Sammy sat in the back booth of his regular café in West L. A. He read the sports page while awaiting his friends, Ben and David. They’d met here for breakfast every week for years. He looked at his watch. Late again.
Ben entered and spotted Sammy in ‘their’ booth in the back. Sammy had returned to the newspaper.
Ben approached. “You won't believe it. I am so fed up to here.”
Sammy peered over the sports page. “You're late.”
“I know. Where's David?”
“I don't know. He's late too. Have a seat.”
“I'm going to file a lawsuit. They are a plague!”
“Leaf blowers! Don't you know what they’re doing to this city?”
“They kick up dust. They are noisy as hell. They’re everywhere. I think they travel in packs.”
“You mean the gardeners? Sit.”
Ben slid into the booth.
“That's what they want you to think. But they just blow crap around and foul the air with their noise and dust.”
“They get rid of the dead leaves and...”
“They just blow it from one yard to another until it gets to someone who isn't paying them.”
“No they don't.”
“What, you think they blow it all off the edge of the earth? Einstein proved that matter cannot be destroyed, you know.”
“They collect it into a pile and then pick it up.”
“You are so naïve. It's all part of their plan. ‘Mr. Jones, looks like you have a leaf problem. Look at all this crap in your yard. And no trees. Go figure. You should hire me to handle it for you.’”
“Whatever.” Sammy signaled the waiter for coffee.
“I park my car. I just washed it. This blower guy is blowing between the cars, for God's sake! Then he starts blowing the cars! There are no leaves on the cars!”
“He's getting rid of the dust he kicked up.”
“Einstein, my friend. He's not getting rid of it. He's just rearranging it. If they had a vacuum on their back… that would make sense.”
Sammy yawned. “I wish one would go under our bed. I found a dust bunny the other day that must've weighed a pound.”
“I signal him, just wave him back, to stay away from my car. You'd think I threatened him with an Uzi. He's a menace.”
The waiter approached. “Do you want menus?”
“I know what I want. But we're waiting for someone.”
“The other guy?”
“Yeah, the other guy. Just coffee now.”
The waiter looked at Ben.
The waiter said, “He's always late.” He walked back to the kitchen.
Sammy said, “What's his problem?”
“He's right you know. David’s always late.”
Sammy folded the paper and put it aside. “Where is David?”
“He didn't call?”
“He didn't call.”
“The leaf blowers got him.”
The café door opened and David came in. As he walked toward them, he nodded at the waiter and signaled for coffee.
Sammy nodded, “Here he is.”
David slid into the booth. “Hi. Sorry I'm late.”
Ben said, “We were about to send out a search party.”
“That would have helped, because I'm lost.”
“My career is over.”
The waiter poured them water and coffee and left.
Ben leaned in. “What?”
David looked at the ceiling. “I can't write anymore.”
Sammy said, “What about that new client you told me about? You said he wants you to compose for that HBO series.”
“Oh, I have work. But my brain is frozen. I can't think! I haven't written a note in days.”
Ben poured cream into his coffee. “That's not like you, Dave. What are you talking about?”
“I had lunch a couple days ago with this guy I met. I hardly know him. I feel set up. He's a fiend!”
“So, what? What did he do?”
“That's it. I was set up. Who...? I know. It was that guy who harpooned my job with Nickelodeon. What was his name?”
Sammy said, “Slow down. You had lunch. Probably indigestion.”
“No. You don’t know. It's much worse than that... Jason! That's the guy.”
“So, you were having lunch…”
David remembers. “Right. We are eating and having a light conversation. And then he asks, very casually, if he can share a theory he has. What a schemer!”
“So? So what? So now my life is ruined! That’s not enough?”
Sammy gestured to lower the volume. “David. Calm down. It's just a writer's block. Pull back. Play some music and come at things from a fresh perspective.”
“No. You don't understand. This... theory. This travesty has changed everything. I can't un-know what I know.”
Ben munched a cracker. “So what's the theory?”
The waiter approached. “Are you ready to order?”
David leaned into his hands and groaned, “I can't eat.”
Sammy said, “I'll have the usual.”
“Sunny side up?”
Ben put his hand on David’s shoulder. “You have to eat, David.”
“I can't eat. I don't think I've had anything since that horrible lunch.”
Sammy rolled his eyes. “That's part of the problem.”
“I can't. I feel sick… I'm not hungry.”
Ben rubbed his hands together. “Well I'm starved. Give me two orders of your number three combo. Separate plates. And make the hash browns medium well. I like them brown. And wheat toast.
David mumbled, “Sour-dough.”
Ben nodded, “And make one of them sour-dough.”
“And one large orange juice.”
The waiter looked at David. “Anything else?”
David looked up. “Could I have fruit instead of hash browns?”
The waiter wrote. “Of course.”
Ben interjected, “But not too much pineapple. I hate pineapple.”
“Hold the pineapple.”
Sammy shook his head. “Who doesn't like pineapple?”
The waiter sighed, “So, we've got one regular special, sunny side up. And two, number three combos. One with medium-well hash browns and wheat toast. The other with fruit but no pineapple, no hash browns, sour-dough toast. One large orange juice.”
Sammy nodded, “Sounds right.”
David nodded, “Please.”
Ben’s hand shot up. “And give me a short stack of pancakes on the side, please.”
David agreed, “Me too.”
Ben said, “That was for you.”
“Oh. Okay. No pancakes for me then.”
The waiter frowned, “No pancakes?”
Ben said, “Just the short stack I ordered.”
The waiter looked askance, “The ones he doesn't want?”
“Coming right up.” The waiter turned on his heel and left.
Sammy said, “Where were we?”
“The theory.” They looked at David.
“This idiot says we are running out of notes.”
Sammy said, “Preposterous!”
David nodded. “That's what I thought. But he has a point.”
“Stop it David. There is an endless supply of notes.”
“No, really. Listen. He said in a given measure of time, eight bars say, and within a standard scale... whatever the scale, there’s a finite number of pleasing combinations.”
Ben said, “But wait.”
David continued, “And… we have reached the ceiling of those possible combinations! Everything after that is either discordant or derivative. The reality of it has been sinking in ever since.”
Ben said, “But the key is 'pleasing combinations'. Styles go in and out...”
“Of course. But that begs the question.”
Sammy said, “How?”
Alright, everyone loves the standards, the great music of the thirties and forties.”
Sammy nodded, “Of course.”
Ben said, “The Great American Song Book…”
David continued, “You could say tastes change. Or you could say they ran out of that style of melody. Or... they ran out of notes!”
Sammy shrugged, “You could.”
“When Paul McCartney wrote a song mindful of English Music Hall, it’s because it fit in that style. Everyone knew he was writing in ‘that style’…”
Ben said, “Okay.”
“…Affectionate, but derivative.”
Sammy nodded, “Sure.”
“By the sixties, the style had changed. It was rock's golden age, but a short lived one. That ran out pretty quickly.”
Ben smiled. “But what great music. You remember the Chiffons?”
David continued, “The eighties ‘New Wave’ tried to mix it up but they painted themselves into a stylistic corner. Same with jazz.”
Sammy nodded, “I see where you're going. Now we have rap and…”
David hit the table. “See what I mean? Now the only thing melodic is digital sampling from those earlier styles. I was born too late. It's bankrupt.”
Ben said, “But wait. You just have to string notes together in a 'pleasing combination'. Right?”
“Right, Ben. That's all I have to do.”
“Well let me try...”
Ben hummed a few bars. It sounded random but coalesced into the first line of Dan Fogelberg’s ‘Same Old Lang Syne’.
Sammy said, “Dan Fogelberg.”
David added, “By way of Tchaikovsky's ‘1812’.”
Unimpressed, Ben said, “How about...” He started humming the Chiffon’s ‘He’s So Fine’.
David shook his head, “Uhm...George Harrison... Give it up. This is too painful. It's all a fading dream.”
Sammy leaned in. “It can't be as bad as you think, Dave.”
“Every time I play a new melody, I realize it's an echo of another song.”
“They say imitation is the sincerest form...”
“You don't get it. This isn't just about me. If this is true, and I think it is, the whole culture could be on the verge of collapse.”
Ben said, “Like with the leaf blowers! It's all coming together...”
Sammy said, “Not now, Ben...”
David brightened. “Maybe this is what happened to the Mayans. Or the French!”
Ben pulled his water to himself. “This is my-an.”
Sammy pushed his water glass toward Ben. “And this is urine.” They laughed.
David watched them. “What can I do?”
Sammy said, “Leave town for a few days.”
Ben said, “Get ahead of the wave, Dave. Invent the new style.”
“But how do I do that?”
Ben smacked his head and fell back against the cushion. “Oh, my God! It just came to me.”
David looked. “What?”
David looked at Ben and Sammy for a long time in silence.
Puzzled, they looked at each other.
Ben said, “David?”
Sammy waved his hand in front of David’s face.
David shifted back into the cushion. A smile slowly spread across his face.