Do they throw walnuts in Israel? A tale of mortification

Doug Roberts

October 26, 1990|By Doug Roberts

SATURDAY I was beaned by a walnut, and I heard music -- violin music.

When the weather is as beautiful as it has been lately, I like to goof off at my picnic table. So there I was the other morning sipping my coffee and reading The Sun, when I came across an ad for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra promoting tonight's appearance of Israeli violinist extraordinaire, Pinchas Zuckerman. Some folks say he's the best in the business. I don't know about that, but I know the man has guts.

I know because I've been there. Not to Israel, but to violin humility school, and we graduates know a "hell on earth" that's reserved for combat veterans and school bus drivers.

I played at playing the violin when I was in grade school, and nobody but an ex-pre-teen violinist can understand the exquisite embarrassment of toting a damn fiddle around on the handle bars of his bike while his peers are on their way to the baseball field. Forty years later, it's hard for me to talk about, but words like "mortification" come to mind.

I was thinking about all this when the walnut hit me.

I had forgotten that my picnic table is directly under a walnut tree, and now I'm doing my "Chicken Little" impression, hopping around my back yard, rubbing my ear and laughing like a crazy man because this was my second experience with walnuts and violins. The first one was deadly serious.

Let's cut to the chase . . .

Lennie Harlowe was chasing me. Lennie Harlowe, sixth-grade all-star pitcher and bully, had just been told by Betsy Burgess that she liked me better. And Lennie was going to catch me and kill me. He already hated me because I played the violin. Learning that he was losing his main squeeze to a sissy fiddle player was just more than the poor jock could handle.

Lennie and I were pretty evenly matched. He was 6 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier, but you cannot maim what you cannot catch, and I had the fastest bike in town.

But on this particular afternoon I was severely handicapped because Wednesday was lesson day and I was carrying my Aunt Myrtle's stupid hand-me-down fiddle on my handle bars and Lennie was gaining on me and he's got a pocket full of walnuts and about every 10 seconds he's winging one of those suckers at me and I know it's just a matter of time before he nails me and I'm an ex-sixth-grade-student-boy-friend-violin-playing-bike-rider.

I was right. Lennie Harlowe put one right between my shoulder blades, and the next thing I knew I was standing in the middle of the street blocking a fusillade of walnuts with Aunt Myrtle's violin case. And the next thing that happens is Mother drives by and sees her son bunting walnuts with her sister's $1,000 violin.

I got killed four times that day. My mom grounded me, my dad docked my allowance, I had to get a job selling Christmas cards so I could replace a dented violin case and Lennie Harlowe hit me in the back with a walnut. God, I hated that violin.

Because of this learning experience, I'm sure I'll have special appreciation of some of Maestro Zuckerman's finer musical nuances. I already know I'll wonder at his bow work, his double stops and his harmonics. I also know that sooner or later I'm going to wonder if they have kids who throw walnuts at violinists in Israel. And if so, how did he cope with it?

Doug Roberts is a reviewer for WBAL radio and television.

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