Q4 2018

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

 

Rodney-Scott Del Vecchio

Rodney-Scott Del Vecchio is a reclusive journalist thought to be living in a small loft in Richmond's Historic Fan District. Rarely in the public eye, Del Vecchio was one of the first reporters to pick up the tale of tomatoband and he remains the unofficial Archivist of the band to this day. Quarterly, Del Vecchio pens a short piece concerning the activity, or lack there of, within the tomatoband realm. His handwritten, mailed manuscripts are always a delight to read and a true insight into the strange, often murky microcosm that is tomatoband.

 

Yesterday morning it dawned on me that I was not at all myself.  I had not visited the botanical gardens in weeks, nor had I spent any time feeding the ducks at the local pond or stopped to pet the neighbor's cat who frequents the sunny patches of my front porch.  I had not even plucked the interest to take an amble along my own humble avenue to witness the blush of autumn return to the trees that split the shady boulevard outside my front door.  Normally, I adore autumn.  I welcome its crisp freshness like an old pal and relish in the delight of an evening cool enough to warrant unearthing the musty collection of knit sweaters from the furthest reaches of my cavernous closet.  I drink spiced cider squeezed from the finest Virginia apples and clad my rotund corpus in yards of lush corduroy.  I am, in short, an autumn guy.

But this year felt different, somehow.  My historically placid mind was all a'flutter and I found myself stalking fervently around my house, muttering excitedly and chewing the ends of my nails.  I needed a break before my will to live gave out entirely and I collapsed in a heap of blubber and beard on the living room rug, twitching slightly as the final throes of death played out.  Sometimes, when I start to think that I might be really losing it, I like to clear my head by driving slowly in rush hour traffic while ferociously, and quite openly, picking my nose.  There is a certain respite I take in the knowledge that dozens of commuters around me stare aghast at the sight of a seemingly respectable middle aged man digitally drilling his own snout with such vigor for minutes on end.  I was, however, forced to stop the practice on moral grounds.  One afternoon, I looked up from a particularly vicious manual exploration of my sinuses to realize, quite sheepishly, that my little show had been the root cause of a handful of fender benders that had turned the congested freeway into a fracas.  I left the smoking hulks of several cars in my wake as I turned tail and headed for home.  With 'traffic picking' out of the question, I searched my brain for other options.

A vacation was needed to soothe my overstretched nerves and to restore the buoyant equilibrium in which my soul floats so comfortably.  Now, as most of my readership is doubtless aware, I have remained blissfully unemployed for the better part of my adult life, but I still find it necessary to take decided vacations, just an old habit I've kept up with through the years.  Not all vacations are as pleasant as they may sound, mind you.  I can recall a fateful trip to Majorca in the early 90's with my old friend, Dirk Beef, who had his boat anchored there for the summer.  Dirk, the old dog, convinced me to take on a challenge at the hotel restaurant in which I would be compelled to consume copious amounts of raw seafood in exchange for eternal glory in the form of a polaroid photograph of myself tacked to a board behind the bar and a free tab for the evening.  I heard “free bar tab” and not much else.  Besides, it is not uncommon for me to down several dozen oysters in one sitting at important holiday parties; I accepted immediately. 

Perhaps you have already guessed from the mention of polaroids tacked behind the bar, but our hotel was not one of the finer houses in Majorca.  That would have been too far from the truth for even my imaginative mind to conceive.  So you can imagine, then, the state of the seafood when it arrived.  The oysters, while still positioned impressively on the half shell, resembled the refuse of sea gulls and the snow crab legs carried the unmistakable scent of diesel fumes.  I don't even want to start on the squid.  This was not the 'fruits de mer' that I had become accustomed to in southern France.  

Now, I am not a man to neglect his nourishment, but this noxious nosh was beyond even my cool demeanor at the dinner table.  I gave Dirk a scowl that could have sent him across the river Styx and dug in.  Remember, there was a bar tab at stake, here.

Three hours later I sat belly up at the hotel bar, burping and stuffed to bursting with heaps of questionable seafood.  I swirled my rum over ice and tried desperately to hide my discomfort, which was becoming increasingly impossible due to my greenish pallor, feverish sweats, and bouts of nausea that caused me to emit loud groaning noises each time I shifted in my chair.  The other guests stared in disgust.  Needless to say, the snorkeling trip I had planned for the following morning had to be postponed.

With all of this in mind, I decided on a safer option.  It had been some time since I had seen a movie, and I was curious if Audrey Hepburn had any new material worth looking into, so I decided to go out and rent a videotape.   Well, let me tell you, there wasn't a Blockbuster in sight!  It occurred to me that my beloved neighborhood had become quite gentrified over the years and that most houses in the area probably had extensive VHS collections and multiple VCR sets, eliminating all need for a video store altogether.  I snorted with contempt at their greedy ways and gave up all hope of finding a Blockbuster nearby.

Scoffing, I continued down the block and around the corner toward my cozy local tavern where I can be found, most evenings, rosy cheeked and ranting.  The air was brisk and the breeze was sharp as I buttoned my blazer and turned up the collar, glad I had worn a turtleneck.  Ahead, the tavern was a glowing beacon, a halo of golden light that promised comfort and ease.  I was hungry.  I drew closer and began to unscramble the chalk letters that made up the daily specials on the blackboard near the front door.  Escargots.  Boeuf Bourguignon.  Root Vegetables.  Pomme Frites.  I was starting to fantasize about wine pairings...

Inside, the light was soft.  Brass railings gleamed alongside deeply burnished wooden surfaces, and the well worn black and white tile floor had just begun to collect the usual refuse – dropped napkins – the odd pomme frites, that would be swept out at the end of the evening when the waitress' hair hung in tired strands and the last shots were poured.  I could not imagine a more perfect little restaurant. 

Stepping inside and un-fastening my coat, I waved a friendly greeting to Prescott at the bar and took up my usual chair in the corner.  I ordered a tall, dark, thickheaded stout and retrieved my notebook from the blazer that hung on the back of my chair.

My thoughts turned, as they always seem to do under the right influences, to tomatoband.  I had been following closely as my friends trekked diligently through the Carolinas, bringing their ethereal sounds to welcoming new audiences.  I had received advance recordings of new songs and sound-pieces that left me yearning for more.  But the most extraordinary news I had heard from the band was that they would be returning to play in Richmond in less than a week's time.  I was floored.  Memories from my eight years of covering this band flooded back.  This was the city where it had all started, where the joke was first imagined, first told, and first misunderstood.  This was a place where the band was still largely unknown, as the news of their recent triumphs on the road has been slow to travel.  It was thrilling to think of what this ensemble had planned for their return to this city that is so ingrained in their history.  As I reflect on this band, now reaching their stride, I am reminded of the great Alexander of Macedonia, student of Aristotle; of Julius Caesar on his crossing of the Rubicon; of fearless Arthur and the stoned sword, and of all the other great and noble characters from tales of legends past.  All of whom pale in comparison to the idea that is tomatoband.

My reverie was shattered with a call from Prescott at the bar, “Another stout one, Vecc?”  I inhaled deeply through my nose and nodded, smiling slightly through eyes that were still damp with the dew of recollection and tapped my empty glass thoughtfully.  Like the changing seasons, something special was about to happen...I could feel it.


 

 

 

R-SDV

October 8, 2018

Richmond, VA.  Fan District

Q3 2018

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tomato season

 

Rodney-Scott Del Vecchio

Rodney-Scott Del Vecchio is a reclusive journalist thought to be living in a small loft in Richmond's Historic Fan District. Rarely in the public eye, Del Vecchio was one of the first reporters to pick up the tale of tomatoband and he remains the unofficial Archivist of the band to this day. Quarterly, Del Vecchio pens a short piece concerning the activity, or lack there of, within the tomatoband realm. His handwritten, mailed manuscripts are always a delight to read and a true insight into the strange, often murky microcosm that is tomatoband.

 

It is around this time each year that my mind begins to wander to far off places.  Summer descends slowly onto the city and settles like a cotton blanket over a starched bed, bringing with it a pace and cadence all of its own.  Breezes that carry the balmy scent of jasmine rustle the verdant leaves of the boulevard ginkgo trees and make me glad that I chose to take breakfast on my screened porch.  I have heard some people say that nothing sounds like summer quite like a screen door slamming.  Clearly, those people have never heard the inside of a conch shell, but that is neither here, nor there.  It is with these dog-day diversions intact that I feel it appropriate to recount a recent tale of mine that might be of interest to a wider audience than just the tired ears at my local tavern, at which, I must say, I spill my finest conversational prose.

 

.           .           .           .           .           .           .

 

I was operating under false pretense last month in Central America when I happened to chance upon an old friend of mine who unintentionally—but, alas, completely—blew my cover and sent me scurrying off down a jungle airstrip under a frenzied hail of machine gun fire.  I had been following up on a tip from my friend and publisher, Carlos, who had come across a backordered shipment of a particularly delectable vintage of my favorite Cote d’ Rhone sitting in an abandoned warehouse in El Salvador.  It was, no doubt, an unfulfilled order for some cartel boss, but Carlos assured me that the entire shipment, some 24 cases in all, could be mine if I were only to present myself in person to collect the goods and providing that I could secure a large enough plane to handle the extra cargo. 

I was ecstatic.  Not only was I thrilled at the prospect of a brilliantly succulent Cote, but also because it had been some time since I had seen the mysteriously dark jungle spill out onto the rugged, bleached beaches of the Central American coast.  I could almost see the wind-battered palm trees and smell the plump corn tortillas as they roasted over an indigenous kitchen fire. I immediately climbed up to my attic and brought down my boogie board.  I was ready for the tropics.

There was only one issue with the entire scheme.  Sometime in the eighties, when most people alive today were either younger or not yet born, I took a solo trip down the Pan-American Highway in my old Land Rover Defender.  I chugged through the Mexican desert, expansive and baking, and the enclosed spookiness of the tropical rainforest night, practically swimming in insects and moths the size of a cigar box.  I know this because I keep a specimen framed on my mantle at home, next to a cigar box. I met thousands of wonderfully colorful people along the way and collected just as many unique recipes for my kitchen counter Rolodex, which I hold quite dear.  The whole experience was a true delight and there was hardly a sour moment…then I arrived in San Salvador.

I had lost my passport due to an unfortunate moment somewhere in the Yucatan in which I had mistaken it for my sheaf of rolling papers, and so I needed to get to the American consulate to order a new one.   The guard outside the compound, dressed like a Contra, took an immediate dislike to my unkempt appearance and my distinctly American demeanor. He began shouting and pointing his assault rifle in my direction, causing me great alarm.  His aggression prompted a flurry of defensive—yet incoherently broken—Spanish from my startled mouth.  Through the animated hubbub and the murky soup of translation, I managed to convey to the guard not that I was a harmless, lost tourist in need of a passport, but that I was a multi-national drug and weapons dealer who had done naughty things to his mother the night before…or something to that effect.  You can understand, then, why I was unceremoniously knocked unconscious with the stock end of his rifle and awoke many hours later in a putrid Latin American jail cell with a rather large bump on my head. When I was finally allowed to use a phone, I got in touch with a colleague in Washington who owed me a favor. I had recently saved his cat from sure drowning in a flash flood while hiking in Utah, so he got to work on my case immediately and with much vigor.  After a complicated series of diplomatic movements, I was eventually freed but under the condition that I never again find myself within the borders of El Salvador.  

Because of these unfortunate circumstances, it became clear that the only sensible way for me to collect the promised cases of Cote d’ Rhone was to assume an alternate identity for the trip.  This was no trouble, at all.  I always keep a slew of passports and credit cards at my disposal, so I unlocked my safe and selected an incognito character I had devised some years before: Sergei Romanov, a Bulgarian dealing in antiques; dedicated bachelor and lover of Beethoven.  All I had to do was shave my beard into a moustache and have my hair styled in the European fashion.  This done, I commandeered a Cessna 172 from an acquaintance at the local airfield and flew it myself to La Libertad, where a tiny airstrip had been carved out of the jungle to facilitate any sort of illicit activity that might suit the locals.

The tarmac felt like a sponge as I touched down in the tropical heat.  I breezed through ‘customs’ and met my contact, Rico, in a dark cantina just beyond the airstrip where, over cool beers and many glasses of mezcal, we were able to come to an understanding about the wine and a price we could both agree on.  We were rosy cheeked and grinning beneath our sopping moustaches as we finished the bottle and munched the worm in celebration of a friendly deal done. We staggered out into the heat to supervise his team of Salvadorans who had begun loading the crates of wine onto the plane at Rico’s orders.  My head was feeling like a beach ball as I prepared the little Cessna for flight. Although I was in no shape to fly—but seriously, when did I replace my retinas with kaleidoscopes? —I had an important speaking engagement at a Moose Lodge in Connecticut the next evening and did not want to miss the open-bar reception that followed.  So, the decision was made to fly, drunk or not.  

As the locals finished loading the plane, Rico slurred through his Central American smile that we should retire to the cantina for one last tot before I departed, a gesture of good will and mutual trust.  Though I was sure that this would be the drink that would cause me to collapse, I found myself swaying toward the cantina and slapping backs with my new amigo, Rico.  Our eyes had barely adjusted to the darkness inside the saloon when I heard a shockingly familiar Australian accent shout my name from the far end of the bar.  My heart dropped like a stone to the floor as I recognized the unmistakably toothy grin and customary swagger of my old friend, Mick, a native of the Gold Coast who practically invented the modern foam boogie board of which I am so fond.  My mind went blank, I could see my façade melting away.  Beneath a thatch of salt-bleached hair he called out again, “Rod-Scott, ya barmy ol’ cad!  I got me noodles for nostrils if it ain’t me ol’ mate Del Vecchio himself!”  As he pummeled me across the shoulders in delight and slopped beer down the front of my linen shirt, I could see the distrust forming in Rico’s face.  Rod-Scott? Del Vecchio?  Slowly, his grin faded and his eyes, which only moments ago gleamed with fast friendship, glared darkly into my own.  The deal, which had been all sewn up, was rapidly disintegrating as Rico gathered his hazy thoughts around the fact that I was not who I claimed to be.  And then, as things so often do in the banana republics, the shit hit the fan.

Rico reached for the revolver that was tucked into his belt, but fumbled drunkenly, giving me just enough time to scamper back out through the saloon doors into the blinding sunlight.  Thankful that I had worn my canvas lace-ups, I sprinted in the direction of the runway, not daring to look back at the commotion that was gathering behind me. I could hear Rico shouting for his men and several vehicles gunning ominously to life.  They were in pursuit.  This was not good.

I ran toward the plane ahead, unattended and idling with the cockpit door ajar.  I thanked my drunken stars that I had prepared the plane for takeoff and had carelessly left it unlocked and idling in a land of thieves and smugglers.  

Bullets began to scream overhead and strike the tarmac around my feet.  I was grateful that these men were drunk and coked henchmen and not trained snipers.  As I neared the plane I snuck a frantic glance over my shoulder to see several dusty pickup trucks jostle out onto the runway; men stood shakily in the beds and hung out of the windows firing AK-47 rifles and all sorts of handguns in my direction.  I became aware, strangely, that this was the only time in my life that I had ever been shot at.

Bullets peppered the plane but left me miraculously unharmed as I dove for the cockpit and the throttle.  The plane was moving before I could even pull myself upright and close the door.  This was it, my only chance.  Cessna’s are not known for their speed, and this one was no exception as it trundled down the short runway, growing ever closer to the stand of jungle trees looming at the eastern end.  At the last possible moment, I pulled back furiously on the stick, clenched my teeth to the breaking point, and closed my eyes as the plane began to rise into the air.  The landing gear clipped the crest of a palm tree on the ascent, giving the aircraft a frightful shiver, but it was soon airborne and coasting away from the hostile contingency on the ground, which was becoming less threatening by the second as the men gradually turned into ants.  My heart soared.  I cannot describe to you the feeling of narrowly escaping a gruesome death other than to say that I was ready for a glass of Cote d’ Rhone.

The propeller filled the cockpit with a satisfying hum, easing my frayed nerves and pulling the plane steadily northward.  I adjusted in my seat and reached across the cabin for my pipe, feeling my shirt come unstuck from my back as I extended, relishing every sense of being alive.  I realized, with a touch of dismay, that several cases of Cote behind my seat had been compromised by the erratic gunfire of moments before.  I lifted a bottle from the wreckage, its neck almost perfectly broken off by a bullet, and took a long pull.  Suddenly, I could taste the south of France, the peaceful and rugged Rhone valley, and the delicious nectar of summertime.  Though, it still felt like something was missing. Music.  

Fortunately, before I left on this wild caper, I had received an advance copy of tomatoband’s latest studio release, ‘Routine Interactions’, from my four friends in Charleston and this seemed like the perfect time to finally give it a spin.  The first notes hit like a wave on the Pacific, and before long I was adrift in sonic bliss from this band, who I have come to adore for their ability to be consistently unique.  This was a new sound of summertime, a melody for all sun-bleached adventures, and a journey to the far reaches of the hedonistic human condition in which the summer season is the culmination of all things most loved.

The sounds of summer are old and new; some yet unheard, and others lost to time. As the sun set in the West over Acapulco the Cessna gently glided through Caribbean airspace.  Among the clouds of ever deepening mauve and tangerine, I sipped my contraband Cote and allowed the balmy sounds of tomatoband to cleanse my spirit and soothe my nerves like salt water on the skin.  I pushed the throttle forward, coaxing more throaty power from the prop.  There was an open bar in Connecticut, and I intended to attend.

 

 

 

R-SDV

May 26, 2018

Caribbean Airspace.  Heading NE