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When Marty's Career Was Ferreted Away by Howard Bernbaum

Rose heard the door slam followed by the sounds of Marty trudging to the study. "Uh, oh. He's had a bad day." She continued with her preparation of the evening meal. "He'll cool off with a good meal in his belly," she thought, but knew she was wrong. Rose sensed he wanted to vent right then and there. She felt his presence at the kitchen door. "So, do you want to talk about it? What's your problem?"

"What a day. They were so bad at work. They're so incompetent. The only thing that exceeds their inability is their disinterest in the job. It makes it impossible to get my own work finished when I'm so busy straightening out other people's messes. Maybe I should have stuck with music."

Rose thought about that for a moment as the memories returned. When she met Marty he had been taking piano lessons for years. He practiced several hours a day and also made extra money weekends playing in a small band. He loved jazz, but, also played Chopin, Debussy, and other classical music. In those days he always finished his practice playing some Etudes or even a Polonaise: always something pretty and melodic. After he finished school and they were married, he had to spend more of time on his "real" work and less with his music. For a few years he continued playing piano at home for relaxation and occasionally accepted a paying gig. He liked doing it and the extra money helped.

However, as time passed and his career responsibilities grew, the music was given less time. Now he hardly ever sat down at the piano and even complained that he had forgotten how to play.

"So Marty, how is it you never play any more, and you still think you should have stayed in music? That really doesn't make much sense. If you loved music, why'd you quit?"

Marty thought about it for a while before answering. It didn't take very long for his memory to return to the night he got soured on playing professionally. He winced. "Rose, I never really told you about this. Do you remember the last gig I played? That night was so bad I swore I'd never touch the piano again." He stood quietly as his mind played that night over again.

"Now that you mention it, I do remember the last time you played a job. You came home a mess. Marty, you never did tell me about that evening. What was so bad?"

Marty began to talk about that evening so many years before. He had been out of school a few years and was still playing dance gigs around town. One night, he received a call. The local Showman's Association was doing a benefit and invited him to play a piano medley with orchestral accompaniment. He had selected an upbeat Spanish number, followed by a slow rock and-roll song, and ended with
America the Beautiful. Most audiences loved patriotic songs.

Marty's performance followed an animal act and came just before intermission.

Marty used to enjoy the ambience of the theater, the dusty old sets, the smell of the greasepaint, and, yes, even the roar of the applause. It was exciting. Before the show he'd hide behind a side curtain to scan the dimly lit audience. That night, as he peeked at the audience, he was sure he'd spotted a couple of the Jackson Five kids and loads of other musicians. There was a Mexican group, that later became well known, and a variety of local talent as well as the usual business people who came to be entertained. For a change, Marty felt calm before his performance. He had practiced with the orchestra and it had gone well. Yes, this was going to be a great evening.

On cue, Marty resplendent in his borrowed tuxedo walked out and sat down at the piano. His own tuxedo hadn't come back from the cleaners in time and he prevailed on a friend to help him out. The tux was a little large on him, but really toney. Rather than a belt, he wore suspenders to keep the trousers up. On the dark stage, nobody would notice anyhow. He turned and bowed to the audience, and then nodded to the conductor. At the conductor's lead, Marty opened with a broad chord, followed by a two-handed arpeggio, and then the orchestral accompaniment began. It was impressive and the audience relaxed in their seats. Marty loved Latin music and could feel the rhythms pulsing through his body. He also felt something else.

Out of the comer of his eye, he had noticed a small ferret from the animal act had gotten loose. It was trying to hide in his pant leg. He could feel its little claws digging into his calf as it tried to make its way further into what it perceived as a burrow. Marty kicked his leg to shake it out.

However, the more he kicked, the higher the little furry thing climbed, making toeholds along the way. Marty forgot the music, the orchestra and the audience. The furry ferret climbed even further and was now inside his shirt and darting around taking an occasional nip. Marty jumped up and away from the piano so he'd have room to swing his hands and try to grab the little critter.

With the stage lights swinging back and forth, the strobes coming on and off, the effect was surreal.

The orchestra didn't miss a beat although they were now missing their lead instrument. Marty put his right arm out, palm down, then his left arm out, also palm down. He turned his palms up. He grabbed at his right arm with the left and then reversed the move. His right arm flew to the back of his neck and then his left arm did the same. The ferret fled down south. Marty's right hand reached for his right pant's pocket. The ferret moved, too. His left arm reached for the left pant's pocket. Then his right arm grabbed for his right rear pocket and the ferret scrambled to the other side. Marty grabbed at his left rear pocket. He swiveled his rear end to the right, then to the left. The ferret jumped and Marty tried to clap his hands on it while turning to the right. The audience was amazed and began to clap. The Mexican group was screaming cheers at the performance. "Ole. Ole. Oy Caramba. Macarena."

By this time Marty was almost in a panic mode. The animal had torn his shirt and part of his chest was exposed. Instead of taking this path to freedom, instead the ferret again ducked down into Marty's pant leg.

The orchestra swung into the slow tempo of Night Train as Marty again began to move his legs to dislodge the animal. The fast shaking hadn't worked so he tried to do it slowly in time with the music. He stood with his feet close together and raised the heel of his right foot. As he lowered the right heel, he slid his left foot backward. Shifting his weight to his left foot, he again raised the heel of his right foot simultaneously allowing it align with his left foot. He did this over and over again trying to get the animal to leave, but all he accomplished was slowly moving backward across the stage.
Michael Jackson gasped to Janet, "Look at him. He looks like he's walking forward and he's going backward like the space man on the moon. Look at him, he's doing a moon walk." Michael clapped wildly. "Right on, man, right on."

At that moment, several things happened, almost simultaneously. The ferret ran up Marty's leg and held on for dear life. Marty yelled and grabbed the animal hiding in his crotch and also held on for dear life. Michael Jackson jumped clear out of his seat and grabbed himself. Los Lobos screamed "Ole, Ole." The orchestra segued into America the Beautiful and the audience stood up and cheered. The stage manager rushed out on stage and hustled Marty away while the animal trainer was frantically trying to reach inside Marty's pants to retrieve her ferret.
Humiliated, Marty left the theater vowing never to go near a piano again.
Rose listened to his story in amazement. Her jaw dropped. She couldn't believe Marty hadn't told her about that night, before this. "Is that really what caused you to quit playing? Aren't you silly!"
Marty paused for a moment, "No, there's more to it than that. If you want to make money in show business, or music, or whatever, you've got to have something that makes you unique. You know, Liberace had those fancy costumes and the candelabra. Jack Benny had the pause and the double take. They each had something special. I was just a piano man and never did figure out anything to make me stand out. So I quit music and stuck with engineering."
Rose didn't respond for a moment. Then she said, softly, "It's probably just as well," and kissed her man on the forehead. In her heart she always knew Marty was meant to be an engineer.


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