I just had a career milestone I would like to share with you all. Recently, I made my violin debut at the Skanky Oar. I performed there as part of a trio, with a man named John on keyboards, and well, I never really did catch the name of the guy on guitar and vocals. How do you get to the Skanky Oar you ask? The answer is not “practice, practice, practice” like the old Carnegie Hall joke goes. The answer is “have a cousin who lives next door.”
We had a free week when the kids got out of school so I called my cousin Frank who lives in Jupiter, Florida and said, “hey, you up for a visit?”
“Come on down, darlin,’” he said, and that was that.
I’m the youngest out of the entire generation of twenty O’Neill cousins, so age-wise, I’m right in between my cousins Frank and Mike and their kids. I love it because I fit in with both of the groups: I get to pretend I’m still a 20-or-30-something-year-old and also, commune with the wise elders all in the same day. My husband is a yankee version of my cousins, they are southern versions of him; whichever way you want to look at it, they’re all big, lovely, loud, jocky guys. He says he feels like he was an O’Neill separated at birth.
The things that are most different between me and my cousins are all based on geography. My Uncle was in the Air Force so my cousins moved around a lot before settling in Charleston, SC, while I was born and raised in the Chicago area. There is a huge difference growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and in Charleston; there’s “you guys” vs. “all y’all” for starters. These cousins migrated from South Carolina further south to Florida and live on the water, fishing from their boats year round, and we are pale landlubbers who are always scared we’re about to be eaten by a shark or attacked by an alligator when we visit them.
Getting ready for a trip on a couple days notice is no easy task, as anyone who has ever done it can tell you. I had to get bathing suits for everyone who had outgrown their old ones over the winter, get a dog-sitter, pack us all up and cancel everything on our calendars—the usual stuff. Our flight was super early in the morning and I was the last one to leave the house and get into the Uber that was waiting in our driveway. My husband was annoyed we were behind schedule. (Why don’t men understand that we’re not inside waiting for our nails to dry, eating bon bons? We are taking care of every single last little detail, things that no one else but us would think about.)
When I got in the Uber, there was hardly any room for me to sit. My husband was in the front seat with the driver, three of us in the middle, two in back and our luggage everywhere. The driver was about to pull out when I said, “Wait! My violin!”
The driver slammed on the brakes and my husband moaned.
“What?” I asked. “Should I not bring it? I want it.”
“There’s literally no room! Where would you even put it? And you know Spirit Airlines will freak out over you bringing it on board. I don’t think you should bring it,” he said.
So I didn’t. But I stewed and wished it was with me. I usually bring my violin with me when we go on vacations, the same way my kids bring their favorite stuffed animals and blankets: it just feels weird not having it. And you never know when you just might need to play your violin.
When we arrived at my cousins’ house, after he hugged me, Frank asked me where my violin was.
“I didn’t bring it,” I said. “That mean old man over there wouldn’t let me,” pointing to my husband, a man born on the South Side of Chicago but who was already speaking in a deep southern drawl within five minutes of being in the presence of my cousins.
“I tole you nuthin’ of the sort! We all nearly missed our flight a-cause of her, we were all waitin’ in the car on y’all! There wasn’t any room, don’t you go blaming this on me, y’hear?”
My cousin Frank was horrified. “What do you mean you don’t have your violin? I’ve got people coming to hear you play at the Skanky Oar tomorrow night! You better get yourself a violin.”
I didn’t know what the Skanky Oar was, but he made it sound urgent and important. He told his daughter, who works for him at his company, to take the next day off and her only job was to help me find me a violin to play on. Jupiter is not exactly a bustling metropolis and we knew we had our work cut out for us. So the next day, Devon made extremely strong margaritas while we hunted down a violin, poolside.
I called the Palm Beach Symphony, a fancy violin maker in the area and several large stores that rent instruments and I had the same conversation or left the same voice mail with all of them and I made sure my husband was always in earshot.
“Hi, this is a strange request. My name is Lynn and I’m a violinist from Chicago, visiting my cousins here in Jupiter. My husband told me not to bring my violin, but now my cousin is pissed. Can I borrow one from you? I’m legit, you can Google me.”
And every time, my husband would put down the beans he was shellin’ on the back porch and shout, “I did not tell you that! You were fixin’ to make us miss our damn flight, is what happened!” (Or maybe, he replied calmly from his chaise lounge, “that is not how it happened.” One or the other.) My cousins kids’ liked the “I’m legit, Google me” and we started saying that as answers to whatever question was asked.
We were striking out everywhere. Devon had an idea to call one last place, a super long shot: a tiny music store that was a couple blocks from them in a strip mall. She hung up and said, “This guy says he has an antique violin that you can use, no charge. I’m sure it’s a hot mess, but let’s stop there on our way to rent the other one, just to see.”
We got out of the pool and drove for about three minutes and walked into a small and very crowded music store. There were instruments everywhere, packed in so tightly, you could hardly get around without knocking into a guitar or a ukulele. It was messy, with stacks of music all over the place. I loved it immediately.
There was a guy named Adam behind the counter and Devon told him we were the ones who called about the violin. He pulled out a case from behind the counter and handed it right over to me.
“Mind if I try it first?” I asked. I took out the bow and violin and gave them a once-over. The violin was really nice looking and was in good condition; I was surprised at the quality. I played it and….it sounded great. Like, really great.
Adam told us that someone had come into the store and just handed him the case and told him he could have it, no charge, and left. Adam doesn’t play violin, but he kept it.
“Hmmm,” I said. “Do you think it’s possible that the violin is haunted and that’s why the person was trying to dump it on you? To escape from the ghost?”
“Well…” he said, looking at me closely, his brow furrowed. “I don’t think it’s haunted. I mean, nothing has happened since I’ve owned it.”
“Mmm hmmm, well that’s certainly good to hear,” I said, encouraged. “What about a curse? Was it an old gypsy woman who brought it in and maybe she put a curse on it and if someone plays certain notes, in a certain order on it, it will unleash demons just like the ones from the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark and everyone’s faces will melt off if I play it?”
“Uhh…no ma’am, it wasn’t an old gypsy woman, either. I’m pretty sure it’s not a cursed violin.”
“Well that’s a relief,” I told him. “Then I’ll take it. And I’m going to pick out some music too, if you don’t mind.”
“Go right ahead and I’ll give you 20% off whatever music you pick,” said my new friend, Adam. “And just drop the violin back off whenever you’re done with it.”
Devon and I looked at each other and shook our heads, tickled over our great, good fortune. We couldn’t believe how easy this was and how we felt there was a bigger force than just plain luck involved. I mean, come on. A great violin was three minutes away, available for the taking, for free? Out loud, we thanked my Mom and cousin Jeanne, both up in heaven pulling (violin) strings for us. We went home and I played my new violin and we all just hung out. I loved playing on that violin.
That night, after dinner with all the cousins and friends, my cousin Frank said, “grab your fiddle, we’re going next door to the Skanky Oar.” John, my cousin’s neighbor, had been the fire chief of Palm Beach County for 20 years and is now retired. He and his wife let my kids borrow all beach gear to use while we were there and were lovely people. Their backyard is part beach, part treehouse, part bar, part Jack Sparrow Pirate Lair. There’s a sign that reads,
BAR, MARINA & WEDDING CHAPEL
We all picked our way over the lawn in the darkness to the Skanky Oar, drinks and borrowed violin in hand. John had his keyboard set up, his friend had a guitar and was singing. I took out my borrowed violin, tuned up, and the three of us played our butts off all night. I loved every second of it. It was hot, muggy, loud, raucous and freaking awesome. I played till I was too tired to play anymore.
We probably sounded like crap, but everyone kindly told us we sounded amazing. John says he’s going to hang the picture of the three of us playing in a place of honor above the bar, just as soon as I send him a copy of it.
The next morning, as we were getting ready to leave, I pulled my Skanky Oar violin out one more time. I gave it really good going over and was surprised, with my margarita goggles off, how lovely of a violin it really was. And the bow! I turned to my husband and said, “I want to buy this. This is an amazing violin and I’m in with love with it and I need it.”
“Y’all have done lost your damn mind now, woman,” he said, spitting his tobacco juice into an empty jug of moonshine he was carrying around with him. He was really going to have a hard time adjusting back to life in Chicago.
Watch this space to see if I get my Skanky Oar violin. It’d be perfect for my daughter, who is ready for a nice full-size violin– or for me, when I jam my butt off in a hot, sticky, late-night bar, marina and wedding chapel.