It’s a whole new world now that Jacob and all his pod except Cindy have graduated from high school. The National Service can’t wait to have Marvel and Hopkins on the road as a deputation team, talking about life in the service. They are on the road as soon as school is out, even though they won’t be inducted for two more months. But not everyone is happy with their message of reform and some will stop at nothing to make sure it won’t be heard.
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PART XVI: IMMISERATION
“If you live a long life and get to the end of it without ever once having felt crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.”
—Duncan MacMillan, Every Brilliant Thing
I WOULD LIKE to have taken a break after graduation. You know, kick back on the porch and play my guitar. Drink a few beers. Make love to my girlfriends. Just not think of anything for a few weeks.
Not a chance.
I didn’t have girlfriends. I had wives. Eleven of them who wanted attention as we got ready to launch the ‘Grand Loop’ deputation tour through the Midwest and the South. We wouldn’t be inducted into National Service until July 18—after Cindy turned seventeen. But we’d be spending the entire month of June working for them.
After I got Livy and Remas off to the airport, Em and Rachel headed for Indianapolis to pick up the bus we’d be traveling in for our tour. I went to spend time with Mom and Dad. The construction was finally complete on the new house. Idiot contractors and insurance dinked around for fifteen months. This afternoon was the final inspection.
It was weird. The house was in the same location as the house we had lived in. It was about the same color. But it was nothing like our home. It had three bedrooms and two baths, a kitchen, dining room, and living room. About 1800 square feet. Equivalent of our previous home. And nothing like it. A real estate agent walked through the house with us and pointed out a couple of things that needed touchup. Aside from that, Mom and Dad signed off on the construction and sat down with the Realtor to list the house for sale. They didn’t intend to ever live in it.
In fact, they’d signed a contract to buy Nanette’s house, a slightly smaller bungalow that they’d been living in since the storm. Losing the house kind of forced downsizing on my parents and instead of getting something bigger and more luxurious, they were happy to have a more compact living space.
I sat down to a quiet dinner with them.
“Do you have any time off before service at all?” Mom asked. She was concerned that we were moving so aggressively into touring. It was sad because she was no longer my manager. That role had been taken over by the Office of Civilian Service—Rachel.
“We have this week to get our stuff in order, but we have to practice and go over all the details with Jo Wilson from the OCS. I guess she figures she’ll travel with us for a week or so before she’s content to let Donna and Emily take over. The first concert is in Chicago on Saturday and from then on, we’ve got a performance every couple of days. Sometimes two shows,” I said.
“It’s hard to believe you’ll be performing before so many people,” Dad said.
“I don’t know that it will be that many. From what Rachel said, some of the venues are pretty small. Some are in schools and others in places like legion halls or civic centers. Five hundred is probably the top seating capacity we’ll have in any venue. This is really a shakedown cruise to see how well we can hold up on a heavy schedule. In a way, we’re kind of taking our NSO training before we get our basic.”
“What about a place to live?” Mom asked. “Are you sure you need to move to DC?”
“When Cindy and I start the tour with Emily, Donna, Beca, and Joan, Rachel will head back to DC with Desi, Brittany, Sophie, and Nanette. We have an offer in on a house and they have signing authority for the pod. We’ll get to DC on the first and move straight into our new home. Then we have the concert on the mall with the Young America Orchestra on the Fourth. We’ll have two weeks to get oriented and settled in before we go into service.”
“It sounds so pressured,” Mom said. “I worry about you. All of you.”
“I know, Mom. We’re all feeling the pressure. It seemed so far away when we agreed to all this in April. If this bill ever gets passed, I don’t know what we’ll be doing. Everything until November is focused on electing candidates that favor reform. Jo says Simon’s audience development is still focused on teens about to enter service but the message is to get out and vote.”
“Son, if you need anything, call us. We seem to have extra time on our hands lately. We won’t interfere, but we’re here to help,” Dad said.
“Thanks, Dad. That’s a comfort to know.”
Rachel and Em got back from Indianapolis Tuesday with a massive motorhome and Jo Wilson. The motorhome belonged to the service, not to us. Jo was there to get the papers signed and follow us around for a week. The motorhome towed a matching trailer behind it because we had to carry everything we needed for a concert and to live for three weeks. Stowing instruments, recording equipment, costumes, props, and luggage in the trailer meant there would be living space in the motorhome for those of us traveling. And unlike the coach we had in California, there was a passenger seat up front so Emily didn’t have to drive isolated from everyone else.
The thing was thirty-six feet long and had a slide-out so when it was parked it opened up to about twelve feet wide. There was a king bed in the back, a sofa bed toward the front, and a fold down bunk. We were used to sharing intimate space with each other but living in this for three weeks with five to eight people was going to test our endurance. Traveling in the coach in California, we got out at night and went to hotel rooms. Traveling in the motorhome, we’d eat and sleep in it as well.
“Anyone want to spend our first night making love in the new motorhome?” Cindy giggled. Ever since Jo left to go to a hotel for the night, Cindy had been a little squirrely. Jo hadn’t gotten all the way down the driveway before Cindy was naked. Of course, none of us had any objections to naked Cindy and soon, we all joined her.
“You know, once we move into that monstrosity, there’s no telling when we’ll get back here. Maybe never. I think I’d like to create some last-minute memories here to take with us on the road,” I said. “I’m thinking a hot soak in Donna’s tub and then a hot soak in Donna.”
“I’ll try to be back from Desi’s bed by the time you get out of the tub,” Donna laughed. She leaned toward our buxom lover for a kiss.
“And your Latina wives want to fuck you silly,” Sophie said, plopping down on my lap. That svelte dancer’s body somehow molded to every curve of mine, even while Brittany was doing her best to put a nipple in my mouth as she hugged the two of us. “We will be off to DC Saturday and with luck will have a nice home ready for our mates when you finish your tour.”
“Here we are, scattered all over the country again,” Beca sighed. Joan held her tightly. At least she was home now. Livy was in Virginia. Remas was in DC. Rachel had to return to work in DC on Saturday, as well, leaving the beginning of our tour in the hands of Jo and Donna. Emily was chafing about Jo already. There were going to be some territory disputes between them.
Cindy was caught up by Rachel, Emily, and Nanette and promised an opportunity to scream at the top of her lungs as we all headed to different beds. I personally was thinking an orgasm in each of the five beds in the house would be a reasonable goal. That was a little more lascivious than necessary, but we still had four nights before we hit the road.
“Why are you all naked?” Jo demanded. “You can’t represent the National Service naked!”
“Jo, we’re in our home and this is the way we live,” I said. “When we’re in our private space, here or in the motorhome, we don’t intend to be presenting each other with an official National Service persona. You still have time to cancel the tour.”
“As if! This is very not like what I’m used to. You plan to be naked in the motorhome, too?” I nodded. “I intended to stay in the bunk when we’re on the road.”
“You’re welcome to,” Donna said. “You don’t have to be naked just because we are.” Please, don’t be. It will be bad enough just having you around. I wasn’t happy that Jo felt she could move into our home with us just because the government owned it. She was a little overbearing.
“Well, you’ll need clothes for your appointments,” she continued. “You need to have your hair cut and styled, Jacob. You look like a ragged hippie. And Cindy, you need a full makeup consultation. I want to see your wardrobe and then I need to talk to Emily about the routes she’s to take from venue to venue.”
“Jo, you’re overstepping,” Rachel said. “I know you are my manager, but I manage Jacob and Cindy. I manage Emily and after you have the venues set, logistics go to her. My onsite producer is Donna. Those are the lines we drew in the office months ago. You can’t just charge in here and micromanage everything.”
“We’re going to have to change some of the terms,” Jo said. “It is obvious you can’t manage the talent. You aren’t even wearing clothes yourself.”
“I think you should take that bus you’re so proud of and drive it back to DC,” I said. “We won’t be needing it since we won’t be touring in it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You can’t come in here and manage us. According to our meeting with Will, you are supposed to be putting the structure around an entire deputation program, not managing the teams. And this team doesn’t want your management. The closest you should ever be to direct contact with our team or any other is to book a venue and make sure our logistics manager has the details. If you think you’re going to manage our team, we’re out of here.”
“You can’t back out. You’re in National Service.”
“Not for six more weeks, they aren’t. By that time, we should be able to raise enough of a fuss to get you replaced,” Rachel said.
Jo and Rachel stared at each other. Neither was willing to back down from her position. I didn’t want to back down, either. We could have a miserable service if we let this get out of hand now.
I saw Cindy raise her flute and pulled my guitar to me. She played the opening trill from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and I started tapping out the drum beats on my guitar. Desi’s voice floated over the top. Jo and Rachel both turned to stare at us. It was a tense moment as we endured the Mexican standoff.
I think Emily was the one who started laughing. Donna, Sophie, Brittany, Beca, and Joan joined in. Finally, Rachel and Jo cracked a smile and chuckled.
“Let’s face it, Jo: You don’t know anything about managing talent. I at least have a relationship we can build on. Let’s do things the way we planned,” Rachel said softly.
“I’m not happy about it. We’ll do it your way for now and reevaluate at the end of the tour in three weeks,” Jo said. “At least get him a haircut, please.”
It wasn’t the last of the conflicts. I was getting pretty damn tired of all the little niggling details there were to be argued over. And in nearly every instance it didn’t make a bit of difference what decision was reached. It only established who had the upper hand.
Thursday morning, I was back to my old routine: Up at 5:30 and on the road for a five-mile run. Nanette was with me. We took it easy but I really needed the chance to feel the pavement beneath my feet. We slowed to a walk when we came through the back woodlot and stopped to stretch.
“You need to keep up this routine every morning,” Nan said. “You shouldn’t be breathing this hard after a gentle run like that.”
“You’re right. I’ve only been running a couple times a week since we started our weekend tours in April. I’m getting out of shape,” I said.
“Oh, I think your shape is still pretty good,” Nan laughed. “In fact, how about pressing your shape up against my shape and seeing if the pieces still fit together.” It didn’t take long for us to have our shorts and T-shirts spread on the ground so we could make love in the woods. Feasting on Nan’s lips, stroking her sweaty skin, and sinking into her hot center were an antidote to anything. She rolled me to my back so she could ride at her own pace, reminding me that no matter how turned on she was, she wasn’t on as short a fuse as our younger wives. That was fine with me. I loved just petting her and kissing as she moved on me.
“I worry about you, Nanette. Are you sure you won’t just travel with us?”
“Not right now. We need to get the place in DC ready. The sellers accepted the offer and we’re closing next weekend. That will give us just two weeks to get the place ready for occupation. Brittany, Sophie, and Desi will be there to help but it will be a major task. Part of the reason we are getting such a good deal on the place is the work it needs.”
“What are you going to do when we join the service?”
“Oh, my lover. This gives me such a good opportunity to explore some new possibilities. As all of us move into one place, we’re going to need more coordination in how we manage the household.” She let her eyes drift closed and sped her movements as if the thought of her role was turning her on more. “I don’t plan to simply become the partnership housewife,” she sighed as she pressed down hard on me. It was a small climax and she kept moving. “But I’ll take my time looking around at the opportunities rather than rushing to a new job at a hospital. Maybe this fall, I will join you on the road, just to make sure your weary muscles are massaged each night and Cindy gets a good night’s sleep. PT. Private therapy, you know. Always complete with a happy ending.”
We both laughed and I felt my cock beginning to swell inside her. She pumped more energetically, leaning forward to kiss me as I played with her nipples. This time, when she rose to her peak, I was with her and filled her with my love. I was so glad she was part of our pod.
Friday night, our families gathered at the farm for a final dinner before we all scattered. The girls were all being fussed over by the moms. Betty Marvel was only slightly more hysterical than Jaimie Brown and Lupe Adams. It had been one thing to have Beca and Brittany move to the farm, but now we were leaving the state. Rachel’s parents had a little less difficulty because she’d been in service a year already and they were used to it. Livy’s parents doted on her as a substitute for Livy. The entire Adams family was crying over the impending departure of Sophie and Brittany. Even Joan’s mother seemed sad that her daughter had just come back home and was leaving again.
“I guess this is it, guys,” I said as I sat on the floor in the game room/guest room with Pod Two. “You’re really holding together. I’m proud of all of you.”
“Jacob, I know you don’t see us as much as we thought you would, but we love you and we love what you’ve helped us create,” Donnie said. He was the youngest of the seven but seemed to have matured faster than any of the others. Having Katie draped over his shoulder seemed to enhance the effect. I looked at the others. Richard and Barb were holding hands. Luke had an arm around both Lisa and Joyce. I knew he and Lisa had been fooling around and figured Joyce was involved. They might not be having sex yet, but I’d seen the three of them kiss with his hands under their shirts.
“I guess this is one of life’s lessons,” I said. “Our best intentions don’t always pan out.”
“You’ve been there when we needed you most,” Lisa said. “You and all of Octave have shown us how to make our pod work. Now you get to go off and change the service so when we get to have to serve, it will be better for us. Thank you.”
“There’s nothing that could make me more proud of you seven,” I said. “And understand this: I think Pey would be proud of you, too. I can see a little of her in each of you. I love you all.”
“We love you, Jacob.”
Dad placed a hand on my shoulder and pushed me toward the door and onto the porch. A few feet away, the rest of the dads were standing. Randall Dayton, Livy’s dad, handed me a glass of bourbon on the rocks. John Adams gave me a cigar. The flame was passed around and, in a couple of minutes, a blue haze of smoke hung over us as we watched the sunset and swatted at mosquitoes brave enough to endure the smoke. I was amazed. I didn’t think Mark ever smoked or drank.
“How are you holding up, Jacob?” Randall asked. “Has to be pretty intense.” I wasn’t sure if he was referring to our schedule or to me having eleven wives.
“Well, it isn’t too bad. A lot of sorting out the pecking order with the OCS at the moment. If all we had to do was show up and perform, it would be easy. Everyone wants a finger in the pie. Even Dr. D called this week to go over our arrangements and ‘make a couple suggestions’ for pieces we should consider performing. And she’s been as hands-off as she could be up till now.”
“I suppose they are all seeing the reality take shape as well,” Mark said. Cindy’s dad took a puff on his cigar and a sip of his drink before he continued, looking straight at me. “You’ll take care of her, won’t you, Jacob?”
“I made that promise long before she became part of our pod and even longer before she married us, Mark. I know how precious she is. And I know how much pressure she feels. None of us are getting a chance to just go out and explore life. It’s all delayed while we do our service and become famous. But I… all of us… will always take care of Cindy.”
“I’ve heard a lot of kids coming out of service are picking up on a ‘year off’ program. They’re spending a year traveling around the world after service instead of going straight to college or into a profession,” Bert said. Rachel’s dad contemplated his cigar. “Not a bad idea to take time to let the stress wash away.”
“I’d be happy to have a week off at the moment. When we first talked about all signing our service papers the third week of July, I thought we’d have a break from the end of school until then. So much for that dream.”
“The service is trying to show how agile it can be,” Ray said. “The OCS is coming up with ideas and implementing them before anyone can object. Since your message has been so clearly ‘reform the service,’ I think they want you officially in action before opposition can try to rein you in.”
My wives pushed me into Donna’s big shower as soon as the parents and sibs had all left, complaining I smelled like smoke. My clothes had gone straight into the washing machine. Then all ten who were home tried to crowd into the shower with me. It wasn’t that bad.
We cuddled together after the shower, hauling mattresses into the game room upstairs and piling on together. I wished Livy could be there. There was a lot of kissing and hugging and petting going on. And a little loving. Desi ‘needed’ one more dose from my cock to carry back to DC in the morning. Rachel wasn’t as adamant about receiving an injection as about simply lying connected together while we whispered to each other. I’m sure others had orgasms before we slept but mostly we just wanted to be near each other—to touch and hold our partners.
11 JUNE 2022
Everything is closed up and we’re on our way. We rose early and had some additional loving with our partners before we got the house put back together. Sheets and towels went in the washing machine as we returned the mattresses to their beds and made sure nothing was left in the refrigerator. The moms swept through the cabinets before they left last night, stripping out everything. We decided not to move furniture and household goods to DC. We all hope we’ll return to the farm eventually. Donna isn’t putting it up for sale.
Jo showed up at eight and said she was going to drive ahead of us to Chicago to make sure everything was set with the venue. She invited Donna to ride with her so they could work out details on how venue coordination would work in the future. Donna accepted and the rest of us finished buttoning up the house. We took Rachel and Desi to the airport. Sophie, Nanette, and Brittany left for DC in Nan’s VW. Eventually, we’ll have to make arrangements to get more of our vehicles to our new home. That can wait until July.
Emily’s at the wheel and Beca is up keeping her company in the passenger seat. Joan is sitting on the sofa with her laptop, making code changes in our online store. We have new T-shirts for this tour. I’m sitting at the table writing. Cindy is stretched out naked on the bed in back. Hopeful, I think.
Maybe I should see if I can fulfill her fantasies for a while.
“There’s a pressure at all hours of the day only a poem can assuage.”
—Kristen Henderson, Drum Machine
FOR THE PAST TWO MONTHS, we’d been loading our instruments in the back of my truck and letting Em drive us to a high school or auditorium somewhere in Northern Indiana where we’d jump out, take fifteen minutes to set up and check the acoustics where we were performing, and then play for 200-500 people. Then we’d carry our instruments back to the truck and let Em drive us home. We got a shock when we rolled into Chicago and Em deftly maneuvered our bus and trailer into the loading dock at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park. How the heck she ever got us into that space was a mystery to me.
Donna and Jo met us as soon as the door opened. We’d been relaxed getting there since our performance wasn’t until eight. We stepped out of the motorhome (dressed) at just after two o’clock.
“Finally,” Jo said. I was ready to slap her down with her first words, but I suppose she was feeling jitters. For us, it was just another performance. For her it was the start of the first tour she’d set up.
“You’ll be able to leave the bus here until we break down this evening,” Donna told Emily. “We have to be out by midnight. How are you holding up?”
“Oh, fine,” Em said. “This behemoth has a few quirks of its own, but it handles well. And it’s shorter than the rigs I was driving in service. It’s really no longer than a school bus.”
“I know you want to see Cindy and Jacob perform, but it’s two and a half hours from here to Champaign-Urbana. We’ve got a nice space there for the bus and it’s less congested than here. You might want to get a long nap this afternoon since you’ll be driving our precious cargo in the middle of the night.”
“I don’t suppose you’d be able to nap with me, would you?” Em asked as she gave our wife a quick smooch.
“Who knows? I think we have a little overkill here as far as setup goes. Jo is nervous but wait until you see what is inside. We have an entire crew of National Service corps members here to set things up and guard the bus.”
“Can we see the space?” I asked. Cindy caught hold of my arm and we followed Jo inside. Donna directed half a dozen people in identifiable staff shirts to the trailer and Emily supervised unloading our equipment.
Inside… Well, I didn’t think we were going to be performing in that many huge venues on this tour. The Harris seats about 1,500. The stage is forty-five feet wide. Balconies wrap around the orchestra seating, right up to the edge of the stage. They had a bandshell set up center stage. Cindy and I would be staying in front of the shell and not wandering across the whole width of the stage. The acoustics were phenomenal. Jo pointed out that you could hear a pin drop on stage from the farthest balcony.
“Jo, is this the size venue we’re going to be in on the whole loop? I thought the spaces were going to be more intimate,” I said.
“Most of the spaces are smaller than this one,” she said. “Big cities have big spaces. You’ll see more like this in St. Louis, Memphis, and Atlanta. But this is your kickoff for the tour. Simon has been all over promoting and getting some high-profile people in for tonight.” They might have mentioned that earlier. But I figured that was going to be the way of the tour. Probably the way of our entire two years in service. What Cindy and I had to focus on was performing. We’d performed at the White House for the President. It didn’t make much difference who was in this audience or how big the space was.
Our equipment was all moved onto stage in one go. The ‘staff’ were careful with our instruments, but I was still glad my guitars and viol were packed in hard cases.
Donna followed the crew onto the stage and directed where each piece was to be placed. We were doing different sets with different props. Over a year ago, we’d had real success with our tango series played at a small café table and danced as we played. Sophie had worked with us on our dancing and playing at the same time. We also had our cowboy hats that we’d don during our Morricone set. I guess we were happy to just sit in one place and play straight through a classical piece, but most of our touring set included some amount of staging and playing off each other. We even had a quick costume change when we did the Buenos Aires set. Between sets, I had some carefully prepared comments that I would deliver as Cindy changed clothes.
We prepared our concert so that it could be performed under flat lights. In other words, bring up the stage lights, play the music, take down the lights, and leave. But a venue like this had about a million different lights and by the time Cindy and I had unpacked our instruments to do a run-through in the space, Donna was in the light booth with a technician experimenting with different lighting. As we played through our set, we were periodically interrupted by her melodious voice asking us to please repeat a move or entrance so they could tie down the cue.
By five o’clock, everyone was satisfied that we had the program down. Cindy and I were led to a dressing room where Beca and Joan were waiting with our costumes. Donna and Emily joined us soon thereafter.
“Don’t we have to keep someone with the motorhome?” I asked when I saw Emily. I’d been concerned about her out there alone and intended to go out as soon as I’d seen the dressing room.
“National Service Security is guarding the bus,” Em laughed. “I mean literally, like no rent-a-cop ever hoped to. There are two guys at the door to the coach and two more standing at the doors of the trailer. Who knew the National Service had a Security NSO? I’m going back out to sleep after we have dinner and I couldn’t feel safer.”
“I’m still going to accompany you out to the bus and wait there until I see you safely locked inside,” I said. “We should never go around alone, at least in big venues like this. Not that I’m paranoid or anything.”
“No, you’re right,” Em said. “I don’t think we need to worry with NS Security hanging around, but I’d feel better if a couple people accompanied me to the bus and tucked me in before the show. I’ll just stay there until you let me know the equipment is ready to be loaded afterward.”
Dinner was delivered to the dressing room for the six of us. It was impressive. I expected Subway sandwiches or a pizza to be delivered. Instead, a chef with National Service insignia rolled a cart into the dressing room and served each of us perfect portions of salad, chicken Kiev with rice, and chocolate brownies for dessert. It was an excellent meal, and not too heavy for us before a performance.
After Beca and I escorted Em back to the bus, we returned to the dressing room to begin getting ready for the evening’s concert. Cindy and I were beginning the evening in a classic mode. She’d wear one of those long skintight black dresses she wore for orchestra concerts. I was wearing the soft black suit and black shirt I’d acquired to complement her. Beca and Joan fussed over her makeup.
Donna had to dress as well. She was still doing our introduction and welcoming the audience. It wasn’t part of the official program, but Beca and Joan were recording the concert and would upload it to our patrons. There were little platforms on either side of the stage beneath the balcony where they could film without being noticed. They both dressed in black jeans and shirts. I looked at my wives and thought they all looked extraordinarily cute.
Jo came to our door to announce that it was time to move to our places and we went out to face our first Grand Loop audience.
After Donna introduced us, we entered to applause and picked up our instruments. I was playing the viola da gamba for the first piece, Franz Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione, D821. An arpeggione is a six-stringed instrument that is fretted and tuned like a guitar, but is bowed. It wasn’t difficult for us to transpose the music from arpeggione and piano to viol and flute and it gave us an opportunity to start with a genuinely classical piece that still held some novelty for the audience. The three movements took us twenty minutes to perform. We bowed and Cindy left the stage to change into a more daring purple dress before the next piece while I spoke to the audience.
“Thank you for joining us on the first stop of our Grand Loop tour. Being Hoosiers, we’ve always looked to Chicago as being the big city and want to thank you for your gracious hospitality. Cindy and I have been performing together for about three years. Through the miracles of social media and my big mouth, we gained some notoriety for our criticisms of the National Service. Now, at the request of the President, we are out here promoting the service and the things we always believed in, like service reform.
“I’m not going to belabor the point, but we hope you will carefully consider the measure that has been proposed in congress to reform the National Service. This measure would remove the service entirely from military oversight and place it in the hands of civilians, where a civilian service corps should be. It’s a pretty simple decision when it comes down to it. Civilians under civilian management or civilians under military rule. We encourage you to vote this fall only for candidates in favor of service reform.
“Now, let’s get back to music as my lovely partner takes the lead in JS Bach’s Flute Sonata in E major, BWV 1035.”
Cindy reentered in her stunning purple dress with bare shoulders and arms to a fabulous round of applause. It was the first I really noticed that the auditorium seemed to be about full to capacity. Well, good. Cindy deserved this showing. She was beautiful and her music was inspiring. When we finished that piece of about thirteen minutes, I slipped backstage to change into a purple shirt that matched her dress while Cindy addressed the audience. I listened carefully. We’d rehearsed this piece over and over but I knew it still made her nervous to speak in public. Donna passed me with a microphone so she could be heard.
“I would rather play my flute all night than talk,” she began. There was encouraging applause. “I’m sixteen years old. You might be asking yourself what on earth a sixteen-year-old is doing out talking about the National Service. Well, I discovered something recently that you might not know. All citizens must complete two years of National Service. This is typically done as required by the 28th Amendment, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. But you aren’t required to wait until you are eighteen to serve. I plan to volunteer to begin service right after my seventeenth birthday this summer.
“Volunteering for service is especially appropriate for citizens on non-traditional education paths. In return for service, we are promised assistance in completing our high school diplomas or alternate education track before we are released. For some, that is a technical education they might otherwise receive in a trade or technical school. For others, it is merely an alternative to an education system they don’t do well in. For me, it is an opportunity to complete my diploma with a much stronger focus on music than I could have received in a traditional high school.
“That opportunity comes at a cost. Early volunteers are expected to excel at both their service and their education. It is not simply an easy out from high school. I can see myself working twice as hard over the next two years as I would by completing high school and then entering the service. But this path is allowing me to serve my country and advance my career goals while completing my formal education. That is the dream and we are here to recover that dream for youth around the country.
“Now, Jacob and I would like to turn to one of our favorite composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with Sonata in C major, K330.”
I entered in my purple shirt and pulled my stool to the forefront so Cindy and I could semi face each other as we launched into Mozart. Twenty minutes later, we faced the audience and bowed to their applause.
“We’re about to take a short intermission, but as much as Cindy and I love our classics, we also enjoy some pretty lively alternative music that you’ll be hearing in the second half of our concert. We want you to enjoy your intermission while humming one of our favorite pieces. I think you’ll recognize it,” I said.
It had taken us a lot of experimentation before we were pleased with a version of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly that just the two of us could play. It depended on Cindy switching from flute to whistle to Native American flute. We grabbed our cowboy hats and ponchos and faced off across a few feet as I began to tap out the drum beats on the body of my guitar.
When we ended the piece, we were greeted with applause. We bowed and left the stage. We needed water and to change our costumes.
And to kiss. We ended up spending a lot of intermission kissing. No screaming, though.
We entered to another round of applause. I was dressed in a pair of toreador pants with a high waist and a blousy shirt that was reminiscent of what I’d worn at the Ren Faires. Men’s clothing doesn’t make a loud statement on its own most of the time. It’s when a woman is appropriately dressed next to him that people realize how much thought went into his costume as well. With Cindy in a mid-thigh flared black dress, we just looked slightly less formal than for our first set. We launched straight into Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonatina op. 205. It’s a great bridge from classical to the Spanish influence we’d be going for in this set. After the thirteen-minute piece was finished, Cindy left the stage as I went forward to address the audience.
“The twenty-eighth amendment passed nearly twenty years ago with an overwhelming majority of Americans in favor. It was thought that by completing two years of service, youth would take a greater pride in citizenship because they had done something to make America better. But the dream has never quite been realized. In fact, in a very short time, the National Service became something to be dreaded and hated. It was when my sister left for service three years ago, crushed and crying, that I began to investigate what was really happening. I discovered noble intentions smothered in abuses of power, militaristic training, and negligence toward individual rights and desires.
“I have been a critic of the service since that day, a criticism doubled by the appalling conditions service corps members were forced into during the national emergency on our border and kept in for more than a year without relief. I read the manual and it was terrible. I joined my voice with others calling for a reform of the National Service. In that, I found common ground with our current president and have agreed to come on this tour to encourage voters to find and elect candidates to every office—local, state, and national—who support National Service reform.
“We will recover the dream.”
The response wasn’t quite the level of the California concert, but it was still hearty. Cindy walked out on stage at exactly that moment and the applause amped up considerably. That sweet innocent girl can sell sex appeal like water in the desert. She’d changed into her red tango dress. It was off the shoulder with lace sleeves. The dress fit every curve of her body from her firm young tits to her ripe round bottom. And just below her bottom, a ruffle fell from high on the left to nearly her ankle on her right, exposing a mile of shapely leg with feet in red high heel sandals.
We didn’t hesitate from there. She faced me and lit into the first trills of Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango. I responded with drum raps on the body of my guitar and we were off. We danced the music as well as played it, her skirt flaring out as she spun and danced.
Twenty minutes of playing and dancing at our little café table and across the stage was exhausting. It was the most strenuous portion of our performance. We bowed for the applause after the fourth movement and then went directly into Andaluza, a Spanish dance by E. Granados. It slowed things down a little and ended with Cindy leaning against me as we reprised the theme one last time. We bowed and hustled offstage as Donna returned to center stage to give one more announcement while Cindy and I changed. Donna was promoting our website and Patreon page where people could also find the popular Marvel and Hopkins merchandise.
I wasn’t crazy about having an advertisement in the middle of our program like that. It wasn’t really our message. But Cindy and I needed time to change clothes as fast as we could. And with Donna onstage, I had to help Cindy out of her dress. Oh, woe is me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend the time to appreciate the red bikini clad ass or the matching half-cup bra and what it contained. I had to strip out of my tight pants and blousy shirt and we were into our white linens and barefoot in time to get back on stage to do Pujol’s Suite Buenos Aires. We chose to be seated knee-to-knee as we performed this piece; we’d once done it like that in the church chapel back home. It was close and intimate after the overt sexuality of the tangos. After 20 minutes, we paused once again for applause.
Then we did what was officially our program closer, Chick Corea’s lively Spain. Three and a half minutes and our concert was finished. The applause was enthusiastic and we left the stage, only to return for an additional bow a few seconds later. We looked at each other and nodded, picking up our instruments again. The audience quieted as they realized we’d play an encore.
And like we had the first time we performed together, we launched into the first movement, Molto Allegro, of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40—what we referred to as Mozart on Fire. Our arrangement was nearly ten minutes long and we had the house rocking with us as we played off each other. This time when the applause started, the audience rose to their feet and we bowed for our first standing ovation of the tour.
We carefully put our instruments in cases and supervised loading everything on the carts that would take them back to the bus. Beca and Joan accompanied the equipment while we met half a dozen dignitaries backstage with Donna and Jo. The mayor and some City Council types were there as well as the Chicago area congressional reps and a senator. Fortunately, they were all much more important than we were, so it wasn’t long before they were engaged with each other while Cindy, Donna, and I headed for the loading dock where Em already had the motorhome warming up.
Donna stripped out of her evening gown and put pajamas on, even though we tried to entice her to stay naked and play with us. As soon as she was covered, she went to the front of the motorhome and strapped herself into the passenger seat to give Em company as we pulled away from our first venue.
The other four of us left clothing scattered through the bus as we stripped on our way to the bedroom and all piled onto the king size bed together. Beca had Cindy perched over her face in a sixty-nine at the edge of the bed as Joan vacuumed my cock into her mouth until I was stiff as a board. As soon as I was ready, she pointed me at Cindy’s upturned ass. I drove my cock into her and Cindy began to howl out her orgasms into Beca’s pussy.
Sex in a moving vehicle has its challenges and we met each curve and bump for the next two hours in physical collisions with each other. By the time Em had the bus parked at the University of Illinois we were a tangled sleeping mess that scarcely noticed Em and Donna pile in with us.
Our first of fourteen stops in twenty-one days was over.
“I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are good people and bad people. You’re wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.”
—Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!
I HIT THE BRIKS at seven this morning. That wasn’t enough sleep, but I could go back to bed later. I really needed to get a good run in before the day started. Em parked us in a lot near the Krannert Performing Arts Center. I ran through the campus and around the paths used by students who were living normal lives, going to school, working on degrees. Students who had already completed their service.
When I got back from a good five miles, I was ready to hit the shower. We needed to learn to manage our water usage. Em said there was plenty of water in the fresh tank, but when I stepped into the shower, I discovered we were out of hot water. I was sixth one in and the water heater apparently isn’t that big. Em said it only had a twelve-gallon capacity. We’d need to learn to use less water or find alternate places to clean up. I wondered if there was a fitness center near that we could use. Emily had her tablet out and was making notes on facilities and needs.
“This is complicated,” she sighed as I slid into our little dining nook beside her with a cup of coffee. Joan was on cooking duty and was making our first meal in the motorhome while trying to find where pans and dishes were.
“You mean that logistics is more than just driving the cargo around?” I joked. She scowled at me.
“Putting the two of you on the road requires a staff of ten,” she said. “Donna, do you think it’s too early to call Jo? When is she supposed to get here?”
“She’s probably having breakfast at the Hilton,” Donna said. “She didn’t plan to leave Chicago until ten since there’s no performance or load-in today.”
“I should find a dump station and fresh water,” Em said. “I can probably wait until we move the bus to the loading ramp tomorrow and get provisioned while you’re rehearsing.”
“When we move tomorrow night, I plan to ride with Jo so we can be at the facility to get things set up before you all arrive Tuesday. You can stay here on campus for the night and not leave for St. Louis until first thing Tuesday morning.”
“Okay. I hate to leave you in her clutches for another twenty-four hours,” Em laughed.
“Aside from being a little abrasive, she’s not so bad. She’s just dealing with a new department, new personnel, and a new product all at once, while coordinating resources across 3,000 miles and fourteen venues. The sooner you and I can take over the nitty gritty, the happier she’ll be.”
“We won’t have as big a crew here as we had in Chicago,” Em said.
“That was a bit of overkill anyway,” I said. “We can move our own equipment.”
“There are rules at most venues regarding who can move and set up equipment,” Em sighed. “Just don’t expect a gourmet meal served in the dressing room tomorrow. Beca? We need to do some menu planning so we can put the right groceries in. Once Jo gets here, we’ll use her car to go get what supplies we need.”
“Joan and I started putting together a list last night. We’d be working on it now, but there’s only room for one person in the kitchen.”
“And here’s breakfast,” Joan said. “Scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, and toast. Paper plates. With as short on hot water as we are, I’m trying to wash as few dishes as possible.”
“How did you get stuck on kitchen duty?” I asked. “Is that your new NSO?”
“We all have to do what we have to do, Jacob. Beca and I don’t have specific duties during concerts. We’ll try to keep the place tidy as long as you all pick up your dirty underwear when you come running through the bus, stripping after a show,” she said.
“I happened to recognize one pair of those dirty underwear as having been stripped off your cute butt,” I laughed. “But point taken. We don’t have much room and it wouldn’t take much to make it unlivable. Pick up our shit.”
“I cook,” Cindy said quietly. She’d slid into the little booth practically on my lap with a plate of eggs and sausage. It was the first thing I’d heard her say this morning and I put an arm around her bare back to pet her. “I don’t mind. Well, I mean it’s hard to do on a night I’m performing, but I really wouldn’t mind cooking tonight. It helps me not get obsessed about the performance.”
“Then help me prepare the menu,” Beca said. “And I suppose we should plan on Jo joining us for dinner, which means clothes, people.”
“I think we can be pretty casual with her,” Donna said, “but there’s no sense rubbing her nose in our lifestyle. It’s just part of being polite to guests, like we are at home when the parents come over.”
There was a knock on the door of the motorhome. At nine o’clock on Sunday morning? I grabbed a robe and went to the door. Em scrambled to find her sweats. Everyone else got themselves covered before I opened the door. A campus cop stood at the bottom of the steps.
“Oh, hi! Are you our security?” I asked.
“I’m here to enforce campus rules,” he answered. “No overnight parking is allowed in campus lots. And camping is strictly forbidden. I’m going to have to write you a citation that will include a day’s campus community service for this violation.” Oh, shit! “Your license, please.”
“I’m the driver, officer,” Em said, pushing past me. “We are here with the National Service and have permission to park until Tuesday morning. We’re guests of the University.”
“No one has given us any directives, Miss…” he looked at her ID “…Hopkins. And your ID says you are no longer in service.”
“Our OCS manager will be here about one o’clock. She’s carrying all our paperwork,” Emily said. “This is a service deputation team on tour and will be performing tomorrow over there across the street.”
“Hopkins. Are you part of that rabble-rousing group? Let me tell you, if you incite civil unrest on this campus, we will come after you. Your best bet right now would be to pack up your bus and leave town,” the officer said.
“Really? You’ll put the campus police up against the Office of Civilian Service?” Em said. “I think we need your name, badge number, and supervisor’s number.”
“I’m the one writing the citation here. I’m retaining your ID until you’ve completed your day of campus service.”
“Meaning I can’t move the bus and since I’m the only qualified driver, it will have to stay parked here while you write a new citation every day. Is that what you’re driving at?” Em said. A car pulled into the lot and drove directly to us. Four guys jumped out pulling National Service armbands on.
“We’ll take over from here, officer,” the first said. “This is National Service business and is out of campus hands.”
“This vehicle is not allowed to park here,” the officer insisted.
“Call your office and check,” the NS rep said. “You’re out of the loop.” The campus cop stepped away and pulled out his phone. The National Service guy turned to Emily. “Sorry we weren’t here to greet you folks. We were told you wouldn’t arrive until this afternoon. I’m Tom Lester and will head your security team this week. We don’t expect any serious problems while you’re on campus but there’s a strong anti-reform faction here. We’ll keep at least two guys on duty outside your vehicle while you’re here and we’re planning on a dozen tomorrow as we lead up to your performance. Word is that Representative Collins is organizing a protest against your entire tour.”
“He’s adamantly opposed to service reform and your performance is a direct attack on his campaign for reelection. He’s very popular around here,” Tom said.
“We’ll be watching you,” the campus cop said. “One misstep and we’ll still move in to enforce campus rules.” He turned away.
“My ID,” Emily demanded. The cop scowled at her and handed the ID back. I think he planned to keep it.
Indeed, there was a protest. It was outside the Krannert Center. The loading dock was down a ramp under the theaters. The bus fit, but I guess they’re used to full semi rigs driving down there. It took about thirty minutes to unload our gear. After that, Tom accompanied Emily as she drove to a dump station to empty our black and gray water tanks, and refill our fresh water tanks.
Close to a thousand people, most recently released from service or about to enter service, filled the Tryon Festival Theatre. Outside, it rained. I tried not to gloat about Representative Collins and his protesters standing with soggy placards and wet clothes.
As much protest as there was, I expected our crowd to be a tough sell, but they were more enthusiastic than Chicago had been. They greeted my call for reform candidates with cheers. Apparently, Collins was mostly popular among people old enough to have never had to serve. That said something about his campaign and what the 48,000 students at the university were up against.
The best part of the show was the dressing room. It had a shower and all seven of us cycled through. Emily got her shower after she pulled into the loading ramp after the show and we got things stowed. We pulled away from the campus and hit I-57 south, all of us too drained for any raucous sex. I sat up front next to Em as she drove us down to a campground about forty miles south of town. Jo had scouted the location, reserved a site, and led the way down there. As soon as we were camped, she continued on to St. Louis so she’d be there before we got there on Tuesday.
“Are we going to have the same kind of difficulty in St. Louis we had in Champaign?” I asked as we got under way Tuesday morning.
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll have a different kind of trouble,” Donna said. “This venue is prepared for touring shows. They have three secure parking slots for traveling acts, complete with power and water. Jo will be at the site ahead of us and have the security and crew on site when we get there. We have seating for 1,500 again but the one thing they can’t guarantee is no hecklers. But the facility itself is not conducive to any protests. There just isn’t a convenient place for them to set up without blocking access, and that’s illegal.”
“And if the facility is so big, why are we doing two shows? And why is one in the morning?” Cindy asked.
“School isn’t out here yet,” Donna said. “Tomorrow’s performance will have seniors bused in from several high schools. It will be more like the performances you did in high schools, but about five times as big.”
“We’re still two hours out,” I said. “I’m going back to bed.” Cindy grabbed my hand and followed me into the bedroom. We cuddled up and went to sleep.
The evening performance went well and the crowd was enthusiastic about our message for the most part. As Donna predicted, there were a few hecklers, but only during the times I was speaking and not during our music. The big surprise was when a guy showed up backstage just before we went out for our encore and marched onto the stage. I looked around for support and Jo laid a hand on my shoulder.
“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s a surprise, but I talked to him first. Be ready to return for your encore.”
“For those of you who don’t know, I’m Senator Arnold Hornby,” he started. There was a mixture of applause and hisses. “This performance was directed at me. I fell in line behind Senate Leader Jeffries when he refused to put service reform on the agenda. I want the good people of Missouri to know that I have been listening—not only to the crusaders who have given us a great evening of entertainment this evening, but also to the people of Missouri. I am announcing this evening that I will support any move to bring the National Service Reform Bill before the Senate for debate. That does not mean that I am in favor of reform at this time. Vote your conscience. But this is the Show Me State. I believe it is incumbent upon us to hear this bill and give the President the opportunity to show me it is needed. This may be the shortest speech you will ever hear me give. Let’s give it up once again for Marvel and Hopkins.”
He walked toward the wing as applause was renewed. He passed us with a nod. One might have been confused over whether the applause was for Cindy and me or for him. We took our bow and launched into Mozart on Fire.
There was no mistaking the applause at the end.
Jo met us in the dressing room just after I stepped out of the shower. I’d pulled on a pair of sweats since this was a public venue and not what we considered our private space.
“I’m sorry to have sprung that on you,” Jo said as we gathered around. “Donna, you’ll need to be prepared for things like this. It may well happen again.”
“A warning would have been helpful,” I said. “Now we’ll know not to panic when someone interrupts the show.”
“It’s something we hadn’t really anticipated, but when Senator Hornby spoke to me backstage, I had to go with it. I did vet what he planned to say,” Jo said. “It brings up another issue. I think you need to have a representative of the service traveling with you. Your load-in and rehearsal went more smoothly because I was here to get things ready before you arrived.”
“You’re going to travel with us for the rest of the tour?” Emily asked.
“No. I’m going to ask Rachel to join us in Louisville and be with you for the rest of the tour. When she shows up, I’ll head out. That has the added advantage that you won’t have to get dressed for staff meetings,” she chuckled. She was trying to facilitate the tour and not micromanage any longer. “I’ve had Rachel working ahead this week to meet the local service coordinators by phone. She should be able to handle anything I can at this stage.”
What I heard was, “Rachel will join us.” That brightened my day.
We had a good campsite at the 4-H Fairground about ten miles from where we’d perform Thursday night in Evansville. After that show, we’d be heading straight for Louisville, so we were focused on getting extra sleep Wednesday night. And Wednesday morning. We had all three beds in use that night and I held my beloved Em in my arms all night. I knew Cindy and I were the reason for this tour and we worked hard in our performances, but Em had to be focused all the time. She drove us from place to place, maneuvered the big rig into loading docks, made sure we had power and water, and generally kept us safe and organized. She needed all the care we could give her.
And an orgasm or two. That helped.
The fairgrounds offered limited trails to run on in the morning, but it was in the country so I took off on the county roads and had a really good ten-mile run. I got back about eight and took a quick shower, then went to work making pancakes for breakfast.
We had plenty of time as we didn’t need to load-in until noon. Cindy and I practiced a little while sitting in lawn chairs under the motorhome’s awning. If I had my druthers, I’d rather just take my wives in this bus and wander around the country, sitting outside, playing music, making love, and generally being vagabonds. But, of course, we had a program to play.
Em got the bus parked at the loading dock in Evansville and Jo met us with four guys who made short work of moving our equipment to the stage. It was a smaller venue and it seemed we were pretty much unknown here. They mostly liked that we were from Indiana, but it was the first place we performed where the house wasn’t quite full.
We rolled into a KOA RV park just across the river from Louisville at midnight. Jo was already there and had us registered, so she led us to the slot and then took off for her hotel. Em was incredibly efficient at setup in the middle of the night by this time and it was less than fifteen minutes until we were leveled and connected to shore power, water, and sewer. The slides were out and we were all naked and ready for bed.
Well, I discovered Cindy and Beca had been naked and in bed since we left Evansville. They were tucked in together in the bunk and no one realized it.
“You’re here!” I shouted as I rushed to Rachel’s arms when I came off stage after our rehearsal run-through for the techs in Louisville. “I’m so happy you’ll be with us for the rest of the trip!”
“I couldn’t believe Jo loosened the reins so I could join you. We have so many things going on every place it’s unbelievable.”
“Well, first of all, Sophie, Nanette, Desi, and Brittany are closing on our new home tomorrow. The whole ‘motivated seller’ thing means we’ll have possession tomorrow night.”
“Are they going to stay there tomorrow?” I asked.
“Not unless they manage to get a bed delivered. There is so much work to be done on the place, but it will be beautiful when it’s finished. They’ve had contractors through this past week and the kitchen guys are ready to demolish the travesty that’s there and replace it starting Monday morning. Nan’s amazingly coordinated in making decisions on what appliances and countertops and everything we need to have. She’s like our general contractor. Most of the rest of the work to be done is painting and floors. There are a few bathroom updates to be done, but at least the former owner did an absolute playboy remodel of the master bath.”
“That’s incredible. I’m so glad they are handling that while we’re stuck out here on the road. What else is happening?”
“I managed to adjust the last week of the tour. Richmond has been moved out a day so it will be the official end of the tour on the 30th. I added a stop the day before.”
“Where? Another concert?”
“We’ll be performing for a National Service Sports Base Camp in Blacksburg, Virginia. It’s a special performance for the athletes based there.”
“Wait! Blacksburg? That’s where Livy is!”
“Bingo! And that long-legged girl will be riding your cock the rest of the night while we go to Richmond. She’s got a long holiday weekend arranged and won’t have to be back to base until the fifth.”
“That’s great! She’ll be with us when we all get to the new house.”
“And then there’s Remas.”
“What? Tell me.”
“She’s joining us Sunday in Memphis. She has a performance Saturday night so she couldn’t come out with me today.”
“That’s great. I didn’t think she’d be able to get time off.”
“She didn’t. She’s on assignment. Dr. D and some of the staff have been watching the tape of your Chicago performance and are sending Remas to work with you on smoothing out a couple of things.”
“They’ve never interfered in our performances before.”
“I don’t know enough about it to tell you what Remas has in mind, but from what I understand, they aren’t concerned with content at all. It’s more like having Mr. LeBlanc work with you on the music itself. Who worked with you on rehearsing your show?”
“We had to do it on our own. It was pretty chaotic getting out of school and all.”
“Exactly. Remas has been assigned the task of tightening and making the show more professional.”
“I guess I can see that. At least they’re sending Remas and not some professor we’ve never met. I’m so glad you’ll be traveling with us. Making love in the motorhome while we’re on the road can be kind of exciting.”
“Yeah. Well, we’ll have to do that tonight. Tomorrow, I’m taking over Jo’s role as point person. That means I’ll be driving to the venues ahead of you and not riding the bus with you.”
“Oh, crap! Alone?”
“There are enough of us on the tour now that I hope I can kidnap someone to ride with me. The nice part is we won’t have to book into a hotel at night. We can join the family at the campsite.”
“Rachel, I love you and all I care about is that you are with us.”
“Then let’s get some dinner and get you ready for tonight’s show.”
“Di immortals virtutem approbare, non adhibere debent.”
(God rewards virtue; he shouldn’t have to furnish it.)
—Gellius (quotation from a speech by Quintus Metellus Numidicus)
SUNDAY WAS OUR DAY OF REST, simply by virtue of the difficulty of getting an audience on Sunday. I’m sure if they’d found venues and audiences, they’d have booked us to perform every day. As it was, when we left Memphis, our stops would be farther apart and every day for the next week. We wouldn’t need to worry about campsites as we’d simply be moving from loading dock to loading dock. I was thankful for the comfortable bed in the motorhome, though I took my turn in the bunk as well as the sofa bed. I think we were all staying focused on being considerate of our mates or the cramped space and long hours would have had us at each other’s throats.
Our campground was on the eastern edge of the metroplex adjacent to Shelby Farms Park. It had miles of trails through 4,500 acres of green space. We got in about ten in the morning and I took off for a run as soon as our camp was set up and stable. Em ran with me for the first 5k and then peeled back around to the campsite. I just wanted to run and breathe the fresh country air.
It was after noon when I got back to the campsite. Most of my wives had gone to the nearby farmers’ market but Rachel was sitting in our narrow patio space with Remas. Aside from the things that were nearby, this campground had little to recommend it. Rigs were parked front door to front door in spaces so narrow we basically shared the patio space and couldn’t extend our awning all the way unless the rigs were jogged toward the front of the sites. The backs of rigs were so close you couldn’t pass through between the slide-outs. I wasn’t sure ours was even extended all the way.
Still, there were Rachel and Remas. I jogged up and gave a very sweaty hug to each.
“You need a shower,” Rachel said. “That’s no way to greet our girlfriend.”
“Not unless I can shower with you,” Remas laughed. “God, I’ve missed you. And it’s only been two weeks!”
“I’ve missed you, too. How about I run to the showers and get back here so we can have a proper hug and talk?” I grabbed a towel and went to the camp showers. It was a good thing it was early afternoon. I could only imagine what these four shower stalls would look like in the morning when 400 units opened their doors to try and get ready for travel.
I pulled on a pair of shorts and T-shirt and made my way back to camp a little more slowly so I wouldn’t start sweating again.
“So, the issue is mostly with the transitions from set to set. That includes your costume changes,” Remas said. We sat at the dining table with Cindy and Donna to go over the changes the school was suggesting. She stressed that we could do what we wanted with their suggestions but she thought we’d like their ideas. I was certainly open to it.
“Anything to make the performance move more smoothly,” I said. “I’m ready to listen.”
“Okay. Your talks and Cindy’s talks provide an opportunity for the other person to change costume and come back out on stage. That works pretty well. The real bottleneck is in the second act when Donna has to come out and basically do an advertisement while the two of you rush through a costume change at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, no one objects to you trying to sell CDs during your concert, but it feels out of place with the kind of message you are delivering in the other breaks.”
“I’ve never felt completely comfortable with that,” Donna said. “I think we all recognized it was a space filler for the costume change. What do you suggest?”
“Well, Ms. Ralston, who will be Cindy’s primary flute instructor at the school, suggested you trade off solos at that point. That would give you an opportunity to show off your individual skills as well as how well you play together. She suggested you scrap Andaluza that you do right before that break. By the way, everyone loves your dancing during the Tangos. Even Ms. Ralston was breathing hard. If we drop Andaluza and you do one of the other lively Spanish pieces you’ve done before, like Albeniz’s Mallorca, that would give Cindy time to come down a little and get changed without risking a wardrobe malfunction. Then when Cindy reenters in costume, you take a bow and go backstage to change.”
“Leaving me on stage alone?” Cindy squeaked. We all laughed. I put my hand on her thigh and she pulled it straight up into her crotch. She might be nervous about what Remas was asking, but that always seemed to make her horny at the same time.
“You know Chick Corea’s Spain was written as a flute solo. You’re playing a duet arrangement. You could just as easily move the piece before the Suite Buenos Aires and give Jacob the same opportunity he’s given you to catch your breath. Then Jacob reenters in costume and you end on a high point with the last movement of the Suite.”
“I could do that,” Cindy whispered as she pushed my finger into her wetness.
There were a few other suggestions regarding the transitions and one outright criticism suggesting we practice the Bach Flute Sonata with the music in front of us. Apparently, we’d gone astray. They also suggested we drop the Morricone piece and end the set after our Mozart Sonata in C Major. They felt it would be a cleaner break from one style to another and we’d make up the lost length of the program in the added length of Mallorca in the second act. I wasn’t sure about that one. I really liked The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but Remas made a good point that our duet version paled by comparison to the other versions we’d done, even with only Desi’s voice added to the mix.
Cindy and I did a skip through of the new program, focusing on a careful practice of the Bach and on the new transitions. We were all happy to get rid of the advertisement in the second act. After we finished practicing, Donna and I reviewed my spoken messages to make sure I was still on point. I was a little antsy because I wanted to go take care of Cindy. I’d had to wipe my fingers and dry them before I could play the guitar.
“Oh, God! Yes! Fuck me!” Cindy screamed from the bedroom. I looked around. Em was fixing vegetables at the kitchen sink with Rachel. Beca and Joan were outside. That meant Remas must have realized Cindy’s condition as well. We all started laughing.
I grilled steaks that night and we had the Tennessee equivalent of Donna’s farmer’s salad. That night, I slipped into bed between Rachel and Remas, and into each of them.
Monday started the week from hell. Memphis was our first outdoor venue since California at The Shell. It was hard to estimate how many people were there because they all brought their own chairs or blankets to sit on, packed picnics, and drank whatever was in their hip flasks. It was obvious they were there for a good time, though, and we got an enthusiastic reception. We had to use our pickups and amplify the sound because the outdoor acoustics sucked. Two big monitors on either side of the bandshell projected our faces in bigger than life proportions so people at the back of the space and sitting in the bars could see us.
Then our crew grabbed our gear and stowed it in record time. We were loaded in the motorhome by nine-thirty since the show started at seven. Em drove us straight through to Jackson, Mississippi, where we parked in a casino lot and all passed out.
Memphis to Jackson, Miss, to Baton Rouge, LA, to Mobile, Alabama. We hadn’t had any upsets. A few boos from non-reformists. Mostly, people in this part of the country just wanted the music and what we played wasn’t what they normally heard. The worst heckle we got was some guy in Baton Rouge during the tangos who screamed out “Stop playing that Spic music, ya damn Mexicans!” I’m not sure what happened to him, but we didn’t hear another word from him through the rest of the show.
We pulled out of Mobile late at night headed toward Montgomery, Alabama. I didn’t know why they didn’t schedule a performance for us there. I could just imagine standing on the steps of the capitol building playing our music where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the crowds after the Selma to Montgomery march. I don’t suppose that meant much to the rest of my family. They were too young to remember.
Em had been operating on the night shift for the entire week and slept during the day and during our shows. As a result, she decided to push on toward Atlanta. By ten in the morning, we were checked in at Stone Mountain Park on the east side of Atlanta. It had been a seven-hour drive with rest stops. We’d stopped at a Cracker Barrel early in the morning for breakfast.
“Is it even okay for us to stay here as Americans?” Beca asked. “The streets are Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee. There’s a statue of them carved into a mountain like it was Mount Rushmore.”
“It’s part of their heritage,” Remas said. “My parents live near here. I hope you don’t mind if I invite them to meet you all.”
“I have slaveowners in my family tree, too,” Donna said. “We just don’t brag about it.”
“At least your ancestors didn’t join forces to fight against the United States,” Rachel said. “If you all want me to find us a different campground, I will.”
“No,” I sighed. “It wouldn’t make a difference. I don’t think we’d find anywhere in Georgia that isn’t proud of their Confederate heritage. That they were at war against the United States doesn’t seem to be in conflict with their patriotism. We should just start a movement to have a statue to Osama bin Laden erected at Ground Zero since that is also a part of our national heritage.”
“That’s harsh, Jacob,” Remas said. “True, but harsh. Please don’t leave. I know it’s kind of disgusting, but I really want my parents to meet everyone.”
“Can we get camped and make sure poor Em gets some sleep first?” Joan said. She had an arm around my sister and looked like she was holding her up.
“Oh! I wasn’t suggesting right now. I did kind of suggest that they could come for dinner tonight, though,” Remas said. “Is that okay?”
“Hop in the car, girl,” Rachel said. “We need to go shopping. And I want a nap soon, too.”
Talk about people fond of their heritage! Remas’s family was proud to be Gypsies. Not only did her parents show up, but so did her two younger brothers and an aunt who seemed awfully attached to her father. I understood why Remas wasn’t thrown at all by a polyamorous relationship.
We had a good time.
It turned out that Acorn was a law professor at Georgia State University and Femi taught nursing at Herzing University. Both pretty high-powered academics. Nonetheless, Acorn wore a sleeveless shirt that showed his full sleeve tattoos and Femi had a backless dress that showed the incredible artwork on her back.
“We’ve been wanting to meet the group that captured the heart of our Remas,” Acorn said. “We’re allies. I’ve done a lot of work on the new bill, reviewing the legal aspects. It’s good to meet you all,” he enthused. “Let’s play music!” Acorn produced a kind of flute and made an instant friend of Cindy. Femi and Alifair had beautiful voices that blended and we learned a ton of new songs from them. I wished Desi was with us.
All told, we sat around our firepit and played way into the night. Several campers from nearby sites came to listen and a few to add their instruments to the jam session. And booze. There was a lot of it flowing around the fire. I confess I had a few too many of some kind of plum liquor. Not that there weren’t a lot of different kinds of alcohol being passed around. I finally carried Cindy to bed when it became obvious she couldn’t draw enough breath to blow her flute.
Atlanta was a riot. Literally.
I was glad we weren’t performing early in the day on Saturday. Everyone in the motorhome was dragging and complaining of headaches. Nonetheless, we disconnected the trailer from the motorhome and connected it to the Toyota Sienna Rachel had rented. It was big enough that all eight of us could ride in it and it could tow what was a fairly lightweight trailer to the venue.
Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta where Center Stage was located was packed with people waving signs and chanting. Someone had organized a demonstration outside and I dreaded the level of heckling we’d have from the anti-reform faction in this town. The auditorium had seating for a thousand but there were nearly that many on the street in front of the theater when we got there at noon. Holy crap!
Except this was a whole different ballgame. The hecklers and protests we’d encountered up to this time were all from people opposing service reform and supporting candidates who held the service wasn’t broken so don’t fix it. This crowd also opposed reform. They wanted National Service repealed.
We’d all had our moments of wishing the twenty-eighth amendment didn’t exist. This crowd was adamant about it. Signs lined the streets that said, “Hell no, we won’t go!” “Repeal 28!” “No more plantation slavery.” And other signs that harkened back to the days of the civil rights movement. “We shall overcome.”
I didn’t know what to think about all this. Emily had been frightened and traumatized when she left for service. Joan had burned her induction letter without opening it. Francie had been desperate, thinking she would never see her child again. And when service corps members were sent to the fields to do hard manual labor, we went on the warpath to get the national emergency ended, to get service reform started, and to free the laborers in the fields of California. We’d succeeded in many ways, needing only to get a solid majority elected who supported the reform bill.
The teens of Atlanta—and as we drove past, I could see that nearly everyone on the street was of or near service age—wanted the service ended and were threatening not to go. That was something I hadn’t seen anyplace else. The threat was eerily like what I’d encouraged back on New Year’s Eve in our broadcast.
We managed to get to the loading dock and our National Service security made sure no one approached our trailer. Outside the grounds of the theater itself, Atlanta police were holding the crowd back. It seemed to be growing by the minute.
We got our equipment to the stage and started setting up while Rachel and Donna talked to the theater management and our head of security. They were concerned that when the doors opened, we would be flooded with protesters and never be able to do the concert at all. The manager had already suggested canceling the performance.
The problem was they weren’t protesting our performance. I’d seen a good number of Marvel and Hopkins T-shirts in the crowd as we drove through and there were even a couple of ‘Recover the Dream’ posters being held up. These protesters were against the very existence of the service. But no one knew what to do. We were still six hours away from our show and had planned to rehearse in the space.
I rifled through V1 memories of protests over the years. I’d been near many. Riots in Watts and Detroit. Marches in Alabama. Sit-ins on college campuses. Kent State. SDS. Moratorium. Draft card burnings. Bra burnings. Million-man marches. Neo-Nazis. In every case, the stiffer the resistance to the protest—police in riot gear, National Guard, opposing interests—the more violent the protest became. Sometimes protests for a position supported by many ended up polarizing factions and losing their support.