Three sad semesters, it was only fifteen grand, spent in bed, I thought about the army, I dropped out, went to the Marriott
Veronica and I are pacing ourselves through a seafood buffet at the Marriott Resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast. I find my attention wandering.
Primarily, I’m interested in the jerky mechanical frond-fans that are sweeping far-from-majestically at intervals along the ceiling -- an out-moded facsimile of colonial grandeur; a glaring anomaly that would have any self-respecting Rajah choking on his speckled quail-eggs.
But in my peripheral vision I cannot help but be drawn to the enormous crab that is monstering Veronica’s plate, blood-orange in colour and spilling its crustaceous appendages over the edge in all directions. It’s somehow a little bit eerie -– a touch of ‘We are not alone’ -– and my eyeballs start to tremble.
I have a flashback to the time when I was vacuuming the shower (as you do) and came across one of Veronica’s plastic shower-caps huddling in the corner, lost and confused, like a jellyfish whose luggage has made it to Long Island, Bermuda, but who personally has boarded the wrong plane and ended up penniless and shivering in Long Island, New York. Wrapped up in my own comings and goings, oblivious to the cap’s wretched plight, I give the vacuum head a few token pushes, not too close, but the suction field is greater than I’d anticipated, and with a WOOSH! gwooble gwooble gwooble the shower-cap is drawn in and digested; empirically gone; just another lost soul riding helpless on the currents of life.
I try now to focus on my yabbies, which are proving impossible to peel, lying unperturbed next to a pool of seafood sauce and several hors d’oeuvres that I painstakingly retrieved from the upper tier of the buffet, despite having to contort my elbow and shoulder under some low-hanging plastic covers and despite my fingers having become stuck in the tiny handles of the standard issue M*A*S*H forceps supplied for this enterprise. (Why is the world designed for midgets?) Even in death, the cheerax destructors assert their exoskeletal dominance over my soft, clumsy fingers and much-hyped opposable thumbs.
“Shall we go and see a movie later?” Veronica suggests, inadvertently bringing to the fore some of my background processing.
“You know,” I tell her, by way of reply, “I’ve been doing some calculations, and I think that I could afford to live here. If I could work from this table, at my usual hourly rate, I’d only have to put in twelve hours per day. Allow eight hours for sleep, that still leaves four hours every day.”
The upshot of this little ramble, of course, is that our room is exorbitantly expensive, even allowing for buffet breakfasts and dinners (which, incidentally, lack both pavlova and chocolate mousse). I deposit some yabby shell onto the centre plate next to Veronica’s discard pile of crab armour and observe disconsolately that mine is a molehill to her mountain. I then toy with a piece of yabby no bigger than the tip of my finger, extricated in muted triumph and soon to be consumed with indifference. I grimace.
“So, at the rate we’re paying, I’m not setting foot outside of this building.”
Having made this point, I return my focus to the frond-fans, only to have it immediately diverted:
There is a piano located on the floor above us –- outside the conference halls where they’re discussing ‘trauma’ –- and a fairly nondescript individual has sauntered over and is now giving one of the upper keys an experimental tap-tap-tap. This, of course, is something of a no-no, for the piano has a sign on it, which reads:
PLEASE DON’T TOUCH. PIANO FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES.
Or words to that effect. You’re not supposed to touch the Marriott piano, and yet, this guy is, and nothing seems to be happening to him.
Whereupon the hypothetical question drops down on me like the quintessential tiger from a tree:
What would they do if Ben Folds wandered in to the Marriott, caught sight of their ‘display only’ piano, and spontaneously launched into a rendition of ‘Army’?
How would the staff respond?
By the time I’m ready to enlist Veronica’s help, I’ve narrowed it down to three possibilities:
Firstly, most creditably, they would run for the nearest video camera while making a general announcement along the lines of, “Ladies and gentlemen –- Mister Ben Folds!”
Secondly, most likely, they would try to tap him discretely on the shoulder, with a view to saying something like, “Excuse me, sir, but this piano...” trailing off into a whispered explanation that nobody else can hear.
Thirdly, not out of the question, they would sprint up the stairs, legs pounding, teeth barred, and crash tackle him. Friendly people at the Marriott, but with just a hint of underlying edge. “Steel-capped boots,” the affable man from concierge explained to us earlier, when Veronica dropped a chessboard on his foot.
“So,” I conclude, gracing Ronnie with a hopeful grin, “could you ask somebody for me?”
“Does it have to be Ben Folds?” she queries. “Nobody at the Marriott’s going to know who Ben Folds is.”
“But that’s the scenario –- it has to be Ben Folds, and he has to be playing ‘Army’. Do you know the song?”
“‘Well I thought about the army, Dad said, Son, you’re fucking high...’”
“That’s the one. You see, it’s a vital part of the hypothetical. You can’t have Elton John sitting down to play ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. He’s decrepit. The oldies would be applauding. They’re hardly going to crash tackle Elton John, are they? But Ben Folds, well, he’ll be standing up to play –- actually, there’s no seat, so that rules out Billy Joel too –- but Ben Folds, he’d be in their faces, bashing on the keys, and it’s a family resort...”
“How do we know the piano’s even tuned?” Veronica interrupts.
“We’ll have to assume it’s tuned,” I shrug. “It has to be. Given that the piano’s tuned, and Ben Folds wanders in and starts playing ‘Army’, what would the Marriott staff do?”
And is it really that outlandish a proposition? Ben Folds was in Brisbane a few years back, typewritering the ivories to the delight of all, except perhaps for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, who sat in stately accompaniment while he at times stood in front of the piano, rocking it like a pinball machine. Besides which, Ben Folds married a girl from Adelaide, and has twins with different star signs. He’s a family man. He could conceivably stay at the Marriott. And if he saw that piano sitting there, unattended, with a ‘trauma’ conference in full swing and a dinner buffet sans pavlova... Well, who’s to say?
“I still don’t think they’ll know who Ben Folds is,” Veronica bemoans.
“Yes, but that’s the scenario. If you change the performer then you invalidate the hypothetical. I mean, you could say Ray Charles, but he couldn’t read the sign, so the staff’s reaction is obviously going to be different. No, Ben Folds it is. You’ll just have to pick the right staff member.”
And so it is that Veronica comes to wrestle with the tiger, targeting a girl at reception –- late 20s, blonde hair with brown eyes, friendly –- luring her into the security deposit box room, and then...
“Would you mind indulging me for a moment?”
The girl is a bit startled. This is not an inquiry usually associated with retrieving somebody’s handbag.
“I have a bit of an odd question,” Veronica continues. “Do you know the display piano upstairs? And do you know the musician Ben Folds?”
“You mean Ben Folds Five?” the girl says, as if correcting her.
(Which might lead to some confusion. Crash tackling Ben Folds may not be out of the question, but starting a brawl with Ben Folds Five –- even though there were only three of them –- well, that’s a different matter altogether, isn’t it?)
“Yes,” Veronica confirms. “What would the staff do –- what is the protocol –- if Ben Folds were to start playing ‘Army’ on the display piano upstairs? ‘Army’, which is a fairly confronting song.”
The girl draws her head back, slightly askance, good-naturedly assuming the posture universally recognisable as denoting, ‘I’m dealing with a total nutter here.’
But she is good enough to answer the question:
“He’d be escorted out by the staff.”
“Oh, okay. Even though he’s famous?”
“Yes, well, you see, we have conferences in progress –- they need their peace and quiet –- so the piano really is for display only. Yes, he’d definitely be escorted out... Or maybe asked to come back later?”
The last is thrown in with a slightly questioning undertone, as if the girl feels that she’s taking –- and possibly failing –- some sort of test.
And perhaps she is.
It’s clear to me that the Marriott (as an entity) just hasn’t thought this through. It’s one thing to place a ‘Please Don’t Touch’ sign on the piano, but it’s another thing entirely to enforce it, rather like anti-suicide legislation.
How does one escort Ben Folds from the building? I mean, first of all, you have to interrupt him. How does that happen? Do you lunge in on one of the high notes and grab him by the right elbow? Do you put your arms around his waist and pull him away, while he desperately tries to finish the base line with the crook of his left arm?
In either case, it’s not going to be discrete, now is it?
No, the Marriott may have a policy, and the staff may have some highly generalised instructions regarding how to deal with people, but when it comes right down to it, my money’s on scenario three; that is, a spectacular crash-tackle by three or four members of the concierge.
But in any case:
“I’ve done my duty!” Veronica exclaims, happily. She then takes her handbag and leaves.
The girl from reception is left somewhat bemused, and the frond-fans of the Marriott swish jerkily on, defiant in the face of air-conditioning and obsolescence; rustling the trees from which one day the tiger might pounce.
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Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice