The Hammer and Cyclist Meet in Moscow
The Hammer and Cyclist Messenger Service
Charles M. Fraser
The parody "The Hammer and Cycle Messenger Service" is A Kaleidoscopic Cold War View. Bow to the Public Relations explanation of The Cold War if you prefer, but if you want to know what your own mind is capable of discovering for itself, follow the journey the bike messenger Hank Greenway took after meeting the industrialist Dr. Armand Hammer. Arriving in Moscow, USSR in time to participate in the 1991 Soviet August Coup when communism finally fell off its' pedestal and the world's elite once again couldn't have painted themselves more self-righteously.
Excerpt from pages 151 -156, in the basement office of The Hammer and Cycle Messenger Service in Dr. Armand Hammer's Mezhdunarodnaya Hotel in Moscow, USSR. Hank Greenway is speaking. Mikhail narrating.
“I remember when my father wanted to see my reaction to all the screaming girls he expected for The Beatles screaming appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He’d seen commercial promotions before and knew what would happen. For some reason, like probably my extreme youth, I wasn’t habitually perusing the local Orlando Slantinel then. I can’t remember what if anything our local paper of record said, but I can speculate it called them ‘The Four Elvises.’ A simple staged event of such potency, even a sheltered six-year-old imagination was lit by the value of The Beatles in public awareness. Even recluses learn to advertise they want to be left alone.’
Hank didn’t listen. He said, “At age six with the rest of the world, I thought up a band with two friends and mulled over the name, The Scavengers. But I couldn’t handle the pain of practicing on guitar strings. Later I figured out a Ringo doll disappeared after John Lennon said they’d become bigger than God.” Pause. “Which isn’t what
Lennon said, but my father probably didn’t have time to sort that out. John was referring to mass communication’s influence and the magnitude of commercial acceptance.”
I said, “Hank” louder.
Greenway said, “I personally feel Jesus performed less of a mind twist than advertising has on his behalf. When God’s name is used, the defensively religious don’t bother understanding points of view. Irrelevant praise they can get behind, but the larger point we’re all under God, in disarray or not, ah, most can’t be bothered. Team spirit without compassion is just manmade. What does God have to do with human vengeance?”
What a rebel. But it was still obvious the reigns of our corporation should no longer be in the hands of a dream. Hank’s other ambition set in motion before hitting his head at Hammer’s Eulogy, is in his telling of the story behind his short music career. How the world went hippie and Hank’s parents channeled his musical interest to their liking by taking him up the street to see the high school’s concert band which was why he took up the trombone in 1967.
Hank winked at the pencils and said, “1967. Thirteen years after school desegregation began, school integration of the races finally arrived in my rurally populated Florida county. And the trombone came to symbolize my good concert experience with my parents. Our side of the audience faced the trombone section’s middle-left portion of the stage where the concert band’s second trombone was the elder African-American brother of the one girl in my fifth grade class in my whole elementary school. To my mind their family were the epitome of courage with unbalance all around us. If anything I’m still trying to live up to my admiration for them.”
Then the way Hank continued, his parents die and he’s forced to live in a larger town whose predominantly black band was smaller than the smaller town’s band he had to leave. So the life of the party, bottle monopolizer Hank spouts, “That’s it! I know what’s to be done” and he jumped to the floor and leapt back on the desk. “Definitely lay on your backs. Motionlessness on the floor. Me too. Somebody shut the door, turn out the lights. Be still. Feel the dark fall night with me in 1972 Central Florida. The Seminoles high school football team wasn’t winning and marching bands either fill a sizable portion of the field or look small as ours did when competing with larger bands. Universities fill the field. But we were high school and you get what you got.”
Plekhanov said, “Philosophers are killjoys. Flags, marching music. Parading is boring drudgery. What our backward revolution did best. You volunteered?”
Hank smiled. “Yes cornier than Broadway. The Seminoles band had very talented individuals because what the new band did not comprise in numbers they made up for in loving to jam. Great musicians except for that time at a pep rally when we massacred the Theme From Superfly in the gym. Half the band ended in the middle while the stunned rest trickled on. Afterwards we scattered to the band room for our instrument cases and the director, Roland Castro hustled and caught us. He said, ‘Everyone wait,’ and stepped to his podium. “No one leaves until you hear what I have to say.’ Then he disappointedly took responsibility because we hadn’t known the song in one rehearsal. The held back look on his face was something. Summed up by, ‘If any band could, I thought you guys.’
“Definitely good individuals and some toured professionally. Now here’s the story I’m getting to. The idea of a spectacle has occurred to me to make our point.” Hank was smiling too much. “It was a late October Friday night. The fourth game from the end of the ten game 1972 high school football season. While our band did the traditional home-team wait behind the goalposts for our opponents’ half-time performance, something felt different. That moment immediately stood out in my mind because Cleve never came that close to my face before. My fellow trombonist Cleveland was always gruff with the new sophomore, but that was his personality. A few years later, before I left Florida, I saw Cleve playing in a bar and he was nice and said I could have made a living myself. He told me it wasn’t such a great deal but he was doing it.
“Anyway. Cleve asks what I know, which he believes is nothing that I apparently corroborate because I remember his laughing with the percussion section who’d half mooned to separate us from the rest of the band. The sky was so dark. No visible moon or stars making the stadium seem huge and overwhelming. Cleve was telling both Brian, the other white trombonist, and I but details are smudged it happened so fast. Oh yeah our high school football field felt bigger because it was laid out inside the former spring training facility of the New York Giants professional baseball team. It was a stadium when I’d usually marched between bleachers on both sides of the gridiron. Everything felt strange because I’d only lived months in that town and
floated past most experiences. I think if I’d been a talker instead of listener they’d have done it without me. The group was anxious and itching to go. I’m really privileged to have been asked along. It was something to be a part of. So while the other band finished Cleve still wanted me to know where their idea came from but before telling us what it was, Cleve said, ‘We’re gonna be a hit,’ and ‘This will be the time of your life.’ But now we were what was going on in the back and the Drum Major strode over in his broad stride across the middle of the end zone to tell us to reform but it was my nod he took the okay from to go back up front. Even though Cleve had said, ‘Man he’s not gonna get it’ or something like that, I understood. Waiting until the last second to tell us they sure knew at least one white guy wasn’t good at keeping secrets. Someone said Cleve was taking too long and Cleve snapped at the drummers, ‘I’m doing this. I know what I’m doing.” Remembering can still make me cry. Cleve said, ‘I need you to know we’re carrying on a legacy.’ Then he got to the point and said, ‘Have you heard of FAMU?’
“So I guess as expected my ‘huh’ was hilarious. Cleve waived his arm to hush the others and said, ‘Florida A and M University you little cracker’ then more laughter. I knew. Of course I followed sports. But what Cleve said was more important than what I knew. He said, ‘Look Greenway. White people enforced separate cultures so we developed our own. But you couldn’t treat separate people fair so we had to fix you bigots.’
Hank smiled. “And look who spoke up. I told Cleve, ‘Not me’ and he smiled, ‘Maybe.’ Then told us we didn’t have to do this and they’d do it anyway. But they knew they might get in less trouble if Brian and I participated. The suspense gripped me and you guys might already know what I didn’t then in the fall of ‘72.’ I said, ‘Tell me please?’ Today everyone knows the FAMU marching band’s wild halftime dance. We, oh I’m so sorry I wish I remembered every individual name in the conspiracy. But when our half time show finished, and I have no idea what we played, percussion tapped the rest of the band off the field and somehow the tapping hadn’t removed the tappers, a few others and three trombones. Our new line was screamed at for our bizarre insubordination and then we did it. I was told if I didn’t understand just watch and I would, but once begun you’re completely involved in your own dance. Spinning the trombone was always fun and dangerous and not like dropping a baton because a
flipped bone hitting the ground would most likely never play again. The crowd went nuts at our wild dancing and our waiting-for-the-football-field team saw the performance and came miraculously close to winning by catching the spirit for the second half against a team that should have had it in the bag.
“We got in trouble, kind of, because Monday in the band room at 2:00 PM our director told us he had been mad but punishment wouldn’t make sense when we were expected to keep doing it. There were three more games and Cleve himself told Brian and I the African-Americans wanted to do it alone the last night. For them Brian and I were satisfied to remain out, but they ended up apologizing to us and we all learned feeling separate is a punishment unto itself.”
Then Hank looked at each of our group and said, “We need some bands.”
As head of the class I said, “Beatles sure.”
But Hank said, “No we’re not beginning. We’re ending a ruthless era with an exclamation point. A Woodstock!”
Even drunk I understood this much. “Woodstock is not universal hit.
Hank said, “No trademark goes untarnished.”
I said, “You cannot invite hippies to overrun Moscow. And Woodstock is myth.”
Hank said, “Who doesn’t have critics?”
Floridian first 28 years, New Yorker 36.
The Journey Writing The Hammer and Cycle, in Quail Bell Magazine, has details.