WHERE IS HERBERT???
R. D. Ice
I put the coffee on when I got up. It was ready when I got back from looking in the mailbox again. I poured myself a cup and reached for the creamer.
Still no letter. Herbert Shertman is missing! Where could he be?
I haven't seen him since Christmas. He should have been at my house two days ago. We have a gig to play, and we need him to be there with us.
When did I last see him? It was just before Christmas last year. We had a gig at the Green Tree Lounge. It's near Victorville, California, in the edge of the high desert.
We flew into the airport at Ontario, California. A van took us on to Victorville, about a hundred miles. But that's not far on the freeway.
We had rooms reserved at the Starburst Motel. Traveling really tires a person. We needed some sleep to recharge.
It was getting on toward evening when the van took us to Green Tree.
Steve Johnson met us. He is the head man. "Welcome to Green Tree Lounge," he said. "You have a few hours to kill. You can put your instruments on the stage. They'll be safe there. Then come to the dining room. We'll feed you before you go on."
One half of the Green Tree was a very posh restaurant. They gave us a truly scrumptious meal. The food was something to remember. I want to eat there again sometime.
We went out and walked around the parking lot. It was good to stretch a little. Then we went in to get set up.
The other half of the Green Tree was a dance floor where we would play the gig. We got everything set up, checked our sound and tuned up. Man, it sounded good to hear us together! We were the Fabulous Five!
We go way back. It's been years since we played our first gig. Herbert Shertman and his zydeco accordion. Roger Kayne and his acoustic bass guitar. Steve Beeson and his Dobro steel guitar. I am R. J. Reynolds and I play the keyboard. Al Romig was the lead singer. Well, you know, we were together again! It would be a "swinging time."
The crowd started coming in and the floor was soon crowded. I do mean crowded! The dance floor was huge, and it was packed. We would get a percentage of the gate. It was a very good gig.
Al Romig picked up the mike and shouted out: "Dudes and Dudesses! Let the stomping begin! It's the Alligator Stomp!"
I hit the first notes on the keyboard and then kept up the lead. The others joined in.
Al sang it out: "You ain't nothin' but fine!" Well, was he wailing!
Man, we were choppin' with our axes. Those good old days! But listen to me. You can tell how old I am from my language. I don't know how the young people would say it. We were having great fun as we played and sang and watched the people dance. As Justin Wilson would say, "We had us some music and some good time."
The customers loved it. They were out on the floor, stompin' to our beat, having themselves a ball!
We got the usual heckling. "Where did you bums learn to play?" "Hey you loafers! I want my money back!" I won't write down what some of them actually said. It wasn't very polite. You know the kind of thing. Some of them were half in the basket and some were high. But really they loved us. You get so you can feel the mood of the crowd.
"Play 'Old Mountain Dew'" someone shouted.
So we swung into a slow step version, with me leading on the keyboard. Al was singing.
"Down the road here from me is an old hollow tree, where you lay down a dollar or two. You go round the bend and you come back again. There's a jug of that good old mountain dew."
Well, they were circling and shuffling and this went on till early in the morning. I suppose some of them had to go to work when the sun came up. They began to leave little by little, and soon there was just two couples circling around on the floor.
"Dudes and Dudesses," Al said, "go home. We can squeeze out just one more and then it's term-in-na-ted. Herbert, let's have 'My Toot-toot.'"
Herbert played a chorus on his accordian. Then he kept up the lead as Al began to sing.
"Don't mess with my Toot-toot, don't mess with my Toot-toot; well you can have the other woman, don't mess with my Toot-toot."
Do you know, the short man came up afterwards and handed a hundred dollar bill to Herbert.
"I hear you man," he said. "That's back home in Lousiana. My daddy used to play like that."
About that time the chef came in and offered us breakfast. We sure took him up on that in a hurry. He took us back to the kitchen.
Finally it was time to go. The head man gave us our cut, broken up into checks for each of us.
As we went out the door, Herbert said to us: "I'll break this hundred and split it with you." But he never did.
When I woke up that afternoon, Herbert was long gone. I had my paycheck, yes, but Herbert had his and he had that hundred dollar bill. It wasn't that much money, it was the principle of the thing.
That was then; this is now. I would get a letter from Herbert every so often. He was on the road. Dallas. Atlanta. Rochester. Buffalo. Even Toronto, Canada. He was living out of a suitcase. That's how it is when you play one-night gigs. I've done enough in my time.
Yes! That was some good time! We were the Fabulous Five! Just remembering gives me a tingle.
Herbert, where are you now? We're set up for Chicago the 6th of June. You were supposed to be here in town. I would phone you, but where would you be? It's nearly time to go to the airport. But where are you, Herbert? We need you! I haven't seen you since Christmas.