'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Heckler

The wife's aunt got a garden gnome that's wearing a white bridal gown and carrying a bouquet. It also has a beard. I suppose it wouldn't really be a garden gnome if it didn't have a beard. It shouldn't be wearing white, not after what the dog did to it.

My cousin Chloe has been playing the harp since she was ten. She took it up mainly because her father played it, but she loved the sound of the harp, and she loved the visual impression she created by playing something that was bigger than her. It felt like taming a lion, and her friends who played the tin whistle weren't even charming a snake -- they were prodding a snail.

She became a very accomplished harpist. She often played with a traditional band, and she played at weddings for friends and relatives. She enjoyed going to traditional music festivals, and joining in sessions in pubs or outside on the street. She gave solo performances too.

She went to a festival in a small town with some friends of hers, who were also musicians. They rented a holiday home near the town. She was playing in the town hall one evening. She was the third act on stage, after a piper and a group of set dancers who looked as if they were people randomly chosen off the street, and the street in question was one outside a half-way house for mental patients, but when they started dancing they proved to be surprisingly talented. They got a standing ovation when they finished.

Chloe had been playing for less than thirty seconds when she was heckled for the first time in her life, or the second if you count the time her brother called her a wildebeest, but he just said it because he liked saying 'wildebeest'. A man in the audience said, "Are you trying to put us to sleep?"

Chloe stopped playing. She was so shocked she didn't know what to do, but instinct soon took over. She stood up and defended herself in what some people would interpret as a verbal attack. One man laughed at it, but this only served to highlight the silence of the rest of the crowd. When she sat down again she was expecting a round of applause, but she just got the overwhelming silence.

She started playing again. When she reached the end of the song she got a light round of applause. It was nowhere near the ovation for the dancers.

She met a friend of hers called Jimmy on the following day. He said, "People are saying you went mental in the hall last night."

"I didn't! Unless they mean it in a good way."

"No, I don't think it's meant in a good way."

"I didn't! A man in the audience went mental. He started heckling me. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine if someone started heckling you when you were playing the flute? What would you say to that?"

"You can't really say anything when you're playing the flute."

"Exactly. I had to stop playing. There's no way I could have gone on. And I had to say something after I stopped."

"I heard you said he stuck one of his fingers too far into his head."

"I could have said much worse than that. That's not going mental. That's stating the obvious."

"Yeah. But still, it wouldn't be the sort of thing most of the audience would like to hear. I've often heard people make jokes about the AI man. Jokes like that seem to go down very well in places like this. You should have said something about the AI man."

"What does AI stand for?"

"Artificial insemination. For cows."

"What could I have said about that?"

"Lots of things. Like... Actually, you're probably better off putting a bit of thought into that. You could offend someone very easily."

"No one cares about offending a harpist who's just trying to entertain them."

"My brother Nick was giving a speech once and he was heckled, by one of his friends. Nick said, 'You're from China and your name is You're Some Fool.'"

"And did people laugh?"

"Oh yeah, they thought it was hilarious. Although some Chinese people didn't get it."

Later that day she went to the town square to play. A crowd gathered around her. Before she began playing she heard someone in the crowd say, "If you're standing up, make sure you have somewhere soft to land when you fall asleep."

Everyone laughed. Chloe remained silent. She wondered if she should point out the pointlessness of that statement, because they were all standing up, and they were standing on concrete. But she let it pass.

Other things were said while she played. She didn't hear all of them, but she did hear 'I haven't shoved it far enough into mine'. She got a huge round of applause at the end. It was mixed with some laughter, and she got the impression that they were applauding her for being the object of their ridicule rather than for her playing.

Jimmy came up to her and said, "I have a good line about the AI man, if you want it."

"No, thanks."

She went to a pub that evening to play a session with some other musicians. She met the man who heckled her. His name was Keith.

He said, "Have you calmed down since last night?"

"I'm always calm," she said.

"If last night was calm, I'd hate to see you angry."

"Then why are you so determined to make me angry?"

"Is that what you think I'm trying to do?"

"If I started heckling you when you were in the shop or mowing the lawn, you'd be angry."

"How would you heckle someone when they're mowing the lawn?"

"I'd say, 'What are you trying to do to that lawn?'"

"I'd say I was mowing it."

"Yeah well I'd just make fun of your clothes then."

"What's wrong with my clothes?"

"They're the sort of clothes you'd be buried in if your family bore a grudge against you."

"I wouldn't be angry if you said that. I'd love to be buried in these clothes. And my family do bear a grudge against me. I married the wrong woman."

"What if I started heckling your wife?"

"I'd applaud that. She bears a grudge against me too."

"I'd just throw something at you so."

"Are you still calm?"

"You're obviously just trying to make me angry. I've never heard of anyone heckling a harpist before."

"I was offering constructive criticism. You're playing the wrong instrument. You put people to sleep with your performance so you need to go mental every so often to wake them up. If you were playing the drums, you wouldn't need to go mental."

"I've never gone mental."

"I know. You're always calm."

"I am."

"You're just like me. I'm always nice."

Just as the session was about to begin, Keith said, "I haven't been this excited about a performance since I was addicted to sleeping pills."

Everyone laughed. Chloe glared at him. She said, "Have you just had a visit from the AI man?"

The place erupted in laughter before she had a chance to deliver the punch line, which was: "'AI' as in 'artificial intelligence'." She was going to deliver the punch line when the laughter died down, but the laughter went on for a few minutes, and she started to think that her line would be an anti-climax.

They were laughing because the AI man once threw a turnip at him. Keith didn't know what to say to Chloe. The look on his face suggested she'd got one over on him. When she started playing she was smiling. No one dared heckle her.

The moose's head over the fireplace is looking very thoughtful. He has two weeks worth of insights to explore now that he can focus his mind on higher things without being distracted by Wimbledon. The sound of tennis must have instilled some unpleasant images in his mind. One of our neighbours says he once beat a former Wimbledon champion. He says he did it with a pitching wedge, so it probably wasn't tennis. It wouldn't have been golf either.