What a Horrible Nightmare

I had a nightmare.

It was set in the hours before a concert at an old church in Lancaster, PA. Not sure which church, but it had a lot of that old, dark-brown stained wood in it. As if one well-placed match would send the whole place up, *poof*, like in a Looney Toon. Poor ol’ Yosemite Sam standing there in the middle of the smoking ruins holding the offending match, eyes all wide, hat charred to cinders, smoke curling up from his handlebar mustache…

I was due to play in the concert, thought I couldn’t quite tell if this dream was occurring just before a rehearsal or just before the concert or what. It was milling-around time, with various members of the orchestra in their seats, some not, and the director at his podium organizing stuff. Directors have a lot to keep track of.

I was sitting there, minding my own business, not bothering anybody, being a good boy, behind a wooden railing which kept people from falling into the stairwell down to the classroom area of the church. Where they teach people about The Lord, and where the snacks are after the concert. Shoe-fly pie. *drool*

shoe fly pie

For some reason, my ‘cello was in its case at the bottom of this stairwell, while the area where we were going to play was upstairs. A black, hard case that stands upright. There’s a Song Fight sticker on the front, CD Now, MindSpring, and one of those fancy coat-of-arms type stickers you get when you visit some cities on the back. Portland.

The primary handle is broken, so I have to carry it by this upper handle sort of like if you had somebody in a headlock and were dragging them around the ring shouting epithets and egging on the crowd. At a wedding. But all this is neither here nor there, because in my dream I couldn’t see the case clearly, and when I did see it I don’t remember any stickers. But it was my case. Maybe in my dream I had a new case. Mixed emotions!

Suddenly, I heard a *bang* from the bottom of the stairwell. A familiar bang. I’ve heard this bang before, although this time it was a little sharper than normal. Usually this sort of bang is more like a cardboard box full of books hitting the ground. More of a thud than a bang. In this dream it had an edge to it; a real bang like nails into a coffin after you get shot by Gene Hackman. He shoots a lot of people. The point is, even if it wasn’t the bang I’m used to, I knew what it was. You know how dreams are.

Fearing the worst, I peeked over the side of the old wooden railing to find that the worst was true and more. Staring up at me was Brian Cox. THE BRIAN COX.


He had knocked my ‘cello case on its back onto the tile-covered, concrete floor. ON PURPOSE. Needless to say, the instrument isn’t made for that kind of abuse, hard case or not. I was aghast. I was like, “omgwtf are you doing, Brian Cox!” But I don’t think there was any sound in this dream, other than the bangs.

Yeah, bangs plural, ’cause Brian Cox wasn’t done yet. He looked up at me with his jaw set and that patented Brian-Cox-defiant-look in his eye, picked up my ‘cello case and dropped it again! And again! I think he did it one last time, but the scene sort of blurred a little and the next thing I remember is that sick panic feeling, you know the one. How the hell was I going to play the concert now?

I have no idea what I could have done to Brian Cox to make him so mad at me. And to attack a man’s ‘cello! That’s just *mean*, as James Coburn would have said in the Mel Gibson remake of “Payback”. Which is good, by the way. At least, I thought so.

I tremulously removed the ‘cello from its battered sarcophagus and inspected the damage.The fingerboard was falling off. Nothing else was broken, but the fingerboard was falling off.

Now, fingerboards are held in place by glue, and this kind of glue sets and becomes crystalline. If the fingerboard is going to fall off, it’ll fall off completely and be dry on the back with the glue having just forcefully separated from the neck of the instrument. So here’s the weird, dream-like part of the story– the fingerboard in my dream was kind of sticky and almost staying in place, but it was sliding around weirdly. Like the back was covered in graphite. It was *almost* playable, if I could just press my fingers down hard enough somehow– my dream sort of glosses over this part, because of course a ‘cello also has strings and what was the deal with the strings while my fingerboard was all slidey like that? In dreams, things can defy logic.

An indeterminate amount of time later, the scene cleared and I was talking to the director. From afar– he was at his podium and I was at the top of the stairwell, so it was a rather loudish conversation although silent, a strange paradox only possible in dreams. I was trying to explain the situation, expressing my doubt that the ‘cello would be playable for the concert. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of sympathy, for some reason. Like it’s my fault that Brian Cox has mistaken me for whoever conned him into For Love of the Game. It looked good on paper, didn’t it?

Now not only was I up shit creek without a ‘cello, but I had the orchestra looking at me like I was a freak, and the director pissed off and contemplating not paying me. That son-of-a-bitch Brian Cox had stealthily disappeared sometime in the confusion.

So I went for it. I played the concert with a goopy, mushy fingerboard, nerve-wrackingly unstable and always just about to slip off the neck completely. I didn’t have a choice. If you can play, you play. The show goes on. You break a string, you play on the other three and work out the notes as best you can. It’s unpleasant and exhausting. Like running a race holding up your shorts because your tie-string broke and, God knows why, you decided to go commando to gym class that day.

It reminded me of the times I’ve played with no rockstop (the thing that keeps the ‘cello from sliding out from between your legs) and had to use the side of my shoe. You wind up with a cramp in your leg and a hole in your shoe, but the satisfaction of having not let the Universe get you down. I don’t wear expensive shoes to concerts for this reason. You never know when you’ll need to stick an endpin into one of your size elevens.

What a nightmare! Of course, then I woke up. I never found out if I did well, if anyone in the audience noticed, if I got paid, if the director stopped being mad at me, any of that. No damned closure.

That’s probably the worst part about nightmares. When you fall off the cliff, you never hit the ground. Sometimes, and yeah it would be terrible and painful, but sometimes isn’t it just nice to finish what you started? Even in a dream?

With a good dream it’s different. It’s not so much the destination as the journey. You’re on a road trip with friends. You’re in bed with someone you love. You’re enjoying a delicious ice cream treat. You’re playing with your long-dead beloved pet tarantula Stacey who got caught in the vacuum that one day. I’m not trying to craft a moral to this story or anything. There’s no lessons here. I’m just sayin’.

Ugh. I can still remember the feeling. What a horrible nightmare. Who’s got it worse, me or Heather Langenkamp? I know which way I’d vote.


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