Age of Discovering

by Rick Beck

Chapter 6

To Play

I enjoyed the violin solo for a few more seconds at the last door in the hall at Glenn's house, before I pushed the door open.

There stood Glenn in his lime green boxers. His back was to me as he continued to play. I watched the bow lift, tilt, and dip. The violin was hidden.

He stood with his back to the door. The room had little light in it and that came from a single window. There was only a little light in the room. The sun was setting on the other side of the house, limiting the late afternoon light the single window offered.

I saw well enough to know who made the music. This Glenn was hard to reconcile with the one racing his bike around like a lunatic earlier that afternoon. Nothing I'd seen or heard from him told me he was capable of making beautiful music or even playing a simple instrument. The violin was a difficult instrument to master.

Glenn had been full of contradictions since I first met him. Now discovering he was a violin playing daredevil, it did nothing to clarify just who Glenn was.

He wore only his socks and boxer shorts. For some reason it reminded me of Eddie strutting around naked at Mrs. Fisher's Dance Emporium.

He played in a way that drew me to the sound he made. We did have something in common. We both made music. My band mates and I tried to reproduce sounds we'd heard successful musicians make. What Glenn did was smooth and refined.

Glenn played like he was part of the violin. I liked the classics and violin music. I'd only heard violins being played on recordings or at school. Glenn made a clear crisp sound. He understood the music and his violin gave life to it.

He ran the bow back and forth as his body moved with the music he made. He slowly began to turn. Somehow he knew I was standing in the doorway. His eyes fluttered up for an instant, before returning his focus back to the violin.

He played on until he reached the end of the piece. Then the music stopped. There wasn't a sound in the room.

He stood in front of me with the violin in one hand and the bow in the other. He looked different to me now.

"That's quite good," I said, being too stunned to think of something appropriate.

"Oh, thanks! My hand is a little stiff but I can work around the parts I'm not able to play. It'll be fine in a couple of days. I heal fast and often," he said with a coy smile.

"What if you broke your arm?" I said, thinking that would certainly restrict his ability to play.

"I've already broken those. I think we've had this conversation before. I'm sure I've heard it from my mother more than once. You don't look like my mother. The conversations with her always end with a warning about not breaking my neck. She doesn't understand a boy's need to be reckless. I'm not sure I do."

"How long have you been playing the violin? Please don't tell me, 'About five minutes.'"

"Four or five years. I was thirteen when we found the violin. I don't think you can call what I was doing back then as playing the violin. Maybe playing with it."

"Why do you do crazy things that put your talent at risk? You're very good, Glenn. Shouldn't you want to protect the gift you have?"

"I'm a teenager. We don't think about protection. The question is, why don't you have the urge to jump the gap."

"Because I don't have a death wish? Because I'm in a band and I don't want to miss our play dates. I have a responsibilities to them."

"You think about future considerations. I think about being the boy who jumps the gap other boys only think about jumping," he said.

"You should start thinking about protecting your gift."

"We really haven't known each other long enough to be repeating conversations I've had with my mother."

"Yes, but up until now I thought you were just your average airhead doing something stupid."

"I've never been accused of being average," he said.

"And now I find out you can make music in a way I never will. Damaging your hands is far more destructive than when you were an airhead doing it."

"Do you know my mother? Did she put you up to this?"

"You can't see how risky your behavior is to your future? You play the violin like you've been doing it forever."

"I can't stop being a teenager. I can't stop being a boy. I can't stop being me. I like to show off. The best way to show off is by doing something no one else can do. Makes me want to let it all hang out. Where other boys stop, I charge onward."

"If you broke your fingers?"

"Then, I'd have to deal with my mother. She wants me to grow up faster than I want me to grow up. I could catch a flesh eating bacteria that eats my hands. I could be killed in an automobile accident. You handle life as it comes at you. No one knows if they'll see tomorrow, Gordo. I don't get my panties in a twist over today. I go for it!"

"Glenn!" came a shrill voice from behind me.

"It's OK, Mom. See, I can play," he said, zipping the bow across the violin strings.

The music became frantic and very loud. His mother stopped talking. Her voice couldn't penetrate the music barrier. I recognized Eleanor Rigby as he fiddled it out. My band played from the Beatles' Song Book.

Glenn wasn't simply a classical violinist. He impressed me even more with his selection and he silenced his mother while doing it.

"Glenn," his mother said again as the music trailed off.

"I'm fine. Gordo here fixed me up good as new. Didn't you, Gordo? He's my new medic. He's handy as a can of analgesic and he can handle a cotton ball with either hand."

"Go get dressed, young man. I'll talk to you later."

"Don't leave, Gordo. If you leave, she's going to beat me," he yelled like a frightened child.

"Glenn! Act your age. Go get dressed," she said firmly.

"Yes, ma'am," Glenn agreed. "How come you're home so early? That's dirty pool, Mom. Sneaking up on a guy before he can cover up the damage is unfair."

"My car? We talked about it over dinner last night. I had to leave it before the garage closed. The mechanic drove me home after I left my car for service," she said.

"Oh! I forgot," Glenn said. "I've been busy."

"Did you go to school today?" she asked.

"No. I wasn't that kind of busy. I'll go tomorrow."

I turned to see his mother, a rather nice looking woman, as she jousted with her son.

"I guess you've figured it out, but I'm Glenn's mother. Come on. We'll have some ice cream while he's getting dressed. I bought his favorite because he's been so good. Now we'll eat it and make him watch. He plays with the base orchestra this weekend and he's a mess."

"He's good. I play the guitar and I know when I hear someone is good. There's nothing about him that told me he was a serious musician, or anything else serious."

His mother laughed as we walked back to the dining room.

"They say he's gifted. They don't live with him. He's the gift that keeps on giving me headaches. If his father wasn't in the military, his medical bills would have bankrupted us long ago. He can't afford to perform badly. People are listening to every sound he makes. People who can furnish him with a bright future as a violinist," she said. "Let's get to that ice cream before he comes back. We'll make him watch us eat it. Where does he know you from?"

"School," I said.

Dealing with Glenn left me hungry.

It was a half-gallon of peach ice cream. She dished us both out a big bowl.

The ice cream was rich and creamy.

Glenn got a spoon when he came into the dining room. He picked up the half-gallon container and dug in as he stood at the end of the table in cutoff blue jeans and a tee-shirt that was two sizes too small for him.

"Where do you know each other from," she asked again, seeing if the answer might have changed.

"School, mother," Glenn answered. "Gordo is the guy who keeps an eye on us in the showers. So we don't slip on the soap or enjoy ourselves too much."

"Oh, you do?" she asked, trying to picture it.

"He makes it up as he goes along," I said.

"Glenn! I want to know where you meet your friends."

"I told you, in the showers. Once you shower with a guy, you know everything about him, mother. By the way, thanks for the ice cream. It's my favorite, you know?" he said, digging deeper into the container.

"I live a few blocks over. We just seem to run into each other at awkward times," I said.

"You seem more reserved than most of the boys he brings home. Eddie seems like a nice boy but I'm afraid they encourage each other," she said. "Glenn will do anything."

"He knows. I've done anything in front of him. That's why he's here. He found me by the bike path and brought me home."

"I was doing my best to help," I said.

"He'll say anything too," Glenn said. "You only buy one half-gallon. There won't be any left for Pop and junior."

"Don't you dare eat all that ice cream," she said.

"Too late now. If you'd told me that when I started, I would have felt more guilty about eating it all," he said, digging deeper into the ice cream.

"God, I'm stuffed. I'll need a nap after dinner. Speaking of which, what's for dinner?"

"Your father is stopping for Chinese on the way home."

"He's going to get egg rolls? I love egg rolls," he said.

"Yes, he'll get egg rolls. He's in rare form today. He's too smart for his own good," she said to me. "He's been going to school in Germany and they're education system is far ahead of the schools here. He really hasn't applied himself."

"Mom, I told you, I studied everything I'm learning here a couple of years ago in Germany. It's no fun when you know all the answers. Just ask my teachers."

"You know Eddie then?" she asked.

"Eddie is a nice boy. I've known him most of my life. We use to dance together…. I don't mean together. In the same dance class. That was when we were way young," I tried to explain without making much sense.

"Eddie said you did dance together. Someone is fibbing, Gordo."

"He did not," I said.

"You've started sounding like my mommy. I won't let you hangout with her."

"Dance!" she said. "That's good. He seems quite athletic. Glenn was an excellent gymnast. He got too tall to maneuver on the equipment," she said. "He built himself up considerably while we were there."

Glenn flexed his bicep muscles and struck a pose that made his muscles look larger.

"The gym on the base has rings. No gymnastics at school. Budget constraints. The base has a fine gym," she said. "Glenn doesn't go much. Why don't you go?"

"Those military guys hog the equipment," Glenn said. "They don't share and they watch me in the shower. Not like Gordo watches. He wants to help. They watch like they'd like to hurt me. Do you think it's my personality?" Glenn said, still eating.

He put the container down with the spoon in it.

He sighed.

"School can't do gymnastics because they can't afford the insurance. Everyone is looking for a reason to sue someone over here. The school won't have a gymnastics program. Too risky," he said.

"You only got one?" he asked, picking up the container of ice cream.

"Glenn!" she said.

"He's quite an accomplished violinist," she said.

My ears perked up.

"Don't get too excited, Mom. He has his own band. I just play in an orchestra. You know how many people are in a symphony orchestra? A lot. I'm just one of four violinists."

"You're musical?" she asked, sounding delighted.

"How'd you know I had a band?" I asked.

"Eddie. Eddie told me all about you. About you dancing together. He says your band is pretty good. He thinks you're like totally cool."

"He does? It isn't really my band. I've been in it the longest. A guy comes, a guy goes," I said. "Everyone says it's my band. I make the play dates. I know the people we've played for in the past."

"What instrument do you play?" she asked.

"Guitar," I said.

"Glenn plays with the base orchestra. I've tried to get him interested in joining a group off base, but he's too busy," she said, glancing his way as if she didn't believe it.

"Fiddling isn't allowed in American bands, Mom. Guitars, drums, and sometimes a keyboard. No violins allowed. Violins are prohibited. It's a rule."

"I wouldn't necessarily say that," I said. "I've thought about adding instrumentation beyond what we're doing. To create our own sound. A violin might be just the ticket."

"You'll find that when I tell my mother something, it'll go better for you if you don't contradict moi. I spend a lot of time making up stuff to keep my mother off my case, Gordo. You should just nod and agree with what I say if we're going to stay best friends."

"He's smart and musical, Glenn. I'd become his friend if I were you. You need to hang around more mature boys."

"Just today I was hobnobbing with the local farm boys," Glenn said. "We have a lot in common. I'm making friends."

"Oh, that's nice. Did Gordon go with you?"

"He came along to add to the local flavor. We've seen a lot of each other at school," he said, glancing up at me with a devilish grin. "He's seen a lot more of me than I've seen of him."

"I'm glad you met someone nice," she said.

"I don't adapt to routines well," Glenn admitted, licking the back of the spoon as he dug out more ice cream.

"He doesn't adapt to routine at all," his mom said. "The only reason he plays with the orchestra is because of Lucy Wentworth. She got him an audition."

"She's engaged to be married, Mom."

"She is? She's only a child."

"She's eighteen and she's engaged to a 1st Lieutenant. I told you that a long time ago. No longer a girl I might settle down with. Hell, she doesn't even like to wrestle. I'd have no luck getting her to take her clothes off to wrestle."

"Glenn," his mother said.

"Well, she won't."

"She's too young to be engaged," his mother said.

"You're just sorry she can't tame me. I'm not looking for taming. I want to live a little. I'm a kid. Now if sweet Lucy wanted to tango all night long," Glenn said with a lascivious sound in the words. "I'm her man. You do know the tango is the dance of love. What I can't figure out is how they keep hooked up while moving around like that."

"Glenn!" she said again.

"What? You're the one trying to fix me up. You do know what little boys and little girls do together? Of course you do, I'm your son. There had to be some tango involved to create a child like me. We won't get into junior. Everyone has an off night now and then."

"Don't eat all that ice cream, you'll ruin your dinner," she said as Glenn dug at the bottom of the carton.

"Too late for that. I'm stuffed. Only a little left now."

"How does he stay so thin?" I asked, remembering his flat stomach.

"I don't buy him ice cream too often, and maybe never from now on."

"He does this often?" I asked for reference.

"It's a constant battle. He's impervious to pain. He gets a wild idea to do something and he does it without considering the consequences. We have our own suite at the emergency room."

"Do not. You're fibbing, Mom. I've only gone once since moving here. I'm not nearly as spastic as I once was."

"You just haven't met the kind of boys that encourage you to do insane things. I keep hoping you'll grow up soon."

"I'm working on it, Mom. I just fell off my bike. It isn't like I was doing something dangerous," he said.

"Didn't a car back over your bike?" she asked.

"I'm not confessing to wrecking juniors bike no matter how much you torture me," he said. "It's our curse, Mom. That car keeps following me, waiting for a chance to get at my bike."

"You will replace his bike when Preston pays you for your next performance," she ordered.

"I will. I will. Just don't tell junior. I'll act like I'm a really magnanimous big brother."

The back door slammed and a boy a couple of years younger than Glenn walked into the dining room.

"Hey, junior, how would you like a new bike?" Glenn asked, making sure the ice cream container was empty.

"What did you do to my bike?"

"You see, Gordon. I try to be nice and I get accused. It isn't easy being me."

"You ate all the ice cream?" His brother asked, holding the empty carton. "Mom!"

"Your father is coming with Chinese," she said.

"Criminy, why does he get to eat ice cream and I get Chinese? What kind of family was I born into."

"Oh, you're so abused," she said. "Cheer up. You're getting a new bike at the end of the month," she said.

"What did he do to my bike?" His brother asked.

"Go wash up. No point in crying over spilled milk," she said. "Your father will be home shortly."

"Yes, ma'am," junior said, heading for the hall.

"You sound fairly normal, Gordon. Glenn just needs to make more mature friends. He'll be eighteen next month. Shouldn't he outgrow being self destructive?" she asked. "I've never known him to do anything stupid. This might have been one of those things. It happened in the gravel pit," I said. "Lots of gravel over there."

"Iksnay on the trutha or I won't let you play with Glenn anymore, Gordo," Glenn said. "We must not tell tales."

"I can not tell a lie. When a bike hits the gravel the wrong way, you're going down. There's really nowhere else to ride bikes if you don't want to be out in traffic."

"Gravel pit?" She asked.

"These houses are built on what once was a gravel pit. There's still a dozen acres between here and Old Highway. It's hidden by the forest they planted before the developers went to work. He slid on the gravel?"

"No, we don't want him in traffic if it can be avoided," she said. "Gravel somehow sounds less dangerous."

"Yes, ma'am. I was there. I saw him slid on the gravel. I've done it myself. One minute you're peddling away and the the next minute the bike goes out from under you. I told him not to go so fast from now on."

"I definitely slid on the gravel, Mom. Way to go, Gordo. You explained it way better than I could. Of course I was busy falling off my bike at the time. I might keep you around after all."

"My bike," his brother said, coming back into the dining room. "Where is my bike?"

"It went to bike heaven, little brother. You don't want to see it. At the end of the month I'll take you to pick out whatever bike you want," Glenn said. "That's what you need to be thinking about."

"Cool!" His brother said. "Works for me."

"Be more careful, Glenn," she said. "Is your hand OK?"

"Ops! I was trying to hide that. Just a little scrape."

"I heard you playing. You'll be OK for this weekend?"

"Fit as a fiddle, mommy dearest. I'll be fine and now that Gordon has explained everything, he's going to get to play with me any time he wants. I hope you're not as rough as Eddie. I spend all my time trying to protect my virginity when Eddie is around."

"Glenn!" His mother said.

"Eddie is hard to beat, mother. He's quite athletic."

"You two don't need to be so rough," she said.

"I don't know. I kind of like it, but he's as strong as I am am and twice as slippery. I don't like getting beat as roughly as he does it, Mom."

"Now that I know the circumstances behind your injuries, I won't worry as much. It wouldn't hurt for you to be more careful," she said. "You have some important dates coming up. That means you have a responsibility to the people you play with and play for. If I were you, I'd take it a little more seriously than you do."

"I should and I will be more careful. I'd like to explain my injuries to Preston a lot less than I like telling you, and you know how much I like that?"

"Preston pays you good money to perform. He wouldn't like it if you showed up unable to play at your best."

"And I'll be on my game when I go to Seattle," he said.

"Those boys in Germany were too wild. I worried you'd pick up bad habits," she said.

"They come from a different culture, Mom. They're free ranging kids. They do what comes natural. It's not like here with parents planning a kids day from sun up to midnight."

"Oh, they don't," she said.

"They do. Don't they, Gordo. The right answer is yes."

"I can't lie. They do," I said. "No originality. No imagination. No spontaneity. Your life is under control, but you don't control it."

"Your parents do that?" she asked with alarm.

"No, I have a band. They allow me to do that if I keep my grades up. I rarely get in trouble. Hard to get into trouble in a place where nothing happens."

"Children need to be taught to use their imagination," she said. "Creativity depends on having a well developed imagination. It's part of learning to use your entire brain."

"No brain using allowed in this berg. Stand up. Say the pledge. Stand up. Sing the anthem. Don't forget to put your hand over your heart," Glenn said, putting his hand over his heart. "Stand up. Say the prayer. By the numbers now, 'Hocus pocus, Holy Jesus, Mary, and St. Joseph. Amen!"

"Glenn! They don't allow prayer in schools," she said.

"Teachers can't lead prayer. Students can pray all they want," Glenn said. "It's free speech. It just can't be taught and you don't have to stand up. I made that up. Used my imagination."

His mother and little brother shook their heads.

"Come on. I'll walk you out before you give away any more of my confidences," Glenn said. "I hear dad in the driveway."

"I don't know anything else," I said, standing up. "It was very nice meeting you."

"Do come back. I think you're good for Glenn," she said. "He doesn't try to make good friends because we move so much. Giving them up makes him sad."

"Come on before she gives you my egg rolls," Glenn said. "With all the weirdos around here, I meet the only normal boy in town."

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, Glenn was waiting for me.

"I'd walk you home but this is a safe neighborhood, except I hear a sex perve moved in on this block," he said, looking from side to side. "Oh, here. This is where he lives."

I laughed.

"Thanks for nursing me back to health. I couldn't have done it by myself. You're OK, Gordo. You'll come after school tomorrow and do the alcohol thing again."

"You're welcome. Glad to help. It's going to sting for a while," I said. "I'll be over after school tomorrow."

"What? Oh, yes. My mind is elsewhere."

"Where?" I asked, searching for a way to engage him beyond the superficial and the mundane.

"The base orchestra plays Friday. I was running the music over in my head. It happens when a date comes closer. It's why I haven't been in school. I practice a lot and I did learn the stuff they're teaching up at school while I was in Germany.."

"All kids play in the orchestra?" I asked.

"No kids, except for Mary Morton Moscowitz. She's my age. She's a prodigy."

"And what are you, Glenn?" I asked.

"I don't know. Part kid, part daredevil, part deviate, and part musician. I don't know which part is which."

"That's a joke?" I asked.

"No! I think I want to grow up and be serious. Then I get with Eddie or the farm boys over in the pits and I'm all adolescent show off with a big mouth, among other things. Don't take what I say too seriously. I don't."

"For what it's worth, I like you. I've never known someone who could play the violin before. Anyone who can make music is OK by me, Glenn."

"Cool!" he said. "You're a good sport. Maybe we'll see each other around."

"Maybe tomorrow," I said.

"Oh yes. You almost made me forget about my damage," he said

"Glenn, dinners on the table. Come eat while it's hot," his mother said from the back porch.

"Talk to you later," he said, turning to go into the house.

I hoped we would. I'd never met a more unusual boy. It was too late to get him out of my head now.

I started home and I wondered what we were having for dinner.

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