Screaming “Free Bird” at a concert is more often an obnoxious joke than an actual request, but the tune just so happened to provide a perfect melodic skeleton for the roast I performed in San Antonio on Saturday.
As many of you know, I’ve been a professional singing telegram messenger since 2004. The majority of my gigs go down in the Denver metro area, with occasional exceptions in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and ski towns like Winter Park and Vail. The first time I sang one out of state was for my grandma’s ninetieth birthday party in Indiana a few years back. San Antonio was the setting of my second non-Colorado job this past weekend. What occasion justified flying across state lines to sing a single song? My sister Roxanna has been a resident in the prosthodontics program at The University of Texas Health Science Center for the past three years (prosthodontics is a dentistry specialty that deals with reconstructive and cosmetic needs;). Although it was finally graduation time, my sister wasn’t the focus of the roast in question. The target was retiring program director Dr. Robert Cronin—Cronin to his teeth-restoring cronies.
My sister planted the seed several months ago. Eventually, she sent me a list of Cronin quotes that had been dutifully compiled by a second year resident named Yves. Think Shit My Dad Says, but with a dental twist. Two weeks ago, I called her for additional context and selected the tune. Although I do sometimes employ original melodies, most singing telegrams are written to the tune of an appropriate and recognizable popular song. Think Weird Al. It generally heightens the emotional and/or comedic impact of the material. Skynard’s “Free Bird”, in this case, was ideal for the retirement-themed message. I wrote half of the custom lyrics last week and wrapped up the rest at breakfast–and poolside–on the day of.
Fair Oaks Country Club was the site of the fairly informal affair. Apparently, Cronin owns a home on the golf course there. Graduation guests, including our parents, my mom’s husband Darrell, sister-from-another-mother Mary and our Russian friend Elena, ate dinner in an atrium facing the grounds. Once dessert was safely tucked away in our tummies, Cronin stepped behind the podium to kick off the evening’s proceedings with a few words. That was my cue to leap into action. Retrieving the various costume possibilities we’d stashed just outside the bar area, I snuck into the restroom to transform myself. My sister had lent me the kind of teal scrubs Cronin normally wore, as well as surgical headlamp glasses called loupes. Dan, another resident, had constructed a bald cap on the occasion of Cronin’s sixty-ninth birthday in January. Given my head is generally Bic’d hairless, I initially debated it but ended up incorporating in the interest of increased comedic effect. The icing on the cake was a gray fake mustache I happened to have in my shaving kit. I grabbed my guitar and cheat sheet and crept up to the closest possible hiding place near the podium, a small wall partition that separated it from the nearby bar–and waited.
Each of the three graduating residents were invited to say something. My sister was last, by design. Her self-described “Oscar acceptance speech” was appropriately emotional and tear-filled. Roxanna’s sad tears paved way for the happy tear geysers that spilled out of Cronin’s ducts as he shrieked high-pitched girlish laughter throughout the course of “Clonin.”
“Clonin” (sample stanza):
One time, Cronin was lecturin’
subject: Astra brand implants
flubbed his words, Freudian slippage
“Astroglide,” on his tongue danced
George Peele enjoys strapping on height enhancers and aurally ambushing strangers. He is Music Editor for 303 Magazine. Follow Peele on Twitter: @Orangepeelmoses. Avatar image courtesy Jonathan Shoup.