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Expat Life

Tres tambores

The shrill whistle of the majorette signaled the resumption of the energizing rhythm after a measure’s rest. The drum major, drum-line and band were working together, switching between the drum cadence and a marching roll-off. Up front, the baton had been wielded vertically with the large head on top, confirming the whistle’s command.

It reminded me of my early days in junior high band when I played the snare drum. My parents had graciously paid for me to have private lessons for learning to play the trap set which is now called the kit. You know, it’s all the cymbals and different drums set in a small area and all played by one person, the drummer. I was playing the traps for fun at home and playing the snare in junior high band. Our home became an unhappy place as the chaotic sounds of my early drumming attempts spawned ugly words and the gnashing of teeth amongst the other three members of our molecular family.

And then there was the  junior high band director. He was a short guy with a Napoleon complex that loomed large over his sawed-off frame. The director called us “dummers” in lieu of drummers. He was definitely the little belittler. We were all trying to learn how to maintain the beat when someone made their horn shriek wildly out of sync or dropped their bass drum mallet, effectively ending available timing. I know it sounded like we were beating pots and pans together to summon livestock for feeding.

I did become a practiced percussion player, after a number of years of study, mastering the congas and bongos. When I was in my teens, a musician in his early 40s named Heinz Williams was teaching me some latin rhythms like the Rhumba and the Samba. I was almost 15 years old and spending Wednesday after school at his studio. He told me he played at some places with a number of bands and, of course, I thought that was just too cool. Man! I wanted to be a rock and roll star and Heinz was about the closest thing I knew to that. He was a figure that was way bigger than life!

My fifteenth birthday was around the corner and my folks asked me, “Son, where do you want us to take you out to eat and celebrate your birthday?” Well, I remembered Heinz telling me that he played at some place you could get dinner. I didn’t know anything about what kind of food they might serve where he played with some of his bands. I told my folks, “Let’s go hear Mr. Williams play the traps with one of his cool bands.” Zeak asked me, “What kind of place does he play at? I thought we would have dinner out to celebrate.” “Well, that’s the cool thing about this Dad,” I said. “He plays at some place that he called a supper club so it seems perfect, we can hear him play and have our dinner there also!” Mozelle said, “That sounds nice, they will probably play a little jazz while we enjoy a nice steak. How about it Zeak, how does this sound?” I held my breath. “Fine I guess,” my Dad said. “What’s the name of the place son?” “Heinz told me it’s called the Stork Club,” I told my Dad.

Well, the night of celebration arrived. Heinz had handled the reservations for us. We drove over to the Stork Club, located on Hwy. 80 East, across the river in Bossier City, Louisiana. Highway 80 was called the Bossier Strip at the time and it enjoyed a rather seedy reputation. There were at least a hundred and fifty joints, of various descriptions, up and down Hwy. 80. I reassured my folks that Mr. Williams was an upstanding man and that all would be well, very well as a matter of fact. We arrived to a well lit place with plenty of colored florescent tubing. A number of cars filled the lot and large signage  portrayed a stork carrying a small white bundle through the skies. It was early May, the year, 1970, now 48 years ago.

My father glided our two-tone Rambler Classic across the lot and up to the entrance of the Stork Club. Young men quickly opened the doors for all of us. We stepped out and one of them zoomed our little Rambler away. My Mom, a staunch Baptist woman, was wearing a dress with her small mink across her shoulders. My Dad, a non church going university professor, had on a coat and tie as did I. Doormen appeared opening the large front doors from each side. Inside, we were quickly whisked to our table. It was gorgeous, covered in fine white linen with heavy silver and crystal at the three place settings. A small placard read “Buckner,” our families last name. Tuxedo clad waiters and table captains bustled about, quickened by the commands of their heavy-set Maitre d.

Shortly, our food arrived, as did the food for all the other diners in the house, which was well packed. Just like my mother had predicted, the band did indeed play nice easy listening jazz as we ate those delicious and thick, prime Omaha beef steaks. Soon enough we finished dinner. The waiters table crumber’s put the linen back in order as steaming coffee and Black Forrest Cake arrived at our places. But then, entertainment took on quite an adventurous turn as the band hunkered down into a sultry swing, played a little slower than it should have been. The house lights dimmed even more, the low yellow flames of our tables candles danced eerily across my mother and fathers faces. All of a sudden, a bank of black lights lit up above the stage. And a spotlight came on from the back, up high, illuminating a six foot diameter circle on the stage floor.

A scantily clad blond woman ran onto the stage and stood in the circle of light. The music got even more heady. To say she had an hourglass figure wouldn’t justly describe the shape of her body, which must have been the original model for the French Curve.  She started to dance, as seductively as your imagination can create, while slowly beginning the process of disrobing herself. My mother squirmed visibly in her seat, my father…he seemed more relaxed than he had been all night. Mozelle went to push her chair away from the table, something I had never seen her do in public. “We’re leaving,” she announced to my father and I as he quickly clamped a beefy hand down on the back of her chair. “Good Lord, it’s the boys birthday, leave it alone,” those were the words that came across his lips and spilled out, filling my mothers and my ears. She gasped and wiggled her chair, trying to disengage the firm grip my father had on it. Seeing her actions to be of no use, she simply turned sideways in her chair and faced the rear of the house. She crossed her legs at the ankle and focused her eyes away from the stage and the shimmy that was going on there.

It was then that the woman on the stage removed her bra leaving only panties and fishnets below her wasp-like waist. She was very large in her bosom and the center of each breast was covered in a pink pasty that had a six inch tassel hanging from it’s center. The black lights came on and she began to rotate her bosoms, rapidly, as the stage director varied the viewing choices between only the black lights and then, only the spot-light. The tassels responded in kind to her undulations. People applauded as she finished her routine with one bosom rotating one direction and the other, the opposite. She grabbed her little pile of lingerie from the floor and bowed deeply, her pendulous breasts almost raking the oak planks of the stage, those tassels stirring dust as they whisked past. The curtain closed and people were standing up to take a break or use the restroom. I don’t recall exactly what happened next but a few minutes later, long before the next dancer appeared, we were in our Rambler and heading for home. There wasn’t any talking at all coming from the front seat. In the back seat, my imagination created visions of half naked dancing girls and I could tell there was a dumb grin written completely across my face. The next morning, my Dad told me not to mention the prior evening to my Mother. I wasn’t surprised.

My thoughts slowly drifted back to the scene at hand. The majorette’s whistle sounded and the baton was wielded vertically. The band ceased marching in place. As they resumed their steps, a commanding rhythm rose from their taunt drum heads. A woman standing next to me shouted at a helado vendedore as he slipped away from her into the crowd. The two closest drummers cut their eyes in her direction. Several other faces with various expressions were visible as the band marched by. Just as I pressed the shutter I heard a voice call to me, “Brian!” Then again, “Brian!”

My eyes scanned the crowd hard and then took on the long parade line. Up front eighty feet, standing on the opposite side of the street and at the head of the drum corp by the majorette, was a man in his early 40s. He was grinning and looking directly into my eyes. All the wind went out of me. Things weren’t quite right.  His  curly brown hair, pale skin and loose-fitting silk shirt with embroidered drumsticks didn’t fit the scene. I gasped loud enough for the woman next to me to inquire of my well being. As I looked back toward the scene, an Ecuadorian man with a suit on had replaced my phantom.

Thanks for checking in on me Heinz, it’s all turned out pretty good. I still know how to roll those Congas!

5 thoughts on “Tres tambores

    1. Hi Pamela, thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it! Most of the story borrows from a real event that occurred while I was coming of age, almost fifty years ago.

  1. Is this marching band based in Cuenca? Anyone know how to find out when/how to see them? I asked Brian and he doesn’t know. Hopefully someone else will. Thanks!

    1. These types of marching bands are all over Ecuador. The best chance to catch them is during a town’s foundation celebration. Brian’s article reminded me of when we were in Playas (a small beach town west of Guayaquil) one year. The band marched by only playing the percussion instruments, including hand held xylophones. It was a peak experience that I’ll remember the rest of my life.

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