We entered the sandy arena three abreast and stopped in the center. We raised our trumpets, flags adorning the extra-long bells, and began to play. I have always gotten a thrill from the bright sound of tightly harmonized trumpets, especially when I have helped produce it. Halfway through, the two trumpeters on the outside turned to face opposite sides of the arena as we built to a climax.
When we were done, we marched out of the arena, through a hall and up some stairs to a small unadorned room, a closet really, where our instrument cases were kept and where we spent most of our time. We listened to the muffled noise from the arena as the knights were trotted out and attempts were made to whip the audience into a frenzy, waiting for our next cue.
It was 1990, or thereabouts. I was in college and earning some extra cash playing fanfares at Medieval Times Restaurant in Buena Park, California. The friend who got me the job was another trumpeter. He sat on the floor and leaned against the wall in our closet, his eyes half-closed, a generally laid-back kind of guy. All the trumpeters were about my age, college kids, adequate musicians like me, or more than adequate like the other boy in the closet who, in his spare time, actually wrote the fanfares we played. He was a thin, blonde guy, often quiet and dreamy. Sometimes before the show we would sit down where the horses were kept, and he looked at a cute young horse-trainer and said wistfully, “That’s the one I want.”
We had a variety of duties. We played fanfares before the show to invite people into the hall as well as fanfares throughout the show. We also had some non-musical tasks to do such as clearing the plates of the Duke and Duchess who presided on a dais above the main entrance to the arena. That particular task had a tremendous side benefit. There were three shows a day and no Duke or Duchess ever wanted to eat three roasted chickens in the space of 8 hours, so they would usually eat some of one, and then just place their napkins over the others completely untouched. It was then the trumpeter’s prerogative to take the chicken back to his closet and devour it. I learned the pleasure of digging my fingers into roasted chicken meat, peeling it from the bone. I learned the location of the oysters and the pleasure of popping them in my mouth.
We were sent on random errands sometimes, to the kitchen or to escort a patron. Once, after helping a customer, he pushed a ten dollar bill into my hand. I had never gotten a tip before, and I tried to give it back to him, but he insisted.
My paycheck was dispensed from a black booth such as you see at the back of theatres, often given to me by one of the men who played the Duke. Like the guys who played the knights, he was handsome in a theatrical way, with long hair and a full, well-trimmed beard.
It was not a bad job, and it paid as well as anything else I could have gotten at the time. But it was sporadic and nerve-wracking, as show-business tends to be, I suppose.
One weekend I got a call from the Duke that one of the other trumpeters couldn’t make it, and I needed to come in. I really, really didn’t feel like it. I had planned to have a nice relaxing day. I told him that I couldn’t come in, which wasn’t strictly true.
The next week, I went to clear the Duke’s plate, which was on a low table by his throne covered neatly with a napkin. Knights were make-believe jousting in the sandy arena below. The Duke looked down at me kneeling by his side and informed me that my refusal to come in the previous week was “a fireable offence.” I remember his lips forming that phrase: “a fireable offence.”
I said nothing, but my thoughts could have been summarized as “Whatever, asshole.” Expanded somewhat, my thoughts were along the lines of, “If having some self-respect is a fireable offence, then fire away, asshole.” In retrospect, I realize that I was privileged to not need the job, to be a middle-class college student living with his parents. In any case I said nothing and don’t know if my face conveyed any of my thoughts.
And not long after that, maybe a few weeks, the Duke called me and fired me. I did not mourn.
Many years later (okay, about ten), I was eating lunch with coworkers at a very different job when somebody asked whether anyone had ever worked at a job where they were required to wear a hat. I said that I’d never had a job that required me to wear a hat, but I’d had one that required me to wear tights. General merriment ensued.