Reflections on Butterflies, Somewhere Over the Dakotas

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belt-buckle“Five minutes”, snarled the stage manager in a gruff monotone voice, through the crack in my dressing room door. Don’t know why but stage managers always seem to deliver that message like some kind of countdown to detonation. Makes me want to take cover every time.
“C’mon, brother, ease up and make a joyful noise. Can’t you see I’m a little yantzy,” I replied in a whisper, while cutting a rut in the floor, pacing back and forth, trying to shoo out the wall-to-wall butterflies in my belly.
“Mm. . .might this Montana ‘End of the Trail’ belt buckle be a bit over the top?” I asked, as I froze for a moment, looking long into the brightly lit vanity.
“Glitzy, upwards of gaudy, and you didn’t pack any other,” said the pessimist in the mirror.
“You’re gonna have to chance that folks in the first five rows might tag you as some weird, frizzy-headed, closet cowboy—one who took in a few too many episodes of ‘Rawhide’ in his youth, and somehow never outgrew his city-boy fascination with Rowdy Yates, ” he added.
“I think I have to void my bladder.”
“Nah, just nerves. Besides, all that wiring strapped on to you, up your back, around and into your ears, plus that pack hooked on to your belt, is gonna make it a can o’ worms to unbuckle and drop.”
“But I really gotta hit the sandbox,” I insisted.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Two minutes!” said the stage manager, only now picking up speed and sounding more like a drill sergeant.
“Another chocolate chip cookie and you’re gonna split your seams!” pointed out the critic in the looking glass.
“Your manhood is gonna pop out like pizza dough.“
The image made my flesh creep so bad that in spite of the temptation my fingers steered clear of the cookie jar on the hospitality tray.
“You’re on, Mr. Vannelli,” moaned the cyborg behind the door, while I was quickly running through some scales.
“Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti. . .”
“You’re under,” I scolded myself.
“Ti. . .Ti. . . lay off on the espressos,” I thought, as I was ushered to the stage.
“La-Tiii!. . .hell, this dog won’t hunt!”
“I can live with that,” I concluded, as I took a peak at the audience behind the velvet curtain leg.
Suddenly the band plays, “Bap! Ba-ba-bap! Bap! Ba-ba-bap!”
“Hanging out in New Orleans, diggin’ on the Bourbon scenes. . .”
Then, like divine deliverance, the whole kaleidoscope of fluttering, winged creatures was set free from the cage in my belly. God, it felt good to be where I was standing.
“See I told you, you didn’t really have to take a pee,” noted the inner voice, insisting upon having the last word before I went on a magic carpet ride for the next ninety minutes.
Of course there are minor variations on the theme, like for instance: grabbing a couple timbale sticks and pounding out paradiddles on a pillow; maybe a set of push-ups, a couple of yoga postures, even trying to hit a few hoops in the trash bin with dirty rolled up napkins. But basically, such is my ritual before downbeat. One would think after all these years I would be the portrait of calm and composure—even allow for a touch of professional carelessness before hitting the stage. Not thus far.
I think we’re probably over the Dakotas by now. The band and I are making our way back to Portland. Playing New Orleans, as usual, was great fun. We thank all of you who made it possible.

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