And we're off. He sings. He talks about how much he loves the fresh air up here, and about the Liberace memorial museum in his parents' home near Madison. Then . . . he brings on the other acts.
Joe and Rita Buck. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Joe and Rita Buck." Most of the audience orders another draft. They are out for a long evening of entertainment. Joe sits and plays electric accordion. Rita stands, with the string bass. When they do a very slow and dramatic "Scarlet Ribbons," you could hear a tray drop.
Next there is a lady with a dog act, who cannot control the dogs--four of them. And you sit about six feet away from her as she struggles, using a stick and a whistle, to catch her dogs up to the recorded music.
A grandfather and son come up and play spoons. A fanfare brings up a bartender showing off the catch of the day. The largest fish pulled out of the lake today. A girl dressed in a sari dances to "Song of India." She exits to scant applause, and you see how tough it is for a liturgical dancer to make it.
Eventually, our emcee returns and thanks and pays tribute to an incredible man who had believed in him, shored him up against the monsters, taught him what love is. And given him someone to emulate. That man is here tonight, and would he stand, please?
Reverend James Something-or-other looked like guys who've been shot by a sniper--he looked alive, but you knew he was dead. There wasn't a walleye in the place as he jerked to full height and melted back into his chair.
No act could follow that, but the owner, Carl Marty, could. Checks were being settled as he took the stage with his Saint Bernard, Bernice. Carl may have been completely bombed, I couldn't say for sure. (I didn't know what "drunk" was until later on in life, the night my friend John Thompson made me his Tom Collins and we drove around Reno in a convertible VW bug.)
Uncertain as I was, Carl Marty did speak at length while cigarette after cigarette ashed down his turtleneck. He told the stories of Bernice's bravery in rescuing injured woodland creatures--birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, and chipmunk. At his feet, unmoving, lay Bernice, looking exhausted from her many sallies, or perhaps dead. Nonetheless, incapable of getting Carl off the stage. Finally, voices from the room began chiming in.
"You got that right, Carl."
"No, Carl, there aren't many animals unafraid of the badger."
"God bless you, and may God bless Bernice."
"There'll never be another like her."
"Can we all go home now?"
It was Laura who finally told me what happened. She was the only one Mom could get to go with her. They had driven like madmen to get there.
"Billy said it was going to be a hump."
I love this vision of those two little women barreling down roads simply called Highway X or Highway GG. When night falls, guided only by the aurora borealis, driving deeper and deeper into the woods like Ahmet Ertegun looking for Robert Johnson.
They arrived just as it started. It took them about five minutes.
"Billy, we had to drop our silverware on the floor so we could hide our heads underneath the table."
"Oh, good, you found it. I wasn't sure you would."
At legal speed, it was a long ride back to the lake cottage. Plenty of time to absorb the show. Reflect. Fathom the depth of family. And after, dispense a serving so that all may be satisfied.
"How was the show?"
"Was it good? Describe."
"Astonishing. He didn't, it was . . . he really didn't do it justice."
"He didn't. We really wished you had come. We wanted to call, but there was a man who wouldn't get off the pay phone."
"It was that good?"
"And tomorrow night is their last show."
"I would certainly want to go again."
Excerpted from Cinderella Story by Bill Murray with George Peper. Copyright© 1999 by BIll Murray and George Peper. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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