Enjoy this text of Tony Laiolo’s first story at Tenx9 at our September theme “Nashville.” His delivery was entirely fantastic. 

“Welcome to Music City”

There’s no way around it; whoever lives upstairs is sacrificing a cow. Nothing else could account for that persistent, inhuman, agonizing cry. It’s 2:00 in the morning, and my freaked-out wife just woke me up so we can share the experience.

We’ve lived in Nashville for about five hours,. We pulled the U-Haul up around 9:30 tonight, lugged a few essentials through the sticky mid-July air, then collapsed on the mattress. As first impressions go, there’s really nothing like awakening after midnight to a neighborly cow slaughter, overhead.

Who’s up there? We don’t know. We don’t know anybody in Nashville. Never even been in Tennessee before. Our bottom half of a duplex was arranged for by a local realtor so we can look around for six months and get a feel for where in town we might really want to live. You know, If we live. I mean, I’ve heard the South’s a little different, but what’s this upstairs? Welcome Wagon?

We’ve moved here — this will astonish you — we’ve moved here for music. Bet you didn’t see that coming. Remember reel-to-reel? I’d spent the last couple of years dropping reel-to-reel songwriting demos in the mail, addressed to any Music Row publisher whose dorsal fin wasn’t overly obvious. It was kind of like throwing desperate little messages-in-a-bottle from the coast of northern California that somehow came ashore in shoreless Tennessee and, even stranger than that, found favor. How could we look on that as anything but an invitation?

So here we are — the first-nighters! — awakened in the dead of night by this disturbing low moan that just keeps going. We think about calling the cops, but  — oh yeah — we just got here and this is 1981 and we don’t have a phone yet.

Unbelievably, we even consider knocking on the upstairs door (actually, the wife considers me knocking on the upstairs door), or making some noise of our own — and no, I’m not talking about that — to announce our presence. But we also consider that the next sacrificial offering would probably be us.

And surely there’s some logical explanation. Maybe the neighbor is just a Texan, who brought along quaint native customs when he high-tailed it out of Laredo, one step ahead of the law. Or maybe he makes bootleg barbeque. After midnight? Yeah, because he has a day job…as a butcher. Or maybe it’s nothing. Maybe he’s just an amateur zoologist, or a student of the mortuary arts. In the light of day, we’re sure — OK, hopeful — it will all make perfect sense.

So somehow we sleep, and wake in the morning. There’s a deathly quiet upstairs, and humidity like a shroud lurking right outside the front door. But we can’t just hide in here, we’ve got the rest of the U-Haul to unload — or come to our senses, reload what we took off last night and get the hell out of there.

Oops. Too late. Coming down the outside stairs. Sees us. Here he comes. Looks normal enough. So did Norman Bates. But there’s no conspicuous sidearms, no sword, no branding iron (the odds-on favorite), no demonic tattoos, no heathen accoutrement.

So what do I do? Prove once and for all that I’m a world-class idiot as I gingerly bring up last night’s sonic curiosities. He looks at me, the face of innocence. Noises?, he says. Noises? Then he cracks, confesses. Or at least he figures it out.

They’d passed out drunk, he and his roommate — as young men are “prone” to do — with their reel-to-reel — you remember reel-to-reel — their reel-to-reel running, at Spinal Tap volume. And when the tape rolled past the part recorded at one speed and into the part recorded at another, faster speed, with no one around to throw the switch … Presto! … it’s cow-killing time! [cue molasses-slow, contrabass “cow”: “Country Roads take me home, to the place I belong”]  Hey, John Denver never sounded better. So there’s that.

The boys up above come to be our first friends in Nashville. Joe goes on to tour the world playing saxophone and harmonica for Dolly Parton. Dave becomes a founding member of the hit country band Restless Heart. Great guys. Wouldn’t hurt a cow.

And to me there’s a weird linearity to all this. A most unlikely journey begins with reel-to-reel tape in California, unspools across the country and at the other end there’s another reel-to-reel tape in Tennessee, an essential piece of a bizarre but somehow perfect welcome to Music City.

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