Max Roach

I first met Max Roach that summer the Javan leopard escaped from Salman Rushdie’s private zoo and everyone was carrying tranquilizer guns in case they were caught in a dead-end alley with nowhere to run after being stalked mercilessly by this endangered cat that Salman(a close, personal friend) had senselessly kept captive just to keep Padma Lakshmi amused as their marriage failed. 

I was sat outside Big Mamma’s Pleuronectes Platessa eating a bowl of chicken arrabiata tagliatelle when the gentleman sat at the next table asked if he could use my pepper grinder as he didn’t want to disturb the waitress, who was playing a game of hangman with the local street children on the blackboard usually reserved for the specials of the day.

Sure, I said.

He took the grinder and applied a liberal amount over his spaghetti carbonara before returning it. Thanks, he said.

No problem, I replied. I carried on eating and a few moments later the gentleman again asked for my attention.

So sorry, he said, but would you mind if I joined you? He must have sensed my reticence and quickly added, this leopard business has me on edge.

Sure, I said, join me, I’ll watch your back. 

My names Max, he said. 

Nice to meet you, I said.  Max must have sensed that I was not in the mood for idle chatter and we ate in silence as I read my book(If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura). After a small while there was an irritating tapping. I looked up and he was using his fork to beat out a rhythm on his plate and wineglass. I was about to stop him when I caught the sense that he was keeping good time.  Not bad, I said, do you play? 

I dabble, he said. 

Dabble away, I said. 

He arranged our plates and glasses into a rudimentary drum set and played for me an early version of what would become The Drum Also Waltzes from his album Drums Unlimited(1966).

Watch out, I cried as he finished. I shot the leopard mid leap and it landed unconscious at Max’s feet.

You saved my life, he said. 

I know, I said, and we’ve been friends ever since.


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