Accordion Rant (Excerpt from an unfinished story)

Here’s an excerpt I wrote about BAD ACCORDION music, taken from an unfinished short story. The main character, after a late evening of crazily sampling many other fast food restaurants in the dead of night (a spoof of John Cheever’s The Swimmer), arrives at his final destination and waits for his order at a Mexican drive-thru. The problem: In the late hours, when business was slow, the cooks used to play dance music at deafening levels, which almost always included the accordion. This character detests the accordion.

Yes, it’s all very silly and the only point here is to be playfully descriptive.

As I awaited my cheese quesadilla, anticipating gooey gobs of hot, melted cheddar wrapped in the seductive sheath of a corn tortilla, an intolerable strain of music suddenly assaulted my ears through the drive-thru window. The cook must have brought a boom box in for after-hours listening. For me, it was an agonizing din, so unbearable, so wretched, so unbelievably wrong that each note struck with blunt force trauma — the uninvited clamor vomited from what’s often mistaken for a musical instrument. Namely, that oversized harmonica some people call the accordion.

I was not a fan of the rusty squeezebox. I believed there should be a special place in Hell reserved for the inventor of that nightmare. It had always been my opinion that the only good accordion was one that had been backed over multiple times by a bus. To my ear, the accordion aurally depicted the final death throes of some pathetic creature caught in a wood chipper.

It’s not that I hated the instrument, per se, I just hated my life whenever I was within earshot of one.

Worse than the thumbscrew, worse than a thousand cuts of death, if the accordion had existed in the middle ages, it would have been used by the Spanish Inquisition as a medieval instrument of torture; the crown jewel of pain and suffering, the musical equivalent of being drawn and quartered.

Pain and suffering was indeed popular in the middle ages, so popular that leg stocks and spiked neck collars were practically a fashion statement. On any given day, I had read there was a rigorous schedule of activities and entertainment to enjoy. Activities like watching a live burial, or a morning stretch on The Rack, or roasting to death inside The Brazen Bull, or stepping into The Iron Maiden, a vertical sarcophagus with double doors and very annoying razor-sharp spikes inside that inappropriately poked at private parts, and if you had survived the experience, might have led to a lucrative sexual harassment lawsuit. In short, these devices were all guaranteed to inflict unbearable pain. The accordion fit right in.

The Grim Reaper himself, who back then, would have run a thriving business lurking in the shadows of bubonic plague outbreaks, saw the obvious windfall of the accordion and immediately plied his trade to the mass exodus of souls rapidly reaching room temperature at public executions. Our Grim fellow even reaped more benefits when rowdy spectators got too close to the stage, exposed themselves to the bellowing death rattle of the accordion, and dropped like the swollen gunny sacks of oxygen-guzzling riff-raff that they were (now worm food), undeniably and reliably dead before they hit the cobblestone streets. The angel of death, of course, as any right-thinking person would do, saved himself by inserting a bony finger in each ear — ripped from the hand of a corpse.

In modern times, a rousing rendition of Beer Barrel Polka, as played on the accordion, could still bring grown men to their knees, willing to confess to anything. And if it meant being spared the indignity of never hearing the accordion again, even willing to binge-watch episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians without a handy cyanide capsule to bite down on.

There was indeed something sinister about the torturously cheerful quality of accordion music: the musical equivalent of diabetes. It was a Bob Ross painting of spring flowers in Auschwitz; it was the Dalai Lama waterboarding Himalayan tourists.

Out of curiosity, I craned my neck forward to glimpse the cook working in the back of the restaurant, the big zero responsible for the God awful caterwauling that blared out the window. A young latino man stood at the grill, lightly bobbing his head to the irksome two-step of the music. Looking lean and muscular, in an embroidered grease-smudged western shirt, his cowboy hat tilted forward with an air of virility, a bottle of Corona in one hand, he was the heir apparent to total badass. But what the fool didn’t realize was when coupled with the emasculating cock-a-doodle-doo of the accordion, its clunky keys and squawking bellows merrily molesting the air with a soul-crushingly sappy oom-pah-pah, the status quo of this badass downsized into something more milquetoast and effeminate, like he had pulled his underpants over the outside of his pantalones. His strength of self-reliance, gone. An Aztec warrior, now a Disney princess.

This is why Señoritas, I surmised, were fleeing their countries by truckloads, crossing the border and going buck wild with American men. They had only wanted their children to have better lives, away from the persecution and destructive vices of Mexican polkas, and even further away from the accordion. At first they pleaded, then they cajoled, and their Hail Marys ran into exponential numbers. They tried picketing villages, carrying signs that said, “Real Men Don’t Play the Accordion,” and “Aren’t Our Breasts Squeezable Enough For You?” But nothing worked. The accordion had taken their breadwinners away from them. They had nowhere else to go. In their desperation, they even considered marrying Republicans.

I felt despair for the budding muchacho at the grill. Why, oh, why, did our youth throw away their lives this way? I wanted to shout, “An accordion is not an escape, it’s a trap! Just say no!”

Meanwhile, as the music droned on, and with no signs of stopping, I wondered when the fight-or-flight syndrome might kick in. When you’re stuck in line and the music is lousy (AKA some inconsiderate SON OF A BITCH is playing an accordion), it’s like being trapped in the underworld. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” I began to worry that, in an act of desperation, I might suddenly lose my cool, slam my foot on the accelerator and launch several thousand pounds of Toyota Camry from zero to sixty in the suicidally limited confines of a fast food drive-thru. Thankfully, the cashier then arrived with my meal.

The girl, still with that inclusive smile, leaned out the window and handed me the bag. “Here’s your quesadilla, sir. Enjoy!”

I thanked her and dropped the sack in the adjacent car seat.

That first whiff of the food, however, was the harbinger of an additional problem, the musical equivalent of another fine mess. I wasn’t sure if it was the ill-advised medley of ten previous fast food stops or the nauseating wail of the accordion, but the gluttonous orgy had apparently mixed everything together into some sort of microbial casserole. In other words, the gastric upset left me feeling like there was an old license plate rusting in my gut.

The first sign of alarm came from the cashier, her huge-socketed eyes engulfed in terror. She knew from the sour expression on my face that a fast food refund was imminent. Then, with hell-bent propulsion, like the after-effect of a lighted match tossed in an open sewer, my gaping mouth stretched into a cavernous yawn, and with a heave-ho, the contents of my stomach went south, projectile style.

Gallons of pre-chewed food, bubbling like cascades of molten lava, gushed down the side of my car, across to the drive-thru window (which the cashier, in reflex, slammed shut), and splattering onto the pavement below. It was X marks the spot. Ten fast food potlucks one too many, followed by an unwanted sidewalk pizza delivery, with extra bile and spew. In short, I had a yak attack in front of the girl of my dreams.

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