Riot of the Gypsies

It was an odd section of Goodlettsville, TN where lower income housing stretched out to the outskirts of the more rural areas. If you drove just a mile or so down Brick Church Pike, you might run into houses worth half a million or more. We were in the lower income section. Craig was my best friend and we each rented a room from Ben. Ben had gone to flight school with Craig’s older brother. We were all musicians and singer/songwriters. We worked regular jobs. Well… Craig and I worked. Ben was waiting on a workers compensation settlement that was perpetually on the verge of paying out. It had been almost a year since Ben worked his construction job.

We were also the only whites within several blocks. For some reason, everyone was scared of us. I think they thought we were kingpins or something. These three white boys with pick-up trucks who played horseshoes in the backyard… only stopping when the sound of The Andy Griffith Show on TBS could be heard through the screen door. Parents seemed to warn their young children not to walk near the chain-link fence that bordered our yard. Often we would watch the kids get off the school bus and the moment they got near our fence, they crossed the street to the other side. Once they were a safe distance, they would cross back. We were their Boo Radley.

LUKE MCDANIEL

Ben’s dad had been part of the original Rockabilly craze. Luke McDaniel had recorded at Sun Records in Memphis and even played the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport with Elvis. Ben was hoping to follow in his dad’s footsteps. The only problem seemed to be that Ben loved line dancing more than anything else. This was in the early 90’s when that craze was sweeping the whole country.

Eddy was my older brother. Sometimes Eddy would drive up from Alabama and stay a weekend or sometimes longer before heading back to Gadsden. Often he came bearing gifts. He gave in to temptation on one particular trip up I-24… and stopped at a fireworks super center.

Fireworks.jpg

“Hey… I got a shitload of fireworks”, he said as he got out of his truck.

Like kids at Christmas, we all started going through the bags. Within minutes we were shooting off. The sun was going down and we lit the sky with vibrant colors exploding to loud booms. We lit fuses, popped tops off of cold ones and threw some horseshoes. It was magnificent.

Something didn’t seem right though. A crowd gathered in the street. People were staring. This seemed odd to us because our block wasn’t notorious for being quiet. We had never complained of the loud music that echoed from the neighbors. Even the occasional gunshot was ignored by us. Arms were folded, cuss words were mumbled, but gradually got louder. The crowd grew. By the time a bottle hit the fence, we were bagging the unused fireworks and headed inside.

My brother flopped onto the couch, turned on the TV and started channel surfing as we all sat down. Apparently we had missed some breaking news. The police officers on trial for the Rodney King beating had been acquitted and the LA Riots were in full swing. Everyone on the block thought we were celebrating, when in fact we had no idea. Thanks Eddy… good call on the fireworks there buddy!

LA Riots.jpg

The Wrangler was a really popular club in Nashville at the time. My brother was in town and we were all planning on heading out. Craig was having a change of heart. Cash was tight and he was contemplating staying in for the night. I had tried to talk him into going anyhow but he had made his mind up to just chill on this Thursday night. Ben had already left early to pick up his girlfriend before meeting us there later.

My brother was in the shower and Craig and I were rummaging through some of Ben’s junk in a front room of the house that we referred to as Steve’s Office. Of course we had no idea who Steve was, but Ben had taken a door from a demolition site and put it on this room he was using for storage. It was a solid wood door with a foggy rough glass textured window that had “Steve Williams Attorney at Law” painted on it. Hence… Steve’s Office.

Accordion

“Look at this old accordion”, I said as I picked it up and made some of the oddest sounds possible.

“That’s creepy”, Craig said.

“I know… Ben told me to leave it alone. He thinks it may be valuable, but also said it could be haunted”. I said this without missing a beat.

“Bullshit!”

“No… seriously”, I replied. I sat it down.

Of course this was made up on the spot. See… I’ve known forever that Craig was no coward, but the one thing he feared was the supernatural. He had explained this to me on several occasions. Suddenly, Craig felt like showering and heading out to the Wrangler with us. My objective was complete, but a future seed had also been planted.

When we made our way into the crowded club, I immediately sought Ben.

“Ben… if Craig asks you about that old accordion in Steve’s Office… make up something spooky about it… okay?”

Ben nodded with a mischievous grin, then headed back to the dance floor with his girlfriend.

Not long after, we were all sitting at a table near the bar. Craig appeared to be waiting for a break in the conversation, which finally came.

“What’s the deal with that accordion?”, Craig asked.

Without hesitation, Ben proceeded to tell the story of how he had acquired it:

I was riding my bike a few years back and I saw a bunch of junk on the side of the road that the garbage guys were tossing. I stopped when I saw the accordion. I asked the guy if I could have it and said sure… but told me I probably didn’t want it. He told me that the lady who had just died in the house was an old gypsy woman who read fortunes. I put it on my handlebars and took it home. I think it’s worth something.

Rarely does anyone rival my bullshit… but damn… Ben was good.

The following day was probably painful for Craig. He was up and at work by early morning. I had the day off. It was a good thing too… because I had a project in mind. I drove to Radio Shack and bought 50 ft of speaker wire and a blank cassette tape. I ran the speaker wire from Ben’s room all the way to Steve’s Office where the accordion was kept. I kept the wire hidden under the baseboard. I removed a tiny speaker from an old television that had quit working and inserted into a small hole in the wall. The same wall that separated Craig’s room from Steve’s Office. With all the junk in that storage area, the wire was completely hidden there as well.

I then proceeded to record 15 minutes of the creepiest accordion sounds ever. I had no idea how to play the accordion, which somehow made it even spookier. I then put the cassette in Ben’s stereo and hooked up the television speaker to the output.

VCR

Now here’s where it gets tricky. Back in these days, some VCR’s had electrical sockets in the back. These were so you could plug your TV into the VCR and set the timer. This would automatically turn on the TV as well. Instead of the TV, I plugged in the stereo into the power outlet. In short, for one minute each night, around 10:00 pm, Craig could hear accordion music playing near the head of his bed. You could not hear it anywhere else but through his wall. Whenever Craig mentioned that he thought he could hear the accordion, we laughed and accused him of buying into Ben’s bullshit. It was perfect!

Strobe Light

Later on, I took an extension cord and plugged it into the back of the VCR also. I ran this outside Ben’s window, through the bushes and to the window ledge outside of Steve’s Office. I plugged in a strobe light that Craig and I had seen the same day as we originally found the accordion. What Craig didn’t know… is there was a 2nd strobe light that didn’t work. I took this one and placed it in plain site with the power cord wrapped around it, clearly unplugged. The working strobe light was hidden from view outside on the ledge. When the strobe light kicked in with the music, Steve’s Office let out a magnificent glow through the textured glass. Of course all this lasted only one minute.

We were all once again at the Wrangler. When I confessed I was tired and ready to crash, Craig hitched a ride back with me. I set the timer on the VCR in Ben’s room while Craig whipped up something to eat. Not long after Craig had gone to bed, he banged on my door like a madman.

“I hear it again… it’s playing. Come here!”

I slowly got up, acting unconcerned, but really hoping that the 60 seconds of playing would stop so he would think he was crazy. As I walked toward his room, Craig looked toward Steve’s Office and obviously saw the glow of the flashing strobe. By the time I made it there, it had stopped.

“Y’all are messing with me… I know it! I know it!”

“Craig, are you seriously gonna believe a damn accordion is haunted?”

Craig seemed to get his confidence back. He marched to Steve’s Office and stood in front of the door.

“Ben… Eddy? I know one of y’all are in there. I also know there’s a strobe light in there. The jig is up boys!”

At that moment, Craig opened the door and flipped the light switch on. A moment later he was walking toward me.

“That damn strobe light isn’t plugged in. I’m getting the fuck outta here”, he declared.

Craig actually packed a bag, grabbed his gun and went to his Blazer and was leaving. I was pleading with him to calm down. As he stopped at the driveway gate to open it, Eddy was pulling in. As the headlights from both Craig’s Blazer and my brother’s truck shined on Craig, I was dancing behind Craig’s back. This was the clue to my brother… letting him know the joke was in high gear.

Craig seemed to be grasping at straws, desperately seeking someone to believe him. Eddy attempted to calm him down. It worked. Craig agreed to not leave. However, he did sleep on my bedroom floor instead of his room.

When Ben arrived early the next morning from his girlfriend’s house, Craig met him at the door.

“Jason and Eddy told me about the accordion joke”, Craig had said.

Believing that the joke had been given up… Ben laughed and said, “We got you good this time!”

Craig would later say he has never been so relieved to learn that he was the victim of a practical joke. He has since told me that a lamp could levitate into the air and suddenly crash across the room… and he would assume it was me pulling a prank.

We all would go on to start our lives as adults, each having a family of our own. Craig still tells this story often. Ben did eventually get his worker’s compensation settlement… although I’m not sure it was what he was expecting.

Note:

I found this story extremely difficult to write. It flows much better verbally.