ONE OF THE most unnerving incidents of my adult life occurred recently when I found myself trapped in a room with a half-dozen accordion players.
The accordion, as is universally acknowledged, is the most annoying instrument known to man.
Statistics indicate there are maybe 20 people in the whole world who like accordion music, and most of these suffer from severe emotional problems. Two or three are serving life sentences on Death Row where, let's face it, you're happy to hear someone humming "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."
In any event, this incident with the accordions took place at an awards dinner the other evening.
As I recall, we had just finished our dessert and coffee when the master of ceremonies took to the podium and announced "a special entertainment treat."
These words alone were enough to chill me, as they usually signal a dog act or someone who plays the spoons on his knee.
In this case, however, it was even worse. The next thing we knew, six men and women in lederhosen were strapping on their accordions. Within seconds I could feel the cold sweat trickle down my back along with the old feeling that generally accompanies accordion music -- namely that one is about to go out of one's mind.
"You didn't say there would be accordion players," I hissed to my friend.
"I had no idea," he said. "Honest."
He was lying, of course. You could see it in his eyes. People are always lying to me when it comes to accordion music.
They know there have been times when I drove 200 miles out of my way to avoid accordion music.
They also know that upon hearing accordion music in an elevator, I have been known to hit the emergency stop button, in the hope that the ensuing alarm and passenger panic will drown out the music.
Anyway, as usually happens when accordion players take to the stage, the exits were quickly blocked off.
Accordion players know that the audience, left to its own free will, would immediately stampede for the doorway even before the first strains of "Beer Barrel Polka" or "Lady of Spain" fouled the air.
So whenever accordion players perform, they generally hire burly ex-football players or off-duty cops to prevent people from fleeing the room as if someone had set fire to the drapes.
Realizing we were trapped, we settled back to endure 20 minutes of accordion toe-tappers such as "Volare," "Roll out the Barrel" and "Fly Me To the Moon."
The rest of the program proceeded uneventfully, although the accordion music had left the audience with altogether predictable symptoms: trembling hands, violent nausea and a general feeling of free-floating anxiety.
Here is something I could never figure out about accordion players: Why do they always smile throughout their performances?
You would think that upon realizing the suffering they are inflicting on an audience, they would wear a properly contrite look and perhaps seek some sort of spiritual absolution later.
But, no, they stand (or sit) there playing their instrument and smiling, almost as if they were enjoying themselves.
Which seems impossible to imagine -- unless these accordion players are wearing earplugs. (Some of the newer earplugs, I'm told, are made of a flesh-colored polyurethane substance, virtually undetectable to the eye.)
This reminds me of the time I witnessed an accordion player at a wedding do a medley of Rolling Stones hits. In the span of some 20 minutes, he proceeded to chain saw through "Honky Tonk Woman," "Jumping Jack Flash," and a dozen other perfectly innocent classics before eventually being chased from the stage by an angry mob.
(The marriage, by the way, lasted about 10 months and the groom to this day blames part of his troubles on "that stupid accordion player she hired.")
Anyway, when I caught up with this accordion player later at the bar -- he was sitting all by himself and experimenting with a desultory version of "Satisfaction" -- we struck up a conversation of sorts.
"That was absolutely the most twisted performance I have ever witnessed," I said by way of breaking the ice.
"Thank you," said the accordion player. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."
Clearly, this gives you some indication of where these people are coming from.
Which, you ask me, might well be another planet.