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.

 

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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