114 SWINGTOWN

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SWINGTOWN

At noon me, Chris, and Bart loaded up our gear and drove the couple of short blocks from the loft to the hall. The Orpheum might have once stood among other buildings of its vintage but now it was hemmed in by the department stores and blocky new office buildings of Downtown Crossing.

We had to pull the van half onto the cobblestone curb to unload. A small army of roadies and techs were there already, some employed by the hall, some by the promoter, and some by the individual bands. The production manager waved a quick hello as if he recognized us and set some guys to carefully sequestering our gear against a wall in a square tape-marked on the floor for us. Chris went to move the van before we got a ticket.

Bart and I looked around backstage. “Hey,” he said, “remember this?”

We put our heads into one of the dark backstage rooms and he flipped the light switch on. Now I recognized the faded couch and the shape of the room from the time Nomad had played here. Carynne and I had sat on that couch and it seemed like a weird In-Search-Of-type coincidence to me that I’d probably see her here tonight. Better call Time Life Books.

“If you’ve got costumes or anything, feel free to leave ‘em in any of the rooms,” a production assistant (or someone) said as he breezed by.

We exchanged looks. “Costumes?” Bart raised a eyebrow.

“Me, I’m just surprised no one’s asked to see our passes, yet.”

“Oh come on,” he said. “Everyone knows what we look like. And we don’t even have our passes, yet. Let’s camp out here while we wait for Chris to get back.”

We dumped our coats over the back of the couch. I sat down while he went back to our assigned gear pile and came back with his bass and my guitar. “There’s a sign on the wall with the performance order and the sound check order. We’re near the end of the former and the beginning of the latter. We get fifteen minutes, tops, to check.”

I shrugged. With something like eight bands set to perform tonight, with shared PA and monitors, sound check would have to be quick and dirty. “I just hope the Z-man is here on time.”

For lack of anything better to do, we set about tuning. I’d left the Ovation at home and was playing the Fender because it was easier to slide, but I cursed out loud when I tried to turn the first peg. “Goddammit.” A couple of the machines were sticky and my thumb shot pain into my forearm when the screw refused to turn.

“Ay, que pena,” said Bart with a fake Mexican accent. “Here, let me do it.”

I resisted for a sec, then handed the instrument over to him as he laid the bass against the couch. “Your ears are better than mine anyway,” I said.

“No lie, bwana.” He gleefully struck a beating harmonic.

“Hey neighbors,” said a voice from the doorway–Jimmy Marone, trombone player and singer for Ska Ka Doodle Do, who lived half a block from us in Allston. “Howzit hangin?”

Ska Ka Doodle took up residence in the dressing room with us–tonight they did have costumes: the horn section in lurid green leisure suits and the rest of the band in red. Tony, the lead singer, winked at us as he ran his hands over the polyester. “Hey, for two bucks a pop at the Garment District Halloween sale, we couldn’t resist.”

We were laughing about their outfits until Christian came in with a loud “Ho ho and ho, cats,” in a red, fake fur jacket with white trim, a white goatee, and a red beret with a jingle bell in the center. “Just call me Beat Santa.”

“Hi, Beat Santa,” came a chorus of ska dudes.

Santa had brought gifts, our nicely laminated backstage passes. He gave me Ziggy’s and I took it without protest. I was the boss, after all. Christian started shaking hands with the other guys. I dug my lanyard out of the Fender case and slung it over my head. I clipped the pass among the others already there and went for a walk.

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