An instrument of destruction

KEVIN COWHERD

October 16, 1992|By KEVIN COWHERD

Until recently, I remained secure in my conviction that the accordion was the single most annoying instrument known to man.

The sound, which can be likened to a flock of geese being run over by a cement truck, has ruined countless social occasions for me over the years, everything from weddings to parades to quiet evenings in Irish pubs.

Mercifully, the number of accordion players in this country continues to dwindle, to the point where there are now probably more dowsers than accordionists, and probably more snake-worshipers, too.

As hard as this is to believe, though, I was recently exposed to another instrument that summons the same sweaty-palm terror as the accordion, and might even surpass it in terms of sheer nausea-inducing capabilities.

It all began when an invitation arrived in the mail from an organization that my wife belongs to.

The organization will not be named here to spare them further embarrassment. Although let me say this: If what I'm about to describe is their idea of a good time, we might be dealing with some sort of cult here. In which case, the FBI should probably be called in.

Anyway, as I tore open the invitation, the first words to leap out at me were: "Join us for an Evening of Fun!"

Naturally, I quickly crumpled the invitation and tossed it in the garbage.

Because whenever you come across the words "Evening of Fun!" you can be pretty sure it involves a clown act. Or a puppet show. Or a man spinning plates on sticks while a little dog dressed in a plaid skirt frolics between his legs.

Or, God forbid, a mime.

Unfortunately, my wife fished the invitation out of the garbage the next day. And because we have no social life to speak of, she insisted we go see whatever it was her organization was putting on.

The Evening of Fun! got off to a rocky start when we arrived to find 200 people sitting on folding chairs in front of a makeshift stage. Finally, after a few minutes, the curtain came up and we beheld a terrifying sight.

There, bathed in the glow of twin spotlights -- bear with me here, this is still painful to recall -- were two . . . bagpipers.

Dressed in kilts. With these funny beret-looking things on their heads.

My first thought, of course, was to make a break for one of the exits.

But there was no way to do that since the exits were now blocked by burly security guards who had anticipated the inevitable stampede once the audience realized what it was in for.

Then I thought: Well, I'll just slump to the floor and pretend I've passed out. That way they'll have to drag me out of here.

But then I remembered where I was.

Normally, if you pass out at a concert, the performance will stop and someone will rush to your aid.

But bagpipers are so used to having people keel over from the sheer strain of the noise being generated that they don't even stop their performances anymore.

Hell, they don't even look at you when you hit the floor, even if your head bounces off the tile like a cantaloupe.

That's why at most bagpipe concerts, you'll see bodies strewn all over the aisles, waiting for medical attention.

DTC In any event, realizing we were trapped, I slouched down in my chair and tried to make the best of it as the bagpipers launched into one agonizing number after another.

I must have drifted off after a while, because I remember having this dream: My 10-year-old was running up to me and yelling, "Dad, good news! I'm taking up the bagpipe!"

With that, I saw myself throwing him into the car and the two of us speeding off to the nearest orphanage.

Then I heard myself saying: "See this place? This'll be your new home if I hear one more word about bagpipes."

Awakening with a start, I had an even more disturbing thought: What it would be like to have an accordion player and a bagpiper in the same room?

The thought made me begin to sweat profusely, to the point where I was now gasping for air and edging dangerously close to hyperventilation.

Anyway, the concert dragged on for an hour. Understandably, there were no cries of "Encore! Encore!" when it finally ended and the thugs manning the doors began allowing people to leave.

As you can imagine, the audience emerged looking pale and drawn. Many wore the classic Thousand-Yard Stare seen in men whose nerves have been badly frayed in combat.

It occurred to me that, in many respects, being trapped in a room with bagpipers is akin to a hostage situation.

Although few hostages endure that level of emotional pain, thank God.

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