in New York, Glenn now lives in Southern California. He may be reached at gkanedkane@gmail.com.