The Deen Castronovo Chronicles: Part 6, in which we learn that “Drumming is Usually Best Confined to Actual Drums”

Datsun B210What you have to picture here is a 1970’s-era, two-door Datsun B210 crafted from the finest grade Japanese tinfoil—a car that had been knitted together Frankenstein-fashion from the totaled remains of at least two previously wrecked Datsuns to create a whole new car. Yes, such a car might sound dodgy to your modern sensibilities, but my parents, I’m sure, got a hell of a deal. That was the car I drove during my senior year. And I loved it.

Did Deen voluntarily climb into the back seat of my little Datsun that day? Or did I, still in the habit of viewing Deen as some sort of hyperactive adolescent sheepdog, tell him to sit there? I can’t remember, but either way it made no sense, especially since he ended up in the back seat on the passenger side. If he had been directly behind me on the driver’s side, he might actually have had some leg room. Instead Deen, all six-plus-feet of him, ended up behind the long-legged, skinny clarinet boy who was sitting in the front passenger seat. Deen was folded up behind him in the back like origami gone wrong.

Once everyone was buckled in and ready to roll, I leaned across the backseat to address Deen directly. “Okay, Deen, before we go, here’s how it’s gonna be,” I said to him squad-leader fashion. “If I hear either the word ‘Neil’ or ‘Peart’ from you, I will put you out on the curb. I don’t care where we are.” Having said the two magic words, I had Deen’s full attention. “And if I hear both words together? Along with any mention of the man’s divinity? I will take you down to the river and drown you like a sack of kittens. Don’t think I can’t.”  In the rearview mirror I could see the skinny clarinet player to Deen’s left raise his eyebrows and nod as if confirming the legitimacy of this possibility. Deen said nothing, but his expression suggested that he assumed everything he’d ever heard about stranger-danger in his young life might be about to play out in the back seat of my Datsun.

Luckily, Deen recovered quickly, probably because his attention span didn’t allow him to dwell on threats and unpleasantries for long. Deen was, in fact, the living embodiment of attention deficit disorder in all ways except one: drumming. He could, and did, concentrate on drumming to the exclusion of all else, in all circumstances. He drummed constantly—even when no drums were present, even when he had no drumsticks in hand. The actual hardware of drumming, if available, was merely prop equipment that could be used to channel the drumming that was going to come through him regardless. Its presence didn’t cause Deen’s drumming and its absence didn’t prevent it. Deen was soon happily drumming on the back of the car seat headrest in front of him as soon as I had the radio turned on up front. Order had been restored to his world.

So off we went down South Commercial Street to McDonalds and through the drive thru as promised. So far, so good. I soon had my soda in the drink holder, and America’s finest top-forty pop music coming through any one of the five pre-programmed buttons on my car’s Japanese transistor radio. I can guarantee that Rush was not part of Portland’s AM lineup. Journey, on the other hand, probably was. Their album Departure had just been released (and Johnny and I had been listening to his copy in secret every chance we got–information best kept from Glenn and Craig). Who knows? Whatever was playing, Deen was drumming along on my car as if he’d played it all a thousand times before; in fact, he probably had.

The timing would have had to have been perfect, and, of course, it was. Just as Skinny Clarinet Boy up front leaned forward (for reasons that remain mired in the dust of history—if there even was a reason, that is), Deen nailed the headrest in front of him with a hit almost certainly intended for an imaginary crash cymbal. Without the ballast of Clarinet Boy’s body to counteract that force, the paperclips serving as Japanese automotive car springs gave way, forcing the entire seatback (which was designed to pivot forward partially for the sake of access to the back seat) to break forward and down, clamping Clarinet Boy in its jaws as if it had transformed into some sort of toothless Asian alligator. Clarinet Boy reflexively pushed it back toward Deen, but the stays had been so thoroughly broken that it landed across Deen’s lap at an angle that would have been appropriate for Deen to perform dental work if he had been more sadistically inclined. Deen instead pushed the seat back into Skinny Clarinet Boy who was, by then, laughing his skinny ass off even as he got nailed—again—in the back of the head by the seatback.

I didn’t have to try to imitate Deen’s dad that time—the volume and outrage just came naturally. “Deen! The hell? You broke my car!” Deen had raised his hands beside his ears as if I were holding a gun on him, shaking his head and sputtering as if he had no idea what could have possibly gone wrong while Skinny Clarinet Boy remained bent over and cackling.

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