Chapter 29 1967 - I and Henry

I’s excellence as a musician continued to grow. Despite his innate skill, Juliette insisted that he practiced daily and I resented it. He stared out the window with the clarinet lying in his lap. After an extended silence he heard his mother calling from the other room “Are you practicing in there?”

“Yes, mom” he sighed and played a few notes on the clarinet.

Once again he stopped and mumbled to himself. “I don't know why I have to practice. I'm so good now, I can't see any use.” He called out to his mother, “Mom, how long do I have to practice?”

Juliette replied again from the other room, “Just a few minutes more. Remember, you have a challenger tomorrow.”

I was frustrated that he continually had to defend his position as first chair. The second chair player was constantly challenging him, as if in a duel, and briefly took his seat once, and only once, when I had given up for a time. His parents were extremely upset at the outcome, and forced him to respond with a new challenge the following week. The constant effort to remain the best was tiring.

I wistfully looked out the window again to see the neighborhood guys playing basketball over at Spike’s house. “Gee, I'd rather be playing ball with the guys but they never let me do anything. I wonder why they don't like me?” He played a few more notes on his clarinet. “I got nothin' but this darn clarinet. At least I'm good at it.”

He started playing a complicated solo, which took him up to the highest notes of the clarinet’s range. “Take that second chair!” he challenged. “I’m undefeatable!”

I decided he’d had enough for the day, “Mom! I‘ve finished practicing!”

Juliette called back, “Now do your homework!”

I groaned and lay back on his bed. “This place is a jail,” he grumbled just under his breath. “I’m gonna relax first.” He turned on the radio and listened for a few minutes.

As he became entranced with the music he dreamed out loud, “Man, I'd junk this clarinet any day for one of those guitars!”

Henry, noting the radio was on, stepped into I’s room. “Shouldn't you be doing your homework, son?”

“I was taking a break.”

“Don't take too many breaks or you'll fall apart, heh, heh.” Henry’s attempt at a little humor failed to impress I. He reached over to the radio and flipped the volume knob. “Do you have to have that radio up so loud?”

I reached to turn it back up, “I wanted to hear the guitar.”

“You practically had the guitar sticking out of the speaker.” I winced at his father’s habit of pronouncing guitar as “geetar.” “How's the practicing coming along?”

“I'm finished for today,” I pronounced. “It's starting to bore me.” He looked up at Henry and flatly stated, “I want to learn to play the guitar.”

“Guitar, huh?” I winced again. “I used to have a guitar when I was a teenager. I could play any Country-Western song you could name.”

I had heard the stories of his father’s musical exploits but remained unimpressed by his favorite musical genre. “I can't name one. Besides, I don't want a Country-Western guitar.” I purposely used his father’s pronunciation. “I want an electric guitar.” He pretended to play an imaginary guitar, scrunching up his face as he played an imaginary solo.

Henry was secretly elated, but wanted to test I’s resolve. “Those things are pretty dangerous. You can get a bad shock from 'em,” he warned.

“I think I'll take my chances. Can I have one?”

Henry had never spoken to I about his big dreams of playing bass guitar, of owning that Fender Precision Bass. But in fact, the dream had never left him. Perhaps I, he thought to himself, would carry on that dream from him.

“How about a bass guitar?” Henry suggested.

“A bass? No, I don’t think so. It takes no talent to play a bass. Who becomes famous playing a bass? Nobody even hears the bass,” he challenged. “I want an electric guitar. Just listen to those leads.” He cranked the radio up again.

Henry was taken aback as his dream was shattered once again. He didn’t even seem to notice that the radio volume was too high. He swallowed his pride and turned his outlook positive. Remembering his “rainy day” fund, he thought this might be the right time to dip into it. “Maybe we'll take a ride to the music store tomorrow.”

“Great! Thanks Dad!” I’s respect for his father rose, if only momentarily. “I need an amp, a fuzz box, a wah wah pedal, the whole works!”

“Hold it a minute, let’s take it slow,” Henry warned.

I’s respect dipped again. “OK, OK,” his own brief dreams seemingly shattered as well.

“Well, tomorrow’s tomorrow and today’s today, “ Henry urged I. “Now finish your homework!”