Illustration by Edusá
THE BASEST CLEF
by Brian Conlon
“Sweetness in sound is not something to be desired, people will vomit,” said Mr. Clorne to the alto sax section.
He was not one to mince words, or speak frankly; instead, he spoke principally to undermine the confidence of his students. But, he had tenure.
Issue #40 soundtrack: Saint Motel "At Least I Have Nothing"
“If you play an F sharp again, when you’re supposed to play an F natural, I will have the trombone section throttle you. You know how they hate F sharps,” he said to a particularly petite flautist. The trombonists smiled, pumping their slides malevolently. One trombonist sprayed water, meant to keep his slide lubricated, in his own eye to prove his allegiance. It burned slightly and he squinted through the rest of rehearsal, sliding his slide, but not actually playing.
“Mud called, it wants its definition back,” he told the tuba section, after one particularly inarticulate version of the 1812 Overture. Say what you will to the flutes, harass the trumpets, berate the saxophones, hell, strip naked and march the percussion section up and down the hallway, but do not, under any circumstances, insult the tubas. Tubists don’t care about being popular. They don’t care about having a marketable skill. They only wish to be left alone. They sit in the back, they play low notes and they get left alone; that’s the deal.
The next day the tuba section, namely Duke and Sara, stole Mr. Clorne’s baton, broke it in half, and stapled it to the bulletin board. Mr. Clorne spent the first twenty minutes of the period shouting, “Who did this? Who did this?” He then tore the bottom half of his baton out from under the staple and waved it hysterically. The tubas started playing some low rhythmic thing which almost coincided with his waving motion and the entire band followed, creating a gross cacophony that reduced Mr. Clorne to tears. When it stopped, he was curled up in a ball in the corner of the band room humming a Sousa march (Semper Fidelis?). It was at that moment, after everyone else had left, that I decided to ask Mr. Clorne to sign my athletic eligibility sheet. He smiled, said absolutely, and then stabbed at the sheet with his broken baton.
“That’s not a pen,” I said.
“It’s not a baton either,” he said.
“I have a pen,” I said.
“So do I,” he said.
“Coach won’t accept this,” I said.
“Shame,” he said.
“Coach will make me run,” I said.
“Who did this?” he asked.
“The clarinets are morons, so they’re out. Flutes are too timid. Saxes, too arrogant. Trumpets, far too arrogant. Trombones, too loyal . . . and stupid. French horns too vain. Percussion, well they do know how to break sticks. I don’t think they know I have a baton though. . . . Gotta be those goddamn tubas! Why didn’t I see this coming? So touchy, can’t insult the precious tubas . . . give me a B flat, that’s all I ever ask of them and half the time they can’t do that right.”
“Will you sign it now?” I asked.
“Blame the tubas will you, just to get out of a bit of running, huh, tubby? Sell your friends down the scale, just to avoid a couple of laps. Is that what this band is coming to?” he said.
“I weigh one hundred and forty-seven pounds,” I said.
“So do I,” he said, rubbing his gigantic belly.
“I never said it was the tubas.”
“So, it wasn’t the tubas? Are you gonna lie to my face? Like I’m some sort of ignorant art teacher, passing kids through. Oh that’s a lovely duck painting Nigel, I think the black and dark purple really contrast well, and that giant spoon in the middle, well done, B-, on you go to the next grade. Is that who you think I am? Is that how you think of me?”
“No, Mr. Clorne,” I said.
“Am I some sort of carnival slideshow? Oh that Mr. Clorne, he’s lost it, he’s really lost it, sad day, sad day, sad day…”
“Uh,” I said.
“Old man Clorne, with his pot belly and his thinning hair, his firm lips, you can’t tell under the moustache but they’re firm, his firm lips, that pouty smile, those gleaming eyes, that strong right forearm muscle that always twitches and nearly glistens when we reach fortissimo, that Clorne, he’s a mean one, he is. Like my uncle after a few drinks.”
“We don’t think that,” I said.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked.
“I can’t tell, or speak . . . for the rest of the band,” I said.
“Yes you can. I grant you permission,” he said.
“Oh, I can? Well then, I won’t.”
“Yes, you will,” he said.
“Will you sign the sheet?” I asked.
“I’ll run the lap for you tubby, now out with it.”
“I weigh one-hundred and forty-seven pounds,” I said.
“Out with it!”
“We think, not me, remember, but we . . . think you’ve insulted the tubas and . . . that’s a bad idea. Best just leave them alone,” I said.
“They made me learn tuba in music school. Do you know how awful it is? Do you have a sense of how awful it is?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Good, then you’ll be happy to be our new principle tubist.”
“You will, and what’s more, you’ll be good. You’ll be better than good, you’ll be competent, you’ll be in tune, and you’ll breathe only when absolutely necessary,” he said.
“My parents just bought me a new trumpet,” I said.
“Excellent to hear, I’ve always said rich people should buy their children trumpets,” he said.
“It was my birthday and Christmas gift . . . combined.”
“So, you missed out on some chocolates and shoulder pads . . . What sport is this for?” he asked.
“General sports,” I said.
“What does that mean?”
“My parents just bought a trumpet, they’re not going to be happy about this,” I said.
“Valves are valves, they’ll get over it,” he said. He then went to the band storage closet, pulled out a tuba and pointed to the valves. I have to admit they looked much the same as my trumpet valves, only there was one more and they were about three times the size.
“My hands aren’t that big,” I said.
“They’re bigger than Sara’s,” he said
“I have asthma,” I said.
“Then quit the team. What is general sports anyway?” he asked.
“To play tuba, you need healthy lungs.”
“How do you play general sports then? What is general sports?” he asked.
“I have nightmares about sousaphones, have ever since I was a kid.”
“That’s symbolic, you’re not actually worried about sousaphones,” he said.
“Oh no, I am,” I said.
“This general sports thing, is it some sort of a joke? Are you putting me on with this? I could have you kicked off the team.”
“My parents read me a book when I was little about not doing drugs and the drug dealers in the book used sousaphones to advertise,” I said.
“Are you some sort of mental case, son? This tuba thing might be just right for you,” he said.
“General Sports is when you get cut from the team you try out for and you just practice all the sports, until someone gets hurt, and then they call you up,” I said.
“So you’re like the 16th guy on the basketball team, the 5th leg on the swim relay and the 9th best discus thrower all rolled up into one convenient unathletic package,” he said.
“Something like that,” I said.
“I’ve gotta tell you kid, that sounds awful, like worse than playing tuba awful.”
“No . . . see, you get to just play random stuff until they need you and you still feel like part of a team . . .” I said.
“Even though you’re not,” he said.
“I am,” I said.
“So this academic sheet is for me to verify that you’re eligible to play, in case everyone who is any good gets hurt or decides to quit?”
“Just sign it,” I said.
“You don’t tell me what to do. I don’t care if you’re the best tuba player I’ve ever had, no student tells Mr. Clorne what to do.”
I silently looked down at my sheet and then started to walk away.
“I’ll sign it, I’ll sign it.” he said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“And you’ll play tuba?”
“I’ll play tuba.”
Brian Conlon graduated from Harvard Law School this past May, and with a degree in Comparative Literature and History from the University of Rochester in 2008. He has studied creative writing with Joanna Scott, Amy Hempel, and Rose Moss. Brian won a short story writing competition at the University of Rochester and has had two of his stories published in EST, a small literary magazine out of Burlington, Vermont. He has given readings at the University of Rochester, Harvard Law School and at multiple release parties for EST.
Edusá "used to be a normal kid until the day he put his finger into socket and suffered an electric shock. Since then he draws compulsively." He now lives and works in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where he creates illustrations, storyboards, animations, and character/environment designs for games. He graduated from Visual Arts at UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) and also holds a technical degree in Design and Graphic Communication from SENAI(Design and Graphic Communication Center). Visit Edusá online at edusastudio.com.br.
"At Least I Have Nothing" is the lead track from Saint Motel's new vinyl 7", which released this month and can be ordered online. For more, visit the band's website at saintmotel.com.