Age of Discovering

by Rick Beck

Chapter 7

So Many Glenns

I didn't run into Glenn at school the next day, although Eddie waved at me in the hall. I waved back. Since my band was playing Friday night, I gave the band the next two days off. We knew the music we played by heart. Two days off would do us good.

I headed for Glenn's house. I didn't think he went to school. I went down Eddie's block and over to Glenn's street. He saw me coming from his perch on the back porch.

"You remembered?" he said, standing up as I reached the bottom of the stairs.

"I don't want you to miss your gig on Friday," I said.

"Little chance of that. My mother would make me go even if I couldn't walk," he said, as I followed him into the house.

"Oh, she would not," I said.

"She might," he said. "Anyway, I got the alcohol and cotton balls out for you. I'd have taken out the real balls, but I'm trying to be nice today," he said. "You don't think I can, do you?"

"We'll see," I said.

We started with his knee this time. He wore shorts with an elastic waistband. He pulled them down and away from the abrasion on his backside without exposing anymore flesh than necessary.

I used alcohol on each wound and there was little said, no innuendo, or verbal intercourse. Glenn had been in rare form the day before. I wondered if he was worn out.

It didn't take nearly as long to have him good to go. His hand was healing but it looked raw. I'd heard him play the day before and if it hindered his ability to play, I didn't hear it in the music. It had to hurt when he used the hand.

Glenn was quiet and he didn't complain. Once I was done, he packed up the cotton balls and put them and the alcohol back into the medicine cabinet.

"Ice tea?" he asked, as we left the bathroom.

"Yes, I'd like that," I said.

"We can sit on the back porch. The sun sets around there and it's nice today."

Glenn seemed almost gracious. It was yet another side of what had to be a complicated boy. None of the rude and crude Glenn surfaced.

"You're quiet today. Not as...."

"Spastic? When it comes close to when I play a date, I tend to be more reserved. It's another reason I asked you to come over," he said, turning his head to see me. "You are more mature. I need to be around more mature boys. I just don't know any."

We sipped tea and looked out at the side yard.

"Your need to take chances correlates with when you are scheduled to play the violin?"

"I do tend to be more reckless just before I play," he said.

He didn't need to think about the answer.

"How did you.... Why the violin?" I asked.

"You might say the violin picked me," he said, looking at my face to see my reaction.

"I don't know how that works," I said. "My parents brought me home a guitar when I was ten. I never took lessons but I had some books. I taught myself to play," I said.

"I had violin teachers. It was just before we were stationed in Germany. My mother and I were going through shops in London. We found the violin in one of the shops."

"You or your mother?" I asked.

"I spotted it. There was something about it that drew me to it. It's a long story. I don't want to get into it right now, but we got the violin in London. I was thirteen. Once in Germany, I took lessons from Herr Gorman. He taught the violin. He was really old. As in ancient!"

"He was obviously a good teacher," I said.

"Yes, I suppose he was. He'd been teaching forever. He hardly took students anymore. Because of his age but he took me."

"What's Germany like?" I asked.

"I liked it. I was there from just before I turned fourteen and we were there for three years. It's one of the few places where I made friends. Most duty stations are a year long. About the time I'm making friends and I'm no longer thought of as the new kid, it's time to move again and I need to start all over."

"Why three years in Germany?" I asked.

"Pop's getting close to retirement. They let him stay for three years. He may retire by the time this tour of duty ends. My parents like this area. So they bought this house so they'd have a home. Even if Pop re-ups for another tour, they've decided to retire here."

"You liked Germany? Why?"

"I had everything there. I had my violin. I'd begun to grow up there. The boys I ran with spoke English. Two of them spoke better English than I do. I found gymnastics and my friends were on the team with me. You think I'm bold. The German boys are fearless. I didn't need to prove anything to them. They accepted me. I was one of them. That's probably where I got my boldness from. I came into my own in Germany."

"Why the violin? It's a serious instrument," I said.

"As I said, you might say the violin picked me," he said.

"How so?" I asked. "I'd like to hear the story. Please!"

"It'll take a while. I'll give you the short version," he said. "We were laid over in London. Mother and I were going through the many wonderful shops. There were about a million," he said.

"Some were just tiny. The antique shops were the most fun. Those places had things hundreds of years old, you know. Stuff from back when there were knights, castles, and kingdoms. One shop has all these musical instruments from every vintage. Up on a shelf in the back of the shop is this old battered violin case. It looked really old. I couldn't resist looking inside."

"I reached up on the shelf to take it down. It was old and scratched up, but when I flipped up the lid, the violin is as shiny as if it was new. Something told me that no one bought a battered violin case to house his new violin."

"'How did you do that?' the proprietor asked. He was old too."

"'I didn't do anything,' I said, not sure what he meant. 'I wanted to see the violin.'"

"'The catch on that violin case is a secret latching mechanism. Only the man who made the case and the owner of the violin knew how to open it. You opened it immediately,' he advised me."

"'There's no trick to it. You just press on both sides and move your thumb up on this side and press. If you listen you can hear the spring release the latch. You see?' I said, closing it and then opening it again.

He smiled a knowing little smile.

"'Yes, I do see. What I don't see is how you knew how to work the mechanism. That case has only been opened when I open it. No one else has been able to open it. I don't remember the last time someone picked up the case.'"

"'If he broke anything, I'll reimburse you,' my mother said, as she worked her way over to our meeting."

"'Madam, I've had this shop for fifty years. I often take consignments from old estates. Some items are hundreds of years old. Overtaken by the tax man once the last living relative dies, pieces are auctioned and bought in lots. That's how that violin came to me. I could not open the case and I wrote to the maker of the case. They sent me instruction on how to open it,' he said."

"'It was a one of a kind case made to order," he said. 'It works just like your son said."

"'I don't understand,' mother said. 'You sounded excited. I was sure he'd done something wrong.'"

"'He opened it without hesitating. He knew the secret. Put the violin under your chin. Let me see you hold the bow. Go ahead,' he encouraged me."

"'I don't know how to play,' I told him."

"Don't play. I want to see you hold it,' he said."

"I tucked it under my chin and ran the bow over a single string. It didn't feel uncomfortable. I didn't make the screeching sound I expected to make. I was surprised by that."

"''This is his violin,' the proprietor said."

"'I've seen a lot of salesman in my time, sir. You're the best of all. Give me some idea how much do you want for this instrument?'"

"'Mom, I don't play the violin,' I said."

"'Madam, I've had this happen once before. It was years ago. I hadn't had the shop long. Lady Jane Ashley visited my shop with her father, Lord Ashley. They were interested in a harpsichord. Lady Jane was taking piano lessons, but her father was fond of baroque music. Lady Jane agreed to try to learn the instrument and he wanted a harpsichord for his daughter. I had only one. I showed it to them. I told them it had a defect, one flaw that might make it unsuitable for what they were looking for,' he said."

"'You see, the harpsichord was left sitting for years, and while the ornamentation was restored to perfection, there was a defect in the instruments mechanism,' he told us."

"'Let her play for a moment and she can see if she wants it,' he said Lord Ashley said."

"'Lady Jane sat in front of it and began to play. The sound was quite good and she seemed to take right to it. Then it happened. One key, always the same one, stuck. It failed to release back into place. Lady Jane hit the key two, three times. It was hopelessly stuck. She half stood, half leaned, and with one delicate flick of her finger, she set the key free. She finished what she was playing," he said.

"'I was amazed that she wasn't flustered by the flaw. In fact, I'd say she had played that harpsichord before. She knew precisely how to fix it. I sold the harpsichord to them at the price I'd paid for it,'" the proprietor advised. 'I don't argue with fate. I recognize there are forces I don't understand.'"

"'Why would you do that?' my mother asked."

"There are few things I've seen as exceptional events in my life. I'm surrounded by music and beauty. I long ago made my fortune and I sell instruments in an effort to get the right musical instrument into the hands that fit them. I don't need to work. I work for the joy it gives me.'"

"'For the second time someone has come into my shop and found an instrument that clearly is meant to be his. Give me fifty pounds and the violin will go to its proper owner,' he said without bargaining. 'That's a money back guarantee. If you decide your son can't learn the instrument, I'll refund the money no questions asked.'"

"'Certainly it's worth much more than that. It looks new,'" mother said, looking at the way the violin shined."

"'It's what I paid for it, madam. I would not take a ha'penny more. This is your son's instrument. Of that I'm certain. This violin has picked you, my boy. Don't deny it. Put yourself into learning to play it and you'll be rewarded.'"

"'I'd pay fifty pounds to someone who could get him to take an interest in any instrument,' my mother said, opening her purse."

"…And I had me a fiddle," Glenn said with a smile.

"That's strange," I said, "He knew you were destined to play it." "I thought so too but even then, I didn't know if I could learn to play a violin," he said. "I've never taken anything seriously before."

"You play well. You took lessons I think you said."

"I certainly did. It came to me in time. It was a struggle at first. No, it was complicated. The violin. It's a complicated instrument to master. When it became too hard, something about what that old man said made me feel like I had to stick with it. I'd never stuck with anything. We were always on the move. I was a kid, but I couldn't think of giving up the violin. It's the one thing that was mine. It's the one thing I felt like I knew," he said. "Even before I could learn to play very well."

"My violin teachers didn't necessarily think the violin was my instrument. Something peaceful comes over me when I play. It's almost like I become someone else. Believe me when I say, the rest of my life isn't so peaceful."

"Oh, I believe you," I said. "You play Friday night?"

"Yes. I'll get you a ticket if you want to come."

"No. I can't go. We've got a band date. Just some party we're playing but it isn't polite to skip out on a date, even if we're playing for free."

"OK! Cool!" he said. "Well thanks for nursing me back to health. I better get inside. See you later, Gordon."

"See you, Glenn."

It was a short walk home. Every step of the way, I wondered how I could arrange to hear Glenn play on Friday and yet keep my bands date to play Friday evening.

My insistence that we maintain a professional demeanor as a band was the one thing I reminded my band mates of before each performance. Even when there was no payment involved in our appearance. You could never tell when someone important might be listening.

The idea I could come late, or not show up at all, was never a consideration. I'd had one intelligent conversation with Glenn. It didn't add up to an invitation to leave my band mates hanging.

I wanted to hear Glenn play in front of an audience. The fact he invited me and offered me a ticket were important. We were to play at eight o'clock Friday night. No self respecting symphony orchestra was going to start playing before eight. Seeing him play on Friday simply wouldn't be possible.

Even then, I thought I could figure out a way to be on time for my performance and still get to see Glenn play. I wasn't going to give up yet. There had to be a way to make it work out, but I was at a loss for how to get my way.

I looked at the invitation:

Come for dinner. Stay for a dance. Music by the Mad Monks. Dinner at 7 p.m. at the Skyline.

Because there was a birthday party and dinner before the dance, I suggest we begin to play at nine. We'd play until eleven thirty. There was no reason to rush the party and dinner and an hour wasn't very long.

The girl who had made the arrangements thought about my proposition as I waited for her answer.

"Nine o'clock. You'll play until eleven thirty?"

"We'll be warmed up and ready to go at nine," I told her.

"I like that idea. Thanks for suggesting it. I'll see you at nine Friday night then."

"Yes," I said.

I immediately called my band mates and advised them of the change. I called the base to make sure the ticket office was still open and if there were any tickets left.

I told my parents I wouldn't be long and I checked my gas gauge to make sure I could make it over and back. I had a little more than a quarter of a tank. I calculated I was good to go for a few more days before I'd need to gas up.

The main entrance to the base was less than a mile from where the dance would be held. I needed to get directions to the concert hall, buy the ticket, and I was set. I didn't call Glenn to ask him for the ticket he offered. I didn't want him to know I had figured out a way to see him play.

I stopped at the base entrance.

"Can I help you, sir?" the young soldier asked, leaning down in a professional manner to the height of my car window to hear what I had to say.

"There is a concert by the base orchestra on Friday evening. I need to buy a ticket to make sure I have a seat."

"Yes, sir. The performance is at twenty hundred hours. 8 p.m., Friday evening at the base auditorium."

Stepping down off the curb, he pointed his white gloved right hand straight ahead at the highway that circled the base. I'd been on it a couple of years before but I didn't know my way around.

"Pull up to the stop sign. On the opposite side from the stop sign you'll see the base directory map. On that map you'll see a sign that says, 'auditorium.' The arrow indicates you turn to your right. Follow the signs that say, 'auditorium.' It'll take you right there. It's 1.6 miles from where we are now. It is on the left and the biggest structure you'll see. You can't miss it. Turn left into the parking lot. The ticket office is at the center entrance of the auditorium. There should be someone there to sell you a ticket at this time of day. The ticket office is open from ten hundred hours to twenty hundred hours. That's eight o'clock. On the night of the performance the ticket office is open between ten hundred hours until fifteen minutes after the performance begins. Do you have any questions?"

I remembered where the auditorium was after his first two sentences. He had such a lovely accent that I didn't want him to stop talking. I tried to think of an intelligent question but my time was up and he stepped back up on the curb.

"Thank you," I said.

I moved up to the stop sign and made the right turn, after adjusting my rear view mirror, watching him offer the next car in line directions.

I parked in the lot and walked to the ticket office.

"One in the back for Friday's eight o'clock performance," I said, waiting to pay the price.

"Only the first two rows are reserved. The general admission is $10. You can sit anywhere but in the first two rows. Those are reserved," she repeated.

I slipped the ten dollar bill through the glass and I put the ticket in my wallet. I drove from the base entrance to the American Legion Post. It took less than five minutes.

I turned around and I went home.

I'd go to see Glenn and I'd stay until fifteen minutes until nine. My band would be waiting when I got to the American Legion Post.

I told them I might be a couple of minutes late but they should go ahead and set up. It wasn't professional but it was what I wanted.

My plan was to get there a little before the performance time, sit in the back row, and leave at fifteen to nine.

I'd see if I couldn't locate Glenn among the orchestra, listen to the music they made, and watch him play.

I considered this a professional courtesy, since we were brother musicians. I was sure I could learn a lot about him by watching him play. I would be disappointed if I didn't get what I came for.

Hearing someone play at his house was far different than hearing him perform in front of an audience. I was sure what I needed to know about Glenn I'd learn on Friday.

I wouldn't stop by his house to see how he was doing. He told me the closer he came to playing a date, the more he focused on the music he played.

I could relate to that as a musician.

Friday evening I dressed for my band's performance. I put on a light jacket over my out outrageously colored shirt. I left the house in plenty of time to be in my seat at the base auditorium before the performance started.

I held my ticket in my hand to show at the main entrance to the base. I was waved through along with a steady stream of cars in front and behind me. The line of cars turned right at the stop sign and left into the auditorium parking lot.

I parked in the corner of the parking lot to avoid being blocked in. I waited to see if I saw Glenn going in. I was sure there was a performers' entrance in the rear of the building. I looked anyway.

The parking lot was no more than half full. I worried there wouldn't be enough people in the audience to hide my presence. I didn't want Glenn to see me.

If I wanted him to know I came to hear him play, I'd have asked him for the ticket he offered me. I didn't know why I didn't want him to know I was there. I didn't know why I did have the things I did.

I thought if Glenn knew I came to hear him play, he'd feel obligated to come to hear me play. I didn't want that. I knew I could play the guitar and my band mates knew their instruments. At seventeen I didn't think any of us were in Glenn's league. His ability to play the violin got my respect. A hundred kids at school had a guitar.

I wasn't sure why I did the things I do, but Glenn made me feel more alive than any one had. He'd awakened feelings inside me that didn't understand. I'd met a boy who made me delighted that I was gay.

At five minutes to eight I left my car and I went into the auditorium. I sat just inside the door in the last row of seats. I didn't want to have a long walk to get out of the auditorium in the middle of the performance.

I could be gone in a few seconds and no one would know I was there. I waited patiently as the minutes ticked off. It was fifteen after eight when the lights dimmed and the music began.

A kettle drum roll brought the orchestra to life. There was a rousing opening alive with percussion instruments, which got my blood flowing. There were three violins seated all in a row and Glenn was almost hidden by the other two more substantial violinists. One being a woman with very large hair. She sat next to Glenn and a rather large man sat on the other side of her.

They played vigorously without me being able to separate Glenn out from the other two violinists. I could barely see him, which was disappointing. They did seem to be in sync, even thought they remained silent for most of the opening sequence.

I looked at my watch and it was eight twenty-five. I'd give it twenty more minutes before slipping out. It had gotten hot in the auditorium. I looked around and saw no one who might be offended by my shirt within ten rows.

I slipped out of my jacket and put it across my lap. It felt cooler right away. My sweat helped.

They played a Mozart piece I recognized. There were pieces that offered a liberal amount of music for the three violins. I watched and thought I could see Glenn's elbow from time to time on the other side of the big hair.

The violinists played at the same time and stayed together. Most of the instruments joined in at different times. Whoever selected the music loved percussion instruments. Each piece ended with drums and cymbals.

The cymbals weren't simply loud, they struck often.

No one was going to fall asleep during this performance.

It was eight-thirty and I was getting restless. After a mild piece I recognized, a piano at one corner of the stage played alone.

I figured the rest of the orchestra was resting. The soft piano music was a nice change of pace. It was eight forty, I'd seen enough of Glenn's elbow. I was ready to go.

The piano music was something I recognized but I had to look at the program to figure out it was a Beethoven piano concerto. It would finish in a couple of minutes and I'd slip out while the entire orchestra was playing.

While my eyes were on the pianist, who was giving it her all before the sound trailed away.

That's when I heard the violin. I might have thought it was any of the violinist starting a riff, except it was the music Glenn was playing at his house.

Glenn stood to move to center stage. The lights dimmed until the auditorium was almost in darkness. A spotlight came on as Glenn played. He hardly looked up.

His hair was combed in such a way to hide the abrasion near his temple. There was no sign that his injuries hampered his ability to play. He looked totally focused.

Glenn had my attention. He was large and in charge.

The violin was almost alive. Every eye was on him. He dazzled the audience, picking up the tempo. His arm sawed frantically on the violin. His body swayed as he moved with the music he made.

I was more impressed than ever with Glenn. He was very good.

There wasn't another sound in the auditorium. The audience was mesmerized by the young prodigy.

The music stopped suddenly. For an instant there wasn't a sound. Then, for the first time, I saw Glenn's face. He took one quick bow and the spotlight went out. The house lights came back up. Glenn sat back behind the big hair.

The audience was only still for a few seconds. Then a thunderous applause erupted. People stood up to show their appreciation. I stood up, applauding madly.

The applause continued. The audience knew when they'd seen something special. The lights dimmed without going out. The applause continued.

I wanted to leave but I couldn't.

The spotlight came back on. Reluctantly Glenn stood, walking back into the spotlight. He took another quick bow. The applause became louder before finally dying away.


When I looked at my watch, it was five minutes until nine. I sprang up, tripping over my own big feet, colliding with the double doors.

The sound echoed through the auditorium, as I made my less than graceful exit.

I immediately realized I'd dropped my jacket. When I opened the door to pick it up, the entire audience was staring at the noisy double doors.

So much for grace under pressure.

My face burned with embarrassment as I ran to my car.

I was late.

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