For All Nails #92: A Royal Audience
by David Mix Barrington
Phil Maroni caught the downbeat of Peter Shaffer's hand and began the "Closing Time March". It was a funny job, playing the same songs every night in abbreviated versions timed to fit into the breaks of a talk show. But with hismusic you could play the same song with the same mates and it was never quite the same. There was always another direction to take the clarinet licks, for example. Which of them took the lead in the last eight bars was decided by eye contact -- tonight Pete wanted it -- whoah! Not bad, old friend. A little extra for a special show. The crowd was into it tonight, taking a little longer to die down as Walt MacAnuff took the mike.
"G'evening folks!" Several seconds for applause to die down. "It does feel special here tonight, doesn't it?" More applause. Walt let it fade expertly before jumping into the monologue.
"A news story tonight from Northern Vandalia. Seems this wheat farmer found part of his crop knocked down in a strange, circular pattern. Couldn't tell if it was a low-flying airmobile, or some kids in a loke, but it didn't look like any of that. Thought it might be some of those space pixiesthat people have claimed to see in those parts." The audience was suddenly quiet, spellbound. You could never tell when Walt was serious, even after all this time. The man was a master. "Well, they've just sent the scientists from the Ministry out there and they've got the answer. Turns out our friend William Robbins FN1 was trying to land a gyropter." Bah-dump.
William Robbins? The guy who had made a montagu upside down on the show a month or so ago -- upside down, ok. Most of the audience was connecting the dots more slowly even than he, leading to a mixture of cackling and groans. They loved Walt even on the bad jokes, maybe especially on the bad jokes. The host started back in.
"We do indeed have a veryspecial show for you tonight, folks, with a very special guest. I've had Albany Dukes and NorfolkKnights on this program, and once a real peer of the realm FN2, but for the first time we welcome real royalty -- His Majesty Ferdinand the Third FN3, King of New Granada!" More raucous applause, with maybe a hint of caution? On one hand everyone liked the King, on the other there was what his country was doing in Trinidad...
"Also, musical guest Sarah Kluzinski and, because it's Friday, the Closing Time Players! Be right back!"
Pete's downbeat kicked them as one man into a Lokes FN4 song, "My Girl's Best Friend". The camera light went off before the first chorus, but naturally they kept playing for the studio audience through the commercial. Phil stole a glance at the door of the prep room where a young man in a suit waited for the aide behind him to send him forward. The song ended and the director's voice over the outspeakers said "Back in fifteen." Attention returned to Walt on his stool.
"My first guest is no stranger to North America, having been educated at Burdette Academy, UNO Prep, and the University of New Orleans, all in our own state of Georgia. Unlike many college graduates from last spring, he has already found a job." Pause for the laugh. "Ladies and gentlemen, please raise your glasses for His Majesty, Ferdinand the Third of New Granada!"
The King strode confidently out to Walt as the band played the well-known UNO fight song in the military-band style that was the only way that most of the CNA could imagine using horns. (Too bad they couldn't do their waltz-timed EJ FN5 version with the squeezebox lead, Phil thought.) There was a noticible audience buzz as Walt came briefly to his feet to take the King's hand. Someone had actually wondered, at the production meeting, whether Walt should "stand for" such a controversial figure, but Walt had shut them right up. "He's a bloody King! Did your mother raise you in a barn?" By now both men were seated, and Walt began.
"Your Majesty, I want to begin our conversation with the issue that is on the minds of all North Americans watching this program. How much progress have you made in introducing real football to your new homeland?"
This was planned, but the audience didn't see it coming. Did they even know that Ferdi Hohenzollern, as he had been called then, was a footballer? Back in New Orleans you couldn't have missed the excitement four years ago when he'd scored the winning try for UNO Prep to beat St. Xavier in the city championship. But though he'd stuck it out to make the Varsity in college, he'd not gotten into many games there.
"Well, Walt, the big game in New Granada is a variant of what you call kickball here, the kid's game. No hands, try to kick the ball into the goal, I played it in Spain as a boy myself. But it's no kid's game in New Granada -- the best players are real artists with their feet, you should see. They can kick the round ball far, kick it accurately, bounce it off their bodies in all kinds of ways--"
"Can they kick it straight, sir? If so, I think I can find jobs for a lot of them in Brooklyn..." Guffaws from the audience. Most of them, like Phil, had watched the NCCC Match of the Week last Sunday, where the Trolley Dodgers had missed two conversions and three easy field goals in losing to Charleston 15-13. Not their fault, really, the heat was brutal. Maybe someday Charleston and New Orleans could build indoor arenas with cooling fans, like the one in Henrytown...
"New Granada is interested in all kinds of trade and exchange of visitors, Walt. But to answer your original question, there is some Mexican-rules football in Bogota, with some clubs dating back to the Empire days. And I have started a club using the Try rules, the Asociado Real de Futbol Norteamericano, where we had two hundred men show up to the first meeting. They like what they've seen of the game, and they're interested in learning it. I'm even getting together some films of your best games, Walt, to show them how it's done."
"You're kidding, sir, I hope."
"Not at all. Virginia against Georgia in Oldfields FN6, 13 October 1966. You made a single run of seventy-five yards for a try, with three cutbacks across the whole field. I was a third-former at Burdette then, watching on the vita, rooting against you of course. It was that moment I decided to be the best footballer I could be. I kept following you through that year and the next with New York -- I have to admit I cried when you got hurt."
"Not as much as I did, sir, believe me." Walt's face was redeer than usual -- the poor guy was genuinely embarassed, Phil thought. Well, Phil had seen that late hit along with millions of other vita viewers, and still hadn't forgotten it. What had it been like for Walt? No surprise he was ready to move on. What was going to happen now? This was live vitavision, with no script, though the two men had chatted briefly earlier.
"Seriously, sir, what about Trinidad and Tobago? There's your army and navy, just walking in and taking over a tiny little country. What's your side of the story?"
"Well, Walt, I could say that the whole point is whether they were properly a separate country at all. Those two islands were part of New Granada until about a hundred years ago, when someone else's FN7 army and navy just walked in and made them independent. But more importantly, there was a very unstable situation there, with the whole population of immigrant-descended workers claiming to be oppressed, and starting to be violent about it. New Granada intervened to restore order, plain and simple. We think that the islands will be much better off being integrated into our Kingdom, but it's not going to be up to us."
"No, Walt, we're going to give the people on each island the chance to vote on joining New Granada, as soon as the situation stabilizes, certainly within the next eighteen months. If they join, they'll have representatives in the new Popular Assembly just like the rest of the people of New Granada."
"And what if they vote against you, sir?"
"We're going to do everything we can to prove ourselves worthy of their support, Walt, and I'm very confident that we'll win. If not, we'll pull out, just like that."
"Would you allow international observers at the polling places?"
"It's too early to get into those kind of details, Walt, but it's a definite possibility. We won't have anything to hide."
"Excuse me, sir, but if you don't have anything to hide, why haven't you allowed the international press to report from Trinidad and Tobago?"
"Walt, I'm not a military man, and I have to defer to the judgement of those who are while the islands are under military administration. I've given them my assessment of the CNA press, at any rate. They were a bother for me from time to time while I was trying to live my quiet student life here, but I had a lot of respect for them. Most of the time, when they printed something, they knew it was true. Our armed forces have waged a disciplined and lawful campaign in Trinidad and Tobago, Walt. I've seen the confidential reports that prove that, and eventually the world will be able to confirm that too. After all, our whole position is that those islands are, or ought to be, part of our country, right? Why wouldn't we treat them that way?"
Like the parts of your country with Jeffersonista rebels, perhaps? But Walt wasn't going to go there, Phil thought. And to be fair, the CNA papers said that the new government had a much better record than the old. Not that they'd set a very high standard of decency...
"One last question, sir, if I may. Should we North Americans be worried about New Granada, the way we've always been worried about Mexico? Are you blokes planning to expand militarily?"
"First, Walt, New Granada is a country much like North America, only with a somewhat less happy history. We became independent of our mother country while maintaining ties to her, just as you did. Our problem came with a failed government, that of the Hermions, that had to be removed by the military. But our military has worked from the time they took over to reestablish a government responsible to the popular will, with the same kind of institutions that have been so successful in keeping North America stable and prosperous. We admire your achievements here, Walt, and we want to emulate them. I hope that doesn't worry you or your country."
The King continued. "As for military expansion? Walt, we aren't coming to South Beach any time soon except as peaceful tourists. We want peace and honest commerce with all of our neighbors. The only problem is that we live in a rather rough neighborhood in some respects, with some nations on our borders that are not as stable and peaceful as the CNA or New Granada. If the peoples of some of those nations should decide we're doing a good job, and they want our help in reorganizing their own nations, it's possible that we could get involved there.
"As for Mexico, we know about the history of fear and distrust between you and your neighbors. They're our neighbors as well, and our relationship with them is very complicated. But there's something very encouraging going on, Walt. Both your Governor-General and Mexico's President are clearly men of peace, who want better relations between the great American powers. We need to recognize our differences but also our common culture, our common borrowings from our parent cultures in Europe and our common history of taming a new world. We have to talk to one another, Walt, just talk to one another. We're all very similar people, and all we want is to live together in peace."
Nice words, Phil thought, as he tuned out of the conversation and began preparing himself for Sarah and her song. Not at all scary, was young Ferdi. New Granada was presenting a handsome young face, but who or what was behind the mask?
Enough politics, he thought, reviewing the song, "Old Cape Cod" FN8, in his mind. Nice, sweet, pretty, like Sarah herself. The girl would be right on top of every note, you could be sure. She didn't mind Phil's clarinet dancing over and under her melody, and playing the bridge differently each time. But there was no give and take with Sarah like he had with Pete and the boys. No initiative to react to. Not unlike a couple of his ex-wives. No, if there was going to be a revolution in popular music, Sarah was going to be the last holdout. Nice shoulders and arms in that dress, though. This was a visual medium, after all, and the real singers Phil would have picked to sing on the show tended to be stout Negresses from Fort Lodge.
Someday, Phil thought, the music would all come together. Walt had been the first to put Juan Bailleres on the Tory vita, and their own work was making a difference too. (Walt had been merciless when the Mexican magazine Azul, the one millions of Tory men read "only for the articles", had done a feature on their music. And a three-minute version of the "Closing Time March" was getting some time on the Mexican wireless, though because of the strange licensing laws down there the total royalty so far had been only fourteen pounds.) Contact between different peoples, different senses of humor, different musical styles, maybe that was the key. Would people who really knew each other go to war with each other? Of course not -- just look at the French and the Germans...
- Excerpt from final shooting script
- "Closing Time" comedy sketch
- 12 July 1974
"Candidates' Debate", by the Closing Time Players
Moderator: Martha Huffleby
Monaghan: Morris Garrett
Skinner: Hartley Philips
Dean: Carver Dana
[the three candidates respond to questions in turn, the following exchange being typical...]
MODERATOR (in formal business dress): Mr. Governor-General, what is your reaction to the latest developments in the Free Russian Republic?
MONAGHAN (dressed in a traditional suit): Well, Miss Brook, I'd just like to make it plain that what I've said previously regarding the Russian situation -- and I'd like to make it clear that this is a reiteration of what I've said before -- will remain the policy of this administration until such time as events there might warrant a re-evaluation of administration policy, at which time it will be the policy of this administration to provide a further clarification of administration policy.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Governor-General. Governor Skinner, what is your reaction to the latest developments in the Free Russian Republic?
SKINNER (dressed in worn bib overalls and chewing a straw): Why, Darlin', I'm right glad that you asked me that there question. 'Cos you know, it just goes to show what my pappy always told me. He told me, son, you got to remember that when it gets to be mule-skinnin' time, ain't no one ready to jump that fence less'n they got the right color shirt on. An' let me tell you, Darlin', them words is just as true today as they ever was.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Governor Skinner. Councilman Dean, what is your reaction to the latest developments in the Free Russian Republic?
DEAN (dressed in a brightly colored "Space Saga Lives!" shirt and a tinfoil hat): Miss Brook, if that is in fact your real name, this just goes to show the extent to which the people of this country have been misled by an irresponsible and maliciously biased press. I pledge on behalf of the Masonist Party FN9 to free the people from the cynical exploitation of the controlling interests, and let them leave their lives in peace. And justice. We also demand that the letter "k" be removed from the alphabet.
(Thanks to Johnny Pez for help with the debate.)
(Proceed to FAN #93: The Dream and the Nightmare.)
(Proceed to 12 July 1974: Martha Stewart Living.)
(Proceed to New Granada: Matchmaker, Matchmaker.)
(Return to For All Nails.)