SAUL FRIEDBERG AT THE APOLLO – A short story

Fortunately, my writer’s block has ended. I went into my room and just cranked this out. I don’t know, after reading it, perhaps I should have used the word UNfortunately.
Anyhow, enjoy.

Ed

SAUL FRIEDBERG AT THE APOLLO

It was a Thursday evening and Saul Friedberg was as nervous as he’d ever been. All his life led up to this moment. The endless hours of watching videotapes of past Apollo performances would now prove to be worth his while.

He stood in the wings as a young woman sang an Alicia Keys tune that brought the crowd to its feet. Hands waved back and forth in unison as her voice did a number of impressive runs.

Saul knew what would happen when it was his turn to walk on stage. People were going to laugh at him. Not with him — at him. But he was ready for it. Although his mother continually insisted watching and re-watching episodes of “Showtime At The Apollo” was a waste of time, the repeated viewing had mentally prepared him for what was about to happen. Regardless of the clothes they wore, the style of their hair, or the spring in their step it never failed. If the contestant was white, they were laughed at.

The immediate conclusion-jumping always confused Saul but at the same time only served to fuel his passion and drive. He would show them once and for all that white accordion players have soul, too.

Saul missed the days of Sinbad and Steve Harvey hosting the Apollo. They seemed like nice guys and their non-threatening comedy always put Saul at ease. Not like the much-grittier Mo’Nique. She reminded Saul a little too much of the girls who were always standing on the corner of his block. They yelled a lot and Saul had to admit he was a little afraid of them. While Saul thought Sinbad and Steve Harvey were so nice they could be Caucasian (a comment he was smart enough never to say aloud), he knew Mo’Nique would have none of it. Saul had to be good. He wasn’t a quick thinker on his feet and was naturally shy so he know Mo’Nique would probably tease him during the interview portion of the show.

That was OK with Saul because he’d watched his tapes. Often times the host would make jokes at the contestants’ expense and the audience would have a good laugh. But once the ribbing was over and it was time to get down to business the novice entertainer would turn to the tree trunk on stage and rub it for good luck (and also to acknowledge the history of the Apollo Theater).

Saul wasn’t exactly sure how the tradition of the stump rubbing (as he often referred to it) came to be. He imagined a lively and compelling story filled with lumberjacks and unity and the thought of it always calmed him. In times of stress when Saul would find his “happy place” he thought of The Story of the Apollo Stump.

When Saul’s name was announced and he stepped on stage, even his years of intense training couldn’t prepare him for the instant laughter that swept through the theater. There was whooping. Some people pointed while others repeatedly stood up and sat back down as if they were the largest collection of Jack-In-The-Boxes witnessing the most hilarious sight they could imagine.

Saul raised a hand to ensure his yarmulke was still firmly in place. He hugged his accordion for security, completely forgetting this was what triggered the instrument’s sound and the pathetic note that droned from the squeezebox completely upstaged Mo’Nique’s diatribe about his thick spectacles.

Mo’Nique introduced Saul and he turned to rub the sacred wooden stump. The accordion clunked against the tree trunk and the crowd quickly inhaled as one. Saul shrugged his shoulders and shook it off as he made his way to center stage.

By this time the audience had regained their collective composure and the giggling commenced again. In the front row three women were standing. Saul hadn’t played so much as a single note and already they were making broad, sweeping, get-off-the-stage motions with their arms.

Saul took a deep breath. He looked to his left. There waiting in the wings was The Guy Who Danced. If the crowd’s booing and hissing became too loud a siren would sound and The Guy Who Dances would jump on stage, flitter around, and make you leave. Then he would dance a little more and the audience would go nuts.

Saul nodded to The Guy Who Dances. The Guy Who Dances mouthed “Fuck You” in return and shot him the bird.

It didn’t phase Saul. Even The Guy Who Dances would soon be eating his words. Saul took another breath and began playing the opening notes of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

Saul wasn’t sure if it was a cell phone or an iPod but whatever it was, when it struck his face the pain was incredible. Something else whizzed past his head (a compact case?), barely missing him. The Man Who Dances rushed out with a mop handle and began to beat him. As Saul crumpled to the ground Mo’Nique was already there waiting for him (she sure moves fast for such a big girl was Sauls first reaction). She began to lay into him with one of her cream-colored stilettos.

As Saul lost control of his bowels and began to black out all he could think was “I told you I’d make it, Ma.” For a few brief moments all eyes were on him and he was the star of the Apollo.

It was the greatest moment of his life.

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