Yes, sir, I remember it now, same as if it was yesterday, which it was, and not a hundred years ago, like it might have been, as this old bugger remembers, or thinks he does, when old Jaenke got the reins of the whole shebang, control of all of us, as those things go, yes sir, the night he come down to the camp to see us all, see what we do, and get us right, I figure, because things been going not so good, no sir, so he get us a new tune for dancing, yes he do.
Jaenke, new boss of bosses, the big boss, yes he is, he there now by the road in his long dark wagon, see him there, his driver at the wheel, and he in the back, his window dark, but cracked a bit so you see his eyes, that’s for sure, even from way down where we stand in the old road, you want to call it that, the lesser bosses gather around, as the lesser bosses do, figuring how to get that long black buggy down these narrow ruts through the woods to the pavilion, because Jaenke ain’t walking, that for sure, and the lesser bosses they point this way and that, the big boss looking out his window, you see the light inside, and his eyes peeking out, you do.
It’s our meeting once a year, the season come to get us a-getting, to learn us the tune that gets us all to dancing, so we go out a-drumming up the new, you know how that is. The jig is it this time? Or the shiggy bop? Or just the same old buck and wing we always do? But this year Jaenke’s also new, and we come to meet him — you got to come — to learn what the big boss want, to keep him happy, up in his office there in town, and to pay respects, that sort of thing, though he live a thousand mile away, and half way up to heaven in a shiny tower.
We loves to dance. Oh my. Yes we do.
It’s summer time, that for sure, hot even in these woods, and mosquitoes this time of day, and evening time, they be hungry and all that, and we stand along that road down here, waiting for old Jaenke in his wagon, and we will stand aside and smile as he go by, and nod respectful, and them as has hats on will take them off. That’s what they tells us, yes they do.
So we stand in this old road, rocks and ruts, and our feet are wet — it’s dark, don’t you know, and water seeps along, as we walk along — you can’t see nothing here in the dark — to get to the pavilion where we’ll be a-drinking, dancing, and later dinner such as they cart down to us — I hope chicken like last year. And then old Jaenke, the big boss, he stand up and talk as bosses do, say welcome to us all, and then start the tune we’ll all dance to next year.
I can almost taste that chicken.
The lesser bosses, they be nervous, they always nervous, so they make nice with old Jaenke. They tells us, you wait, for sure, until we nod, and be polite, and show your hand if he show his and shake it if he want to shake, but don’t squeeze his hand, don’t ask for nothing, just give your name, don’t say a thing, unless he ask, yes sir, and always smile, he like a smile, and then move on, move on.
He wants to check your teeth, you smile and show your teeth, and open wide, don’t cry, for he the one who sign the check, and you like your check, so you got to smile, and show your teeth, and then go on. That’s the way that is.
I like it here right now, here in the woods, not far from some old lake, just off the road, and I see the long low riding car still there, lights shining in the dark, like some wild animal, yes they are, and then the light swings round and washes through the woods, as lights at night they do, and we know he is a-coming down.
The lesser bosses come down, too, walking along that car, waving it through ruts, it sway this way, and that, and they bring it along. Watch out for mud. Don’t hog the road. You all stand aside when that car comes. If he see you, then he see you, you smile, and if he don’t, he don’t.
Then the car drive by, slow and swaying back and forth as it ride up and down the ruts, like ocean waves, and the lesser bosses push and pull and wave, guide that car here, and there, and walk on us, stand on our heads they would so they can push the thing along, like we was rocks, and yes we are. That’s just the way that is.
I see the big boss there inside, peeping out that crack, as he ride by, and he looking at my eyes, my teeth, and I’m all smiling, yes I am, and if he see me, that’s what he see.
He live a thousand miles away, old Jaenke do, high up in all that glass, looking out some window on some high floor, I suppose, and I figure seeing me a thousand miles away, as I go place to place selling the good he make, and good they is, yes sir, seeing me through that glass — he inside, I outside, that’s the way that is — and mostly I’m a-smiling and a-dancing, that for sure.
Cause he the boss. And that’s the way that is.
Night comes on pretty well out here, be so hot mosquitoes, they sweat so they get too fat to fly, so they land on me, and suck my blood, what bloods done not been sucked, and they get more fat on that, and fall on the ground, and there they are, a-breathing hard, so full of blood, and happy, unless they step on or get run on by that wagon.
We linger in the night, a-walking down the road, smiling in the dark, to the meeting. Yes we do.
I hear old bullfrogs there, their horny croaking, full of pain and loneliness, in the woods, I figure somewhere there a pond. Sorry old Mr. Bullfrog to interrupt your wooing here tonight. And somewhere in the woods, crawling up some trunk, I hear locusts, too, breaking out of their old shells they got living in the ground, hello Miss Locust, coming out of them old shells tonight all wet and humming for the love of night, at first not knowing where they are, then knowing, then flying off, you hear them, can’t you? And further off, the loons.
I’d like to crawl up some old tree someday, crawl out of my old shell, yes sir, bust out of my old self sometime, and dry my wings and fly off then in a search of love.
We keep a-walking, and soon we come to that pavilion in the dark, and all of us, the worker ones, we go inside, and stand around, all quiet, waiting to do what we supposed to do, to meet the boss, shake his hand.
In the middle is the space for dancing. Cool air comes in from the open walls out there. You can’t sit down. You don’t sit down. No sir. Inside we buzz like flies, and wait.
The car come up, the driver gets his door, and he inside, sitting there, get out, and turns to us inside the light, like he don’t know where he is, like he been listening to his radio or talking on his phone, doing something he won’t let go of just yet, but he see us waiting there, and he smile and wave and he crawl out of his old shell and come our way into the night.
At first I think he just an ugly thing, and maybe you want to keep an eye on him. I do. He stretches his arms and legs so he get comfortable, likes he own the place, and maybe he do, and it’s all new, and he spot a pretty one of us, and steps right up and touch her arm, whisper in her ear she giggle, yes she do, and the two of them parade right in, like they been friends forever.
Inside he look around, like bosses do, at this or that, and our buzz die like winter come, and bring a silence to the snow. We wait and watch the lesser bosses, too, so one step out like this, one foot, then that. Then another do another thing, but not unlike the first. You know something going to come of this, but you don’t know what it is. Them bosses seem unsure. You wondered how things start, how something follows something, as it do, but you don’t know exactly what will be. You not supposed to know, for that the fun of all that. But it come on. Another boss give it another go. And each time one go on, they all look hard at him, or her, and wonder.
While this be going on, we start to move, we do, like ice inside a glacier, flow along. A boss done touch his ear, and you see that, and you go to moving up, you do. I got the heebie jeebies, yes I do, and they be bad, and I worry it’s going to come out wrong, and they all look at me, and I think, lordy what to do, but you don’t think, oh no, you just go, then someone near the big boss wave me on, and I float on up, I do, and smiling, and showing them the teeth he might likely want to see, he do or don’t, and, if his hand comes out, I put out my hand to his, yes I do, just like my boss told me, and say hello or something nice, but nothing much, he don’t have time to chat, no, he the boss’s boss, and if you’re a lady — which I am not! — he might give you a hug, yes, if you a lucky lady and you look all nice, he like that sort of thing, but you let him do the hugging.
They buzz around, the bosses do, like chicks there in the nest, hungering for something they don’t know what. Then Boss Jerry, he be my boss, he put out his foot, and tap the toe. You hear it all around. Then he stick out the other shoe and do the same, a tap, tap, tap. And ain’t that nice. It is.
And Boss Clyde, he take a turn, a slide along the floor, that sound of sole of shoe on floor, then a tap on top of that. Then Boss Bob, he give a slip and tap, then shake his leg, and Clyde, and Jerry come in again, and they all go on, all looking at the others, as lesser bosses do, yeah, then they all doing something like they is one, all of them, a mess of taps and slides and such. And they sure having fun. And showing us, for sure.
Then look there, the ears of the big boss grow, get dark, and big, and round, and they flower out, and stretch like wings aside his head, and from deep inside, somewhere I don’t know, deep inside that head he got, that head too big for that round body now, that skull, there come a rumbling sound, a long bass sound, so smooth it push out his nose, and his nose pushed out get long and flared, and his hands hold on his nose, like it be a horn, and the big boss blows, he do, and make a tune with that, and the little bosses dance to it, all together now, Jerry, Bob, and Clyde, and all the rest. Oh smooth, the way them bodies move to sound that come from that old skull, a-coming out that horn that was a nose, and his puckish mouth be a singing now words I never heard before, for sure, but know that same as if I understood. Sarah, too, she step out now, and she slide across the floor, like it be ice, and she be wind, and slip, and tap, and tap, and tap, then a tap, tap, tap the other shoe, and it go on from there, and all of them, and on and on, her old body, that for sure, a bird she be a-flying in, and then Jerry too, like he got wings, and then he do got wings, he do, and Bob, his fingers be strings which with his other hand he pluck, a lute he is, for sure. They good, oh yes, real good.
Jaenke, now, he be small and green, round head, and body, little legs, and he be bobbing up and down, and singing, too, he scat — that’s saying nothing, but saying all that need be said — and his nose grows more, and he make the saddest happy horn, that man can play, he can. And they all dance, their feet moving, or they fly and flapping wings, all in tune with what that old man play, and he play on and on, and hop around, and roll along, and hit them notes high and low, he do. Then Sarah she come close to me, she touch me on the arm, and there I go, my turn, my turn, my feet move on I don’t know how, or where, or do they touch the ground, and others come along, plucked from the shore like lonely frogs, and we be one, all dancing, moving round, except the boss who play the tune we dance to.
Yes, we do.
His face it large, it round, his ears flap in the wind, like wings, and he step round and round, he green, his nose go up and down, his fingers wiggle, change the notes as we be dancing to his tune.
We is angels, insects, animals, yes we are, and the magic starts again, a brand new tune old Jaenke there is playing, as he go among us now, and all the world it hear his horn, his nose, a trumpet, clarinet, trombone, and he a-singing. The other bosses, the lesser ones, they kick in, they do, they be the same as us, and we all dance, and dance, and dance, and leap and sing, and that’s the way it going to be, as the year it come along.
Yes sir, it sure seems now like it was yesterday, and not a hundred years ago, as this old bugger remembers, yes I do, and now I out a thousand mile away, and going round here and there to sell the boss’s good — and good it is — and do the dance, you know, and think the old man up there high up in his glass, he be watching, and I sure he smile at me, and I smile back, and show him all my teeth.