Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: Chapter 28

On Thursday, Judy Blue Eyes and I met for lunch. And yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re imagining that she ran into me somewhere and I reluctantly agreed to meet to avoid conflict. But that’s not true: I actually called and invited her out. I won’t stand up in front of the church and claim that I had been struck blind on the road to Damascus and was now a changed person. What had happened was that I’d gotten a glimpse that hon­esty with women had at least the possibility of work­ing. Being honest with Judy Blue Eyes gave me a chance to try out my new philosophy before committing to it irrevocably with Anne.

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Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: The Grail’s Story, Part XVII

THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XVII: THE BASTARD PRINCE ARTHUR

The journey from a cave on the Dead Sea back to Britain took Merlin and The Grail several months to complete. Dark-Age Europe was risky for travelers, and there were more than a few tense encounters with brigands or avaricious members of the nobility. But Merlin was not one to be trifled with, and now that he had The Grail to augment his powers, it would have taken more than such random pettiness to be a serious threat.

The days were filled with a comfortable companionship between the two of them. In the evenings they stayed at inns when one was available, begged shelter from anyone who would take them in otherwise. Merlin never met a stranger, charming peasant and lord alike along the way. I have pages of notes filled with history and color that, again, may someday be publishable. But nothing germane to the story took place until they reached the court of King Ban of Berwick, a loyal comrade of Uther.

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Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: Chapter 27

First thing Monday morning I made an ap­pointment for the next day with Dr. Gerry Giles. Dr. Giles was the newest, youngest, and most radical professor in the his­tory de­partment, our token New Age historian offered up by an oth­erwise stol­id and tradi­tional staff as an oblation to the times. I had taken his senior semi­nar entitled The Great in Great Britain: The History of Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall and had ad­mired his offbeat style, even while wondering if he was for real.

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Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: The Grails Story, Part XVI

THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XVI: MERLIN

My next recollection was the heady taste of strong warm wine mulled with currents, honey, and spices. A man was gently pour­ing a draught of this strange, delicious mixture into my bowl, crooning softly as he did. “Easy, there, old fellow. Just relax. We’ll have you fixed up good as new in no time. Here, have another sip.”

The creature holding me was an unimpos­ing man on the unkind side of middle age. His hair and beard were long and pep­pery grey, but combed and neatly trimmed. Deep wrinkles criss­crossed his face, telling tales of long exposure to the ele­ments; beneath the tan he looked more like the inhabitants of Atlantis than the people of Palestine. But his best feature was his eyes which spar­kled with flecks of fire. Continue reading

Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: Chapter 26

The girls left sometime in the wee hours of the morning. I woke up just enough to note by the light coming through the crack of the bathroom door that there was hushed activity going on around me, then drifted back toward sleep. I vaguely re­mem­bered both of them gently kissing me goodbye at the same time, one per cheek.

The next thing I knew, it was 10:40. A typical Sunday morning in the old days, but definitely a radical departure from my new weekend regimen. So I wolfed down a bowl of Cheerios and got right to work.

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Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: The Grail’s Story, Part XV

THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XV: Mary M and Joseph A

The Grail’s description of the next chapter of her saga was pretty sketchy. We engaged in a lot of back and forth as I tried to draw out more details, but there simply weren’t very many. So I have broadly summarized this part of the history.

Later on, when it became apparent that the exact details were much more critical than just a matter of being as accurate as possible for inclusion in some erudite work of history, we poured over the same material again. But that is a tale for later, and truthfully, gained me little.

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Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: Chapter 25

SGT (stage rank) Jenny Slade (real name) sang the blues in a hard-fisted way that brought tears to the eyes of all of us who loved Janis Joplin and had never fully got­ten over our broken hearts when she cheated our hopes by OD’ing. She wore a thigh-length dress-green Army jacket—cut like a suit coat—with gold sergeant stripes on the sleeves and little bows around her ankles and nothing else that you could see. Or at least nothing that I had seen. Although I had at­tempted as ag­gressively as possible while still being reasonably discreet dur­ing all of her writhing and prancing on stage to con­firm the popular rumor that she didn’t have anything on under that jacket, she had never quite revealed her hidden charms. But the raw sensuality that beaded up on her face and dripped down her bare legs wasn’t just from her outfit—in fact, what she wore wasn’t even all that impor­tant. It was her music. She sang to every man in the audi­ence like she had the incorrigible hots for him and him alone, and if they could just somehow steal five minutes backstage, he could bend her over her dressing room table and have his way with her.

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Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: Chapter 24

Saturday was a long day. My typed notes were almost forty pages, which in itself is an accomplishment every bit as remarkable as the construction of the great pyramid, or at least the Astrodome. My brain was frazzled, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready to quit. Fortunately, Mother Grail badgered me into stopping and getting ready; otherwise I would have been late for my date. As it was, it was after eight by the time I got up from the typewriter. No real problem—it never took me long to get dressed. Quick shower, quicker shave, a clean pair of jeans, choosing one of my four shirts with collars.

Judy Blue Eyes picked me up promptly at 8:35. She was (and who knows, probably still is) one of that rare breed, a woman who is consistently on time. On time to her meant five minutes late, of course. Which also meant that it had to be deliberate, since you can­not plan to be exactly five minutes late, time after time, without be­ing just as capable of planning to be right on time. No doubt her subconscious was running the show. The Marquess, as it were, doing what her mother had drilled into her as her grand­mother had drilled into her mother (and still effective despite the sexual revolution because the brain­washing had been done early enough): nice girls don’t appear too ea­ger, lest they send out the wrong sig­nals, and nice boys don’t mind waiting a few min­utes for their dates anyway. Well, I wasn’t a nice boy, but I didn’t mind waiting a very predictable five minutes. She wasn’t really a nice girl, either.

She was looking foxy, too. Normally, knowing that I would be wearing jeans, she wore jeans too unless it would be totally inap­propriate, in which case she would call and sug­gest I “wear your brown slacks,” which of course she knew about since she’d bought them in the first place. But today she was decked out black and slinky, just because she felt like it, and it didn’t matter a fig what I had on.

The Marquis loved it when Judy Blue Eyes dressed black and slinky. He would have been perfectly happy to skip going out at all, or at least make time for a quickie and get there a little late, but he wasn’t running the show (although if you believe that a man’s logical mind is ever in charge when both a woman and his aroused subconscious is involved, I have some hilly property covered with large chestnut trees in South Houston for sale). So after an admiring whistle and a quick grope or two to ex­tend the compliment into multi-me­dia, we headed for the club.

Bilo’s was a fancy dive on Richmond. ‘Fancy’ in that the wait­resses put napkins under your drinks and emptied the ash trays if they started spilling out onto the tables; ‘dive’ in that they swept the floor once a week and have­n’t painted or washed the accumulated ciga­rette smoke out of the curtains since they remod­eled, back when they bought the place from the former proprietor and it was just a regular dive. But they’d added rock and roll regalia to the walls—a bright red Fender guitar, a poster of Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, ads for shows long past at Fillmores East and West, psychedelic album covers from the late Sixties. They kept the lights low enough so you couldn’t really make out how dirty the floor was. And most important, they brought in live music Thursdays through Sundays, which kept the place packed and paid the rent.

There were still empty tables when we got there—we were Bilo’s veterans, and knew how long before the band started you had to be there to get a seat, which is why we hadn’t indulged The Marquis in a half-dressed-in-black-and-slinky quickie. By the time the band showed up an hour later, even the walls were crowded. In a bril­liant burst of entrepreneurialism, the owner had installed a two-by-eight shelf running elbow-high all the way around the wall so that the standing-room only crowds that flocked to hear any band known more than twenty blocks from the ga­rage they practiced in had a place to set their beers.

Sergeant Jenny Slade and the Privates was no garage band, and they could pack larger places than Bilo’s. Unlike the Indigo Poets, the Privates didn’t fiddle with their electronics, harassing the audience with a bunch of errant feedback, either—they were pros of the club cir­cuit and did all that stuff in advance. They just strolled up onto the lit­tle raised area that served as a stage, exchanging nods with a few regulars, plugged in, switched on, and launched right into their first number. It was one of those instrumentals that featured a short solo by each of the mu­sicians in turn as his unspoken introduction, a raucous, driving piece proven to get a crowd fired up.

Performing musicians have a unique relationship with their audience. The works of the non-performing artists—novels and poems, paintings and statues—are orphans. Begotten in dark sol­i­tude, la­bored over with love and hatred, done and undone and re­done, ultimately they are driven forth from their refuge to stand naked and alone in front of the audi­ence. Not at all like the creations of performing artists who must stand on exhib­it be­side their work, sharing in its acco­lades or raspberries.

Like the musician, the stage actor feeds off the energy of the audience. And yet seldom can the actor play his listeners like the musician can. With the words—penned by some playwright safe in his tidy alcove—dominating the per­for­mance, a play is, in the final analysis, too choreographed an activity to allow the depth of interaction that the musician experiences every time he steps in front of an audience.

The Privates were real musicians—two guitarists, bass player and drummer; no brass or keyboard players need apply. We had met them all during breaks at the half-dozen per­formances we’d attended, and although their stage personality was laid back (despite wearing fatigue shirts in deference to the group’s gimmicky name), they were totally dedicated to what they were doing: pay­ing their dues and living the dream. There wasn’t five pounds of fat among the four of them—not because they were literally starving artists, but because food was as uninteresting to them as thermo­dy­namics, something to keep them alive until they could step on the stage and begin ingesting their real nourishment. To a man they loved and adored Sgt. Jenny Slade, recognizing that it was her talent that made it possi­ble to make a living playing music without having to work day jobs like so many of their peers. They were totally dedicated to supporting her every whim, wrenching just the right electronic scream from their instruments when she wanted it loud, or making them weep when she got blue and personal. And if you could actually get them to artic­ulate their an­swer to “the big question,” they all hoped they would die on stage during the thunderous applause at the end of the perfect set.

Halfway through the band’s first number, the audience was al­ready stomping and scream­ing at maximum decibels. The sound man kept turning up the volume so that the crowd noises wouldn’t drown out the guitar licks, finally holding it right there below the pain threshold for the veterans who had already lost the edge off their hearing, slightly into the discomfort re­gion for the cherries. He was good, though; when the final chord began fading and the cheering died down, he’d al­ready backed the vol­ume down so the start of the next song would­n’t blow the beer bot­tles off the two-by-eight shelf.

Then the drummer started a compelling beat which after six or eight measures the bass picked up, and suddenly she was there at her mike stand. Then the spotlight found her and the rocket ­ship that was the stage presence of Ser­geant Jen­ny Slade blasted off. And away we went.

The good ones have such musical impact that it gives them a pre­sence, an aura that sweeps the audience up into their music. But the great ones pour their animal magnetism into their music, not the other way around. They could just as easily harangue the crowds at Nuremburg and have them Seig Heil’ing without an electric guitar or even an accordion in the entire city.

Jesus had nothing on Sgt. Jenny Slade. If she’d owned The Grail instead of me, she could have conquered Europe and been the new Messiah both.

Bronze goblet final

Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: The Grail’s Story, Part XIV

THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XIV: THE LAST SUPPER

Then came Thursday, the Feast of the Passover. Jesus was moody and spent a quiet day, not returning to the temple but strolling through the city, talking calmly to small groups of people, then moving on before a crowd could form. Twice he was accosted by roving patrols of priests and their retinues, and once a large group of soldiers led by Annas himself actually tried to ar­rest him. But each time he used the power of The Grail to pass through his ene­mies unharmed.

That night he slipped away from the growing number of hangers-on that followed him back to the Mount of Olives. Taking just the disciples, Mary Magdalene, and a few of the oth­er wom­en, Jesus retired to a private place to cele­brate the Passover.

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Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: Chapter 23

I waited until Thursday to check my mailbox. Didn’t want to water down the surprise (or be disappointed; you de­cide) by getting there before the wave of responses to my radio appeal did. When I checked, the only thing in my box was a note from the secretary to please see her to get my mail. But there was no problem like overdue postage or a certified subpoena or anything like that; just that the carton of let­ters was way too big to cram in my box.

“RSVP’s for a big party?” She smiled at me, obviously curious but way too shy to come right out and ask. Marcie had a pretty face but was about forty pounds overweight. In my expe­rience, heavy women are either shy because they’ve spent so many years think­ing of them­selves as second-class citizens or else loud and brash and clown around a lot to hide their inner insecuri­ties. I guess the rest of us beat them up so badly with our uncaring—or worse, ignoring—that they have practically no chance to just be themselves. Or maybe their image of themselves is slender and beau­tiful, but it stays buried so nobody will laugh at how ludicrous it is for such a delicate crea­ture to be packaged in such chubby wrapping.

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