(GK: Garrison Keillor; SS: Sue Scott; TR: Tim Russell; TK: Tom Keith; PB: Phillip Brunelle)


TR: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but on the 12th floor of the Acme Building, one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions --- Guy Noir, Private Eye.


GK: It was one of those cold January mornings when you look out the window and see the steam rising off the river and feel the wind come right through the glass. (PHONE RING, PICK UP) Yeah, Noir here.

TK (ON PHONE): Who's this?

GK: Guy Noir.

TK (ON PHONE): Okay. Listen. I got a problem. Are you familiar with Swedish Alzheimer's?

GK: Swedish Alzheimer's? No, sir. What is it?

TK (ON PHONE): It's the one where you forget everything except that you've got to clean the basement.

GK: Okay.
TK (ON PHONE): That's the kind I got. And the problem is---- I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name.

GK: It's your doctor, sir. Dr. Armbruster.

TK (ON PHONE): Oh, right. What'd you call me about?

GK: I called to tell you you're getting better.

TK (ON PHONE): That's good to know.

GK: And congratulations on winning the lottery.

TK (ON PHONE): Thanks.

GK: That's the Norwegian lottery. A million dollars.

TK (ON PHONE): Wonderful.

GK: You get ten dollars a year for a hundred thousand years.

TK (ON PHONE): (LAUGHING) I love it.

GK: You're welcome.

TK (ON PHONE): And I'd like that with extra cheese and onions.

GK: You've got it. Did you hear the one about the Norwegian lottery?

TK (ON PHONE): What about it?

GK: You win ten dollars a year for a hundred thousand years.

TK (ON PHONE): (HE LAUGHS HARD) That's a good one. I love it.

GK: I can tell. (MUSIC) It'd been a slow month and my only case was a choir director who was threatening to quit his job.

TR: His name is Philip Brunette. You've got to talk him out of quitting, Mr. Noir. We've had financial problems and all, but --- I don't know what we'd do without him.

GK: Where's your church?

TR: Well, it's not exactly a church anymore----- (BRIDGE)

GK: I went out there and found it was a church that had been turned into a bowling alley. Zion Lanes --- (BOWLING AMBIENCE )

TR: I prefer to think of it as a faith-based recreational facility.

GK: What happened?

TR: Attendance went down after the stock market went bad. So we sold the organ to a pizza parlor and the pews to antique stores, we got rid of the altar on E-Bay, and put in sixteen lanes.

GK: But you kept the choir----

TR: We did. But we've had to cut corners. (BRIDGE) (BOWLING AMBIENCE OUT)

GK: The choir director, Mr. Brunette, was in his office. He was trying on a goalie mask. ---- Looks like choir directing may be starting to get to you, sir.

PB: It's just that somebody in the choir keeps shooting rubber bands at me ----

GK: Ouch.

PB: When I least expect it. When I look down at the music. Wham. Right in the chops.

GK: In rehearsal?

PB: Rehearsal----- concerts ----

GK: Shooting rubber bands. Really---

PB: Thirty people in choir, it's hard to keep your eyes on everyone--

GK: Of course.

PB: It's gotten so I'm almost afraid to take my eyes off them or else this little THING comes winging at me ----

GK: Quite a surprise, I imagine-----

PB: Sometimes I let out a yelp and my baton goes flying ----

GK: Terrible.

PB: Kind of embarrassing --- during a Bach cantata ---- for the conductor to throw his hands up in the air and let out a yelp.

GK: I can imagine.

PB: I don't know if you've ever conducted music, Mr. Noir----

GK: Never did, sir. I was an organist for awhile, but the monkey died.

PB: You get wound up kind of tight sometimes----

GK: Yes, sir.

PB: You shoot a rubber band at a guy who's wound up tight, he's liable to jump out of his pants.

GK: Any idea who might be doing this?

PB: No.

TR: There's one of the tenors ----Winthrop Tortuga --- he's been acting kind of funny. Sneaks around behind potted palms, that sort of thing.

GK: It's usually somebody you'd never suspect.

PB: There's one more thing.

GK: What's that?

PB: Someone in the choir keeps clearing their throat. Or coughing.

GK: During a performance?

PB: Yes. During the quiet passages. A big harrumph.

GK: Very distracting, I'm sure. What do you say I slip into a rehearsal undercover and pretend to be a singer? Or I could just hum. Whatever you like. (BRIDGE) So I did. The singers milled around. A choir is like a family, so they were pretty rough on each other. Chairs were pulled out from under people sitting down (TK GUY SITTING DOWN, FALLING, CRUNCH OF BONE, GROAN), ice cubes down the back (SS SCREAM), you sort of got the idea that shooting rubber bands was part of ordinary life. (PITCH PIPE, AND CHORD)

TR: To make up our budget deficit, we're putting out a CD, "A Choral Salute to Johnny Mathis" ----

GK: A very underestimated singer----


GK: Beautiful.

TR: We're doing weddings. Second and third marriages. Renewals of vows. Declarations of partnership. Corporations. Federations. Mergers of all kinds.


GK: So you're earning money any way you can, huh?

TR: We've been fundraising very aggressively. Finding underwriters and so forth. And now we put the underwriter's name right in the lyrics-----

GK: In the lyrics???

TR: It's called "product placement." Everybody does it now.


GK: So that's how you make your budget, huh?

TR: It all adds up. ----Not sure if you're aware of this or not, but a couple years ago Congress passed the so-called Shenandoah amendment to the Farm Bill. It pays a choir up to $2500 for every concert in which "Shenandoah" is not performed.


GK: Could be a real moneymaker.

TR: We have ten different versions of "Shenandoah" and we don't perform any of them.


GK: Sounds like a real public service to me.


TR: And at Christmas you can collect $50,000 by giving up the right to do Tchaikowsky's "Nutcracker"----- It's called a Nutcracker easement---- sort of a set-aside.

GK: You know ---- I saw a guy in the second row reach into his pocket.

TR: Which one? (SHENANDOAH NO. 4ffUNDER)

GK: The one with glasses and dry thinning hair and corduroy pants. Sort of slumped over and glaring at the conductor.

TR: He's a composer.

GK: Oh. He's definitely got something in his hand, though----- No, it's only dental floss---- wait! It's that woman ---Hey! Stop! (SMACK)

PB: OUCH!!!!!!!!!

GK: Okay, lady------ I saw that. Hand over the rubber bands.

SS (ALTO): Me???

GK: Yes, you. I saw you. Don't bother lying to me. What's going on? You know you could put somebody's eye out? Where'd you ever learn to shoot a rubber band like that?

SS (ALTO): I taught third grade for fifteen years.

GK: Well, that explains a lot. Fifteen years teaching third grade---- It's a wonder you're not knocking over liquor stores. You okay, Mr. Brunette?

PB: I'm fine. It just grazed my scalp. I can't believe that --- an alto. An alto-------would assault me.

SS (ALTO): We have feelings too, you know. We're not robots.

PB: I'm shocked.

TR: Altos are sort of the border collies of the music world, Mr. Noir. Snow, sleet, rain, or dark, they're there, keeping the herd moving in straight lines.

PB: A tenor, yes....a bass---- okay...a soprano? Of course. But an alto! It's unthinkable. It's like being attacked by a librarian.

GK: Why did you do it, ma'am?

SS (ALTO): (WEEPY) I used to be the soloist on "Shenandoah." That's why----

GK: Ah.

SS (ALTO): The one time I ever got to sing alone without all those sopranos screeching around me----

GK: Of course----

SS (ALTO): I got to sing the second verse. "O Shenandoah, I love your daughter. Away you rolling river."

GK: I'm sure it was beautiful.

SS (ALTO): It was my moment in the sun. Me, Karen Olson-----

PB: Did you say----- Karen Olson?

SS (ALTO): Yes----

PB: Weren't you in a sextet called The Buffalo Gals?

SS (ALTO): Yes!!!

PB: Montana! The Battle of the Little Bighorn Re-Enactment!

SS (ALTO): You played the part of Curly, General Custer's bugler----

PB: You remember----

SS (ALTO): How could I forget? You were soooo good! ----

PB: Thanks----

SS (ALTO): Every night, you got scalped and every night I sat in the audience and cried. When you stood, your scalp bleeding, and you said, "Someday men will fly down these hills with strips of wood on their feet. And women will sit at lunch with a small box to their ear and speak to Chicago and Philadelphia." ---- and you died, it was so moving.

PB: I know. And then we'd go out to roadhouses and do the tango.

SS (ALTO): I'm sorry I didn't recognize you.

PB: It was a lot of scalpings ago. You were a soprano then, weren't you----

SS (ALTO): I was. Then I matured. (BRIDGE)

GK: So they brought back "Shenandoah," so that Karen could have her solo, except they changed the words -----


ALTO: O feather boa, I long to see you
He's gone-----Jesse Ventura
O feather boa ---- O great bravura
CHOIR: He's gone ---- he's gone away
Running from the jury.

GK: I dropped back in to see them the other day and they were busy rehearsing and everything seemed just as it ought to.

PB: Okay ---- Sopranos, altos, tenors----- a few changes: the first four bars in 3/4, not 4/4 ---- in bar 13, bring the pitch down half a step ---- and in bar 15 through bar 24, a whole step ----- and then at bar 44, instead of strict tempo, write in "molto rubato"---- Thank you.

TR: How about us basses?

PB: You just sing it exactly as you did before.



TR: A dark night in the city that knows how to keep its secrets, where one guy is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions --- Guy Noir, Private Eye.


© Garrison Keillor 2003