I, Hyman Roth, an erstwhile flugel player approaching the middle of life’s journey, one day found myself in a parking lot in Revere. In the wall of an edifice bordering the lot was a portal, above which were inscribed these words:
WELCOME TO DRUM CORPS HELL.
DON’T ASK AND WE WON’T TELL.
I paused to study this, and soon a strange figure poked his head through the mysterious opening.
“Dear Hymie,” said he, “thou who gaveth me both mirth and ulcers. I have been sent to be thy guide.”
My heart leapt within me. Was the apparition who spoke thus really Jim Wedge?
“Scarecrow!” I cried. “Be this a joke? And how canst thou, who at least hath a semblance to the living, lead me through the netherworld?”
“Never mindeth the details!” he spat. “Just get thy arse in here. And bringeth some beers.”
I followed him down a winding road until we came to a vast, open space. On a paved road around the clearing circled three ancient coach buses. The passengers therein were buried to their necks in reeking laundry, and they cried out piteously in hunger, thirst, and discomfort. In the middle of the clearing, hideous demons dined sumptuously on steaks and lobsters.
“What manner of torment be this?” I asked the wizened hack beside me. He replied,
“Behold my friend, the Road of Greed.
These wretches kept their corps in need.
Used bingo funds to stuff their faces,
Consigned their units to low places.”
I inquired as to whether these inmates were corps directors who had mismanaged the common purse.
“Thou art a veritable Sherlock Holmes,” chimed the Scarecrow. “And now these ruined souls are sentenced to Eternal Tour, with neither food nor drink nor pit stops.”
I found the scene too evocative of personal memory and bade the lanky pathfinder to continue our trek. We proceeded lower along the trail and reached the overlook of a canyon. At its bottom were thousands of men and women, encased from their waists downward in solid ice. Along the canyon’s rim, a host of beautiful maidens and strapping youths danced provocatively. The prisoners of the ice wailed in frustration.
“How doth this grab thee?” sang Wedge,
“This be called the Pit of Lust.
Punishment indeed quite just,
For those who only thought of getting,
Illicit joy and heavy petting.”
I remarked that some of the pit’s denizens looked a bit long in the tooth.
“Many that you see belonged to alumni corps,” explained my mentor. “And they will serve alternate stretches of a thousand centuries here with equal periods in Diabolic Divorce Court.”
I was saddened to see old acquaintances among their number, and I begged Scarecrow that we take a detour to the innermost circle of this infernal region. He countered that there were still five more Deadly Sins on our itinerary, and also some interesting gift shops.
“As thou didst once dilute thy charts,
And grant me all the simplest parts,
So I shall now abridge my jest,
And give this little shtick a rest.”
My guide lifted a bony arm and pointed to a faraway light. “Come then,” he pronounced solemnly, “and see thy doom. Thou asked for it.”
We descended in silence and eventually stood on the edge of a cliff. Below us was a field of green, miles across and marked every ten yards by chalk lines, on which countless brass players stood at attention. They wore the uniforms of every corps known, and flames licked their feet. Surrounding the field was an army of fiends, who raised an abominable din by scratching blackboards with their talons and scraping tin pans with forks. This insufferable clamor was supplemented by the screeching of a legion of banshees.
But making a worse racket than all these unholy things was the Devil himself. He stood on a high tower in the middle of the field, blowing into a bugle with dozens of diverse bells and playing a dissonant rendition of “Danny Boy.” His victims were so pained by this cacophony that blood ran from their ears.
Wedge grimaced and said,
“Look before you, Mr. Roth.
Here you see the Field of Sloth,
For idlers loath to practice bugles,
And Satan always welcomes flugels!”
I could stand it no longer. “Merciful Scarecrow,” I pleaded. “Verily, this hits too close to home. Pray, take me back to whence I came.”
He laughed maniacally. “Tone-deaf sluggard, this be thy home. Go now and meet thy new instructor.”
He handed me an antiquated horn, a wreck with sticky valve and broken rotor. He bent his face to mine, his foul breath redolent of stale coffee, Miller Lite, and clam bellies, and gaveth me the Kiss of Judas.
I saluted him with the venerable gesture that those in the world above dub, “the Bird.” I then marched off to the rehearsal that never ends.
Those of you who marched probably had nicknames. I was christened Hymie my first night in the 27th Lancers, and in ensuing years my fantasy life became so intricate that I formalized the moniker and expanded it with a surname. Cinephiles will note that Hyman Roth is also the name of a character in “The Godfather II.”