Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Annual 1985 > Good Timing
“It's really very simple,” explained Danny, lobbing the remains of his cheeseburger breakfast into a nearby garbage can as he and Doris stepped onto the street, heading for the school. “Take eggs, for example. Have you any idea why so many people eat hens' eggs?”
“Because they're too small to be used as footballs?” asked Doris, flicking through a well-worn copy of Othello to find a relevant speech. Across the road, the students of the School of the Arts were milling round its grey stone steps, waiting to go in. Leroy and Coco were leaping round a ghetto-blaster that sent Lionel Ritchie's distinctive phrasing ringing through the crisp morning air, two first-year students were working on a mime, another was practising her body-popping and Chris was strutting back and forth to some hidden rhythm on a Walk-man. Danny was beginning to move to the beat when the loud blaring sound of a car horn shattered the chaotic harmony of the scene and he and Doris were forced into an undignified scramble to avoid a light blue sedan, racing to beat the lights at the next intersection.
“Women drivers!” shouted Danny from the safety of the curb.
“It was a man, you chauvinist piglet,” Doris pointed out. “I saw him quite clearly.”
“Yeah? Well, I bet his mother taught him how to drive, said Danny, before returning to his discourse on hens' eggs, and why people eat them. “You see, the reason that people eat so many hens' eggs is that -”
“Cockerels don't lay them?” Doris suggested pointedly.
Danny held out his hands in a plea for patience. “When a hen lays an egg, it squawks,” he explained. “That makes the eggs easy to find. When a goose lays an egg it doesn't say anything at all.”
“Perhaps geese don't share your inimitable grasp of the English language.”
“I mean that if you wanna sell eggs, you've got to advertise. It's no good hiding your light in the bush. A bird in the hand and all that. You've got to promote yourself in this business.”
Danny fielded a basketball that had strayed from a street-corner game and dribbled twice round Doris.
“Promotion is the key to success, Doris,” he continued, bouncing the ball from hand to hand. “If you don't make a noise nobody's going to listen. And then you end up like all the other turnkeys.”
“So much for woodcraft,” said Doris, breaking off and walking over to Holly, who sat hunched over a book in the cold morning sun, muttering over Hamlet's soliloquy in preparation for her English project. Danny dribbled the basketball up the street and took a shot at the rusty basket attached to the wall. The ball bounced against the brickwork, rolled round the rim, and flopped out.
“You always that bad?” asked a young Spanish boy with a beret pulled down over the side of his face. “Or have you been taking lessons?”
“One to one - the first to three? queried Danny, by way of a challenge. The boy - Pete - grinned his acceptance, flipped the ball through his legs, dummied Danny, cut inside - and scored.
Pete scored the second as well, but with dogged determination and a little bit of luck Danny pulled back all-square. When a long-shot from Pete bobbled clear, Danny sprang upward to try and flip the rebound in, but Pete's skinny fingers beat him to it and he fell clumsily to the ground, badly grazing the knuckles of his hand.
“That was a foul!” complained Danny in time-honoured tradition.
Pete shook his head. “That was no foul. You timed your jump all wrong.”
“My timing's perfect,” Danny protested.
“Oh yeah?” Pete nodded towards the school and Danny turned. The steps were empty. He'd been so busy he hadn't heard the bell. As he ran towards school the derisive laughter of the young basketball players followed him down the street.
When Danny arrived in the music class, ten minutes late, Professor Shorofsky glanced pointedly at his watch without breaking the impressive flow of his words. Danny meekly made his way to his seat.
“The ear is an extremely delicate and complicated instrument. After the pinna collects the sound waves, the tympanum - with the help of the ear ossicles - transmits the vibrations to the base of the cochlea, which, in turn, converts them into nervous impulses that are passed along the auditory nerve to the brain. Can you understand what I'm saying, Amatullo?”
“I can hear it, but I can't understand it.”
“I'm talking about the human ear.”
“I've got acute hearing.”
“You're not wearing an earring,” whispered Doris.
Danny abandoned his attempt at a low profile.
“Peculiar ears run in our family,” he said, mock-serious. “And you've got to admit, ears that run are peculiar. My grandmother had extremely unusual ears. She was so late paying the rent that the landlord said she'd got 200 dollars in arrears.”
Professor Shorofsky's sorely tired patience finally snapped. “Amatullo!” he said sternly. “Having chosen to ignore the blatant rudeness of your late arrival, I had hoped you might reciprocate the gesture by paying attention.”
“I'm sorry, sir. It's the comedian in me.”
“In music, Amatullo, as in comedy, timing is all important. Understanding the sophisticated machinery of the human ear helps open up thitherto unknown depths in music for the listener.”
“But surely it's just a series of notes?”
Shorofsky signed and walked over to the piano. He played several notes at irregular intervals.
“What was I playing?” he asked. The class remained silent. Shorofsky then picked up a ruler and rapped out a rhythm on top of a desk. It was immediately recognisable as Oh Susannah.
“You see,” he said. “the notes were right but the timing was wrong. The spaces between the sounds are almost as important as the sounds themselves. Unless you can appreciate nuances and subtlety the quality of your whole life will suffer.”
“What's nuance?” asked Danny.
Shorofsky smiled. “It's something that doesn't slap you in the face like a wet kipper. It leans towards delicacy rather than overkill.”
“You mean that a song that's got, say, a lot of violins in, that's got a lot of nuance?” asked Danny, trying to show willing.
Shorofsky shook his head. “No. The presence of violins means nothing in itself. It is the way instruments are deployed that is important, not how many instruments are used. More, in musical terms is not necessarily better. Often it is quite the reverse. The style of much modern music - constructing tunes in the way a greedy child concocts a milk shake, piling one glop of sickly rubbish on top of another - indicates a poverty of imagination rather than a creative surplus. If, Amatullo, you approach your comedy in the same way, it would go a long way to explaining why so many of us fear for your future.”
Lost for a suitably witty reply, Danny buttoned his lip. As Shorofsky explained how the different horizontal and vertical hearing planes placed paramount importance on the position of instruments on stage, he tried to figure out what someone like W. C. Fields would make of the professor's view on comedy. After ten minutes he gave it up, gripped with a growing feeling of inadequacy. After all, Fields was a genius, and he was just a kid in school.
But, on the way to drama class, Danny's spirits were unexpectedly lifted and he began to appreciate some of the benefits of school life when Darlene Rogers stopped him in the corridor. Darlene was the daughter of a well-known L.A. magician and she had promised to lend Danny one of her father's books to help him with a routine he was working on. She also had the brightest blue eyes in the whole school.
“I'm sure I put it in here,” she said, rummaging through her bag. “Unless . . . yep . . . typical. I left it in my locker.”
They chatted noisily as they walked to the downstairs hallway. There was something about her eyes that put Danny at his ease. When she finally found the book she gave it to him with a smile like sparkling wine.
“There's a Jerry Lewis retrospective at the Film Forum tonight. You wanna come?” The words were out before Danny had even thought of them.
Darlene's smile faded from her mouth, but her eyes still shone.
“I'm sorry, Danny,” she said. “Any other time I'd love to. But my dad's flying in tonight. He and Mom are thinking of getting back together again.”
“Bad timing, huh?” smiled Danny ruefully. “Some other time, maybe?”
By the time Danny reached the drama class it was well under way.
“You're late,” said Reardon.
“Sorry,” said Danny, putting the magic book down on his desk.
“Perhaps you'd like to give us the benefit of your ideas?”
Danny opened his exercise book. “The school's going broke, OK?” he began. Reardon nodded. “And they have to merge with another school to save money. But this other school is for delinquents. They have these great big guys in gangs who terrorise everybody in school. The teacher have to be armed. Guards with sub-machine guns stand by the desks. Only one guy - a comedian - keeps the gangs from taking over, and he's in love with the gang-boss's girlfriend . . .” Danny's voice trailed off as Reardon held up his hand.
“West Side Story, it ain't,” said Doris.
“But it could work!” Danny protested. “I've thought it out. Most of the action could take place in one classroom, and the storyline could carry plenty of songs and even a comedy slot. And at least it's modern.”
“So is cream cheese in aerosol spray cans,” said Reardon. “I accept that you've worked hard on this, and apparently you've researched it quite well, but as an idea for an end-of-term project it's a little bit . . .”
“Like a milkshake?” offered Doris gleefully. “With lurid ideas heaped on top of each other like so many scoops of goo?”
“It's a curious analogy, Doris,” Reardon remarked. “But not far from the truth. A good idea can lose its impact if it is lost in a torrent of other, less good ideas. Good drama relies a lot on -”
“Let me guess,” Danny interrupted. “Timing?”
That lunch time, while Coco, Leroy and Chris rehearsed an acrobatic dance number and Doris and Holly swapped wafer-thin sandwiches along with the latest Hollywood gossip, Danny took himself off for a walk. He wanted to get away from the school for a while, to clear his mind of the seemingly endless technicalities that went hand in hand with becoming a successful performing artist.
Danny padded alongside the cratered city roads, trying to rebuild his confidence. He hand started the day in such a carefree style. He'd worked hard at his projects, he'd thought up a couple of neat one-liners, and he fully expected it to be one of those days when everyone recognised the fact that not only was he a natural comic talent, but also an extremely hard worker and an all-round good guy to boot. He smiled Human beings are the only animals with the ability to laugh - and the only animals with the pretensions worth laughing at.
Danny suddenly realised he was hungry. Less than ten yards ahead, a man in a black bobble hat stood studying the outside menu at a burger bar. Danny hurried in and ordered a coke and a hot dog with all the trimmings. He was dipping into his wallet to pay when there was a sudden shout, and in the mirror behind the counter he saw the man from outside, with his woollen hat pulled down over his face, waving a large pistol in the air. A sudden eerie silence descended on the scene.
“This is a stick-up!” yelled the gunman. The man behind the counter emptied the till with shaking hands and Danny tried to slip his wallet back in is pocket. He wasn't quick enough. The man rapped his shoulder with the butt of his gun and grabbed Danny's wallet as it fell on the counter.
“Hey! That's mine!” Danny complained.
“Tough break, sap,” said the gunman, seizing the rest of the money and backing off towards the door. “It was your bad luck to be in the wrong place -”
“Yeah, I know,” Danny finished for him. “At the wrong time.”
By the time Danny had given the police a description of the man, he was late yet again. As he hurried back to the school he was seething. He had particularly wanted to be present for the English class because he had worked so hard on his project. It was the one way he could salvage a disastrous day. The subject had been ‘Shakespeare in modern America', and although he didn't know a lot about Shakespeare, he figured he'd got modern America pretty well covered. The way he saw it, if Bill was alive today, he'd be working in Hollywood. And if Macbeth had been a hit, there would have to be a Macbeth II. It was with this in mind that he'd written a voice-over for a trailer for Macbeth II. He ran it over in his mind as he rushed through the city streets.
“You laughed at A Midsummer Night's Dream . . . you cried at Hamlet. Now, you can chill once again to the knife-wielding Monarch of Murder - Macbeth! In dank Glamis Castle a warrior king and his voluptuous wife unleash a blood-drenched orgy of supernatural terror when they fight once again to cheat the curse of the witches. Death Stalks the battlements, ghosts prowl the eerie passageways, evil and intrigue lurk in the flickering shadows as, outside, the creeping terror of a living forest turns paradise into a garden of evil! This unrelenting saga of vengeance and disaster sends the scare-o-meter past overload into the forbidden zone. If Macbeth scared you - Macbeth II will have you climbing the walls. The king is back!”
He liked it. He'd put a lot of work into it and he reckoned it was relevant and pretty funny. And there was nothing in it about timing. He looked at his watch as he neared the school. Fifteen minutes left. There was still time! Even Miss Sherwood would have to give him credit. It would knock her socks off!
Danny burst into the classroom, gabbling his excuse.
Miss Sherwood told him to sit down.
“I want to read my project,” he said.
“Very commendable, Danny,” said Miss Sherwood, “but you'll have to wait your turn. We're listening to what Doris has to say.”
And Doris had plenty to say. She went on and on about the relevance of Shakespeare to today's world, how the bard had laid bare the human condition five hundred years ago and still people ignored his message, indulging the evil in them until the human race found itself on a fast train to oblivion.
After a particularly virulent attack on the existence of the diet industry when half the world was undernourished, Doris finally sat down.
Danny was first to his feet.
Miss Sherwood folded. “All right, Amatullo - the floor's yours.”
Danny beamed. At last. He cleared his throat. “It seems to me, that if someone of Shakespeare's talent was alive today,” he began, “that the one place he could exploit his talent to the full would be . . .” He paused to give his words maximum effect, and the bell rang. “Hollywood!” he shouted. “Listen up, you guys, this is good!”
But his words were lost in the hubbub of a class set free.
The next day Danny got up early. He was feeling confident, victorious even. During the night he had dug up some quote from Cobbett about the uselessness of music. He'd also got a list of the biggest grossing movies of all time and shot Reardon's timing rap right out of the water. He'd don some work on the history of the catch-phrase that he felt sure he could draw Miss Sherwood on to once he'd softened her up with his Macbeth stuff. As he set off in plenty of time for the first lesson he felt better armed than an octopus.
So the others though he was a clown. That was his ambition, wasn't it? His target was Vegas, the top, and the stuff he gave them was just a spin-off, the mechanics that every pro has in his armoury, one liners and asides he'd learned on the way, the kind of stuff Pavlov gave his dog. The real work needed a more sophisticated audience, people who would go with the flow, with no mention of petty rules like timing.
When Danny reached the school he was surprised to see that the only people in the street were Pete and his pals playing basketball. Surely he wasn't that early? He checked his watch. Dead on time. He shook his wrist and put his watch to his ear. It was working perfectly. He peered into the school hall. It was empty . . .
And then it hit him. Saturday. Perfect timing, wrong day. The school was shut. He sat down on the steps with his head in his hands, laughing fit to bust. If he needed proof that he could raise a laugh, this was it. He was still laughing when he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder.
“Darlene!” He laughed, looking once again into those bright blue eyes, like teaspoons filled with the Caribbean. “What are you doing here?”
“Just walking,” she said with a smile. “I've not met you at an awkward time, have I?”
Danny got up and linked her arm as they walked past the basketball game. “Not at all,” he said, still laughing, “I'd say the time is pretty near perfect!”
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