Our first Performance – of naked audiences and shaky knees

So when we were on our way to the Academy Restaurant in the Liverpool Community College at Duke Street, he chatted with the pretty Turk and they laughed and still danced a bit more in the street. There was something about the way she touched his arm. I am not sure he noticed but I was pretty sure Agnes did.

     Ken, with Hana´s help, had organized a posh dinner for us, and the caravan was drooling over the ideas the menu had inspired. Chicken and Bacon gateau with apricot chutney, smoked haddock and bacon rarebit, corned beef pilaf, chicken sauté Bourguignonne, a tian of braised oxtail, lamb with potato Fondant, vegetable primavera, apple tarfait and other things I could not pronounce.

This is part of the ongoing “Big Plate of Sideorders” series, excerpts from an Erasmus memory.

     We had napkins placed on our laps and young smart ladies and gents were circling us like made-up vultures their prey. Jonathan, Billa, Urte, Hana and Mario at my table looked all sufficiently satisfied by the service. What a toffy-nosed place indeed.

      There was a versatile crowd compiled from the ranks of internationals but also from the city´s most distinctive honoraries, all bosom-friends to Ken. The closest of them all was a hollow-cheeked, ever-grinning gentleman called Nigel, who shook your hand as if you were the top guest of the party. “Nigel here, okay, I don´t know any other person in this world who has so many sane and original ideas”, Ken, his tie a bit too short, his hair disheveled, said. “The only problem is: His sane ideas aren´t original and his original ideas aren´t sane hu hu.” Ken´s lower lip jumped into dance and he rolled his fingers in enjoyment. “These are very important people here”, he added. “Make as many contacts as you can.”

     After the first course, Liverpool´s most eminent judge rose from his chair and made the general chatter fade out.

     “I came to have a good meal“, he proclaimed.

     Jonathan had the same immediate idea where this speech was going as I did. We exchanged horrified looks of presentiment.

     “But I did not have a good one“, the judge said and Jonathan and I  rolled our eyes.

     “I did not even have a very good one“, said the judge slowly and Jonathan and I pointed our fingers into our gaping mouths. Was that one of the ways Ken had in mind for making new contacts?

     “I had a mag-ni-fi-cent meal.“

     We were terrified to say the least. Did that balding bloke believe he was talking with a bunch of fucking three-year-olds? So this was the kind of public I was to be outed to as a musical bandit? And was this highly non-impressive speech an omen for the rest of the evening?

     The last time I had sung in front of an audience I had been the donkey in a primary school stage production of the Bremen Town Musicians. I started yelling my I-aaa in the wrong moments and began my big solo with “I am the dog!”, then, while rummaging in my memory for a correction, found alternative openings such as “I am the cat” or “I am the rooster”, until I finally realized that I indeed was a goddamned jackass. There were hundreds of schoolmates, siblings and parents sitting beneath the stage, looking up at me and my stupid performance. I still remembered Tolja in the first row, laughing. And now, on this very evening, here they were again, seated in between the other Erasmus students and the honoraries. I tried picturing everyone nude, as pop-culture wants us to, but repudiated the concept immediately again. What if it backfired and I suddenly imagined myself in the Chilly Pepper´s earlier stage outfit? It was just me and Hana and Annabel and the Lorelay and a full room of fully dressed people.

     I cautiously tuned Annabel´s shaky strings. She looked as frightened as me. Hana and I had gone through a lot of practicing and Urte had gone through all the rehearsal process with us, the good soul, had stood all our failures, misjudgements and retrials.

     “Good evening”, Hana said, when we stood in front of the people. It was the first time I saw her in a skirt and with something like a put-up hairdo. She looked pretty. I on the other hand wore blue jeans and a rancid sweater as usual. “Ken was so friendly and invited us to make some music for you. A few weeks ago I wanted to make de song out of my favourite poem. It is called Die Lorelay, and I learned it in school in German class. And because Paul is such artist…” I blushed and did something silly like waving her off. “…we started playing dis song together, and we would really like to present it to you now.”

     I began picking the first chords. All eyes on us. No one got naked. The picking lasted approximately three seconds until I decided that I would not be able to fulfill such difficult tasks. I took to strumming instead.

               Ich weiß nicht, was soll das bedeuten

               Dass ich so traurig bin

               Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten

               Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

Hana was marvelous and helped me get through the first verses. Our friends smiled for us from wherever they were seated and showed us clear signs of a Go ahead! When we were about to hit the climax, I maltreated Annabel to a crescendo and was about to scream the lines just as we had done in our previous efforts. In the faces of the honoraries who sat close to us, though, was no visible reaction to our performance. The judge looked as if he was planning another awfully boring speech in his mind, and I went from eleven to five and a half in a second and finished the song like that. Hana looked a bit disappointed. When the last chord died away, the audience clapped, we said our thank yous, nodded or bowed or something in between and went back to the tables. We had survived, and I had not screamed I-aaa at the wrong moment. Neither had I started the song with “I am the dog”. And that needed to be a victory. Urte beamed at us like a summer sun over her hot pineapple with paprika sauce and ice-cream, and Jonathan padded me on the shoulder.

    “I came to hear a good song”, he said.

    “Don´t you dare!”

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