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May 13, 2024

The Symphony of the Water Buffalo

By Wayne Faust

Chester P. Farnsworth only hung out with beautiful people. Although far from beautiful himself (his head looked like a potato), he had very high standards. He didn't like:

Balding men.

Flat-chested women.

Snot-nosed kids.

Fat people.


Anyone with bad teeth.

Because he'd had his own teeth fixed in the past year. Now they were perfect -- with rows of even, white crowns. When he looked into the mirror, he didn't see a guy with a head shaped like a potato and zits crawling all over his face like aphids. He saw only his beautiful, white smile. Just like in the movies.

These were the people in Chester P. Farnsworth's life:

Nosy neighbors.

Boring co-workers.

Pedestrians that got in his way.

He didn't much care for anybody. And since most people are sensitive about these things, they didn't much care for him either. Along with a head like a potato, he had an unpleasant habit of snorting like a water buffalo, which annoyed the people around him at the movies. And he smelled a little bit like a water buffalo too, because he didn't much care for taking showers either.

So the beautiful people that Chester P. Farnsworth hung out with were all people in the movies:

Movies at the Cineplex inside the mall.

Blu-ray™ Discs at home.

Netflix® on demand.

But it was the old movies, the ones that were made before he was born, that he liked the best. Which gave him another trait that didn't endear him to real life people. He tended to quote lines from classic movies at inappropriate times:

"Are you talking to me?" to the checkout girl at Safeway®.

"E.T. phone home," to telemarketers.

But something was about to happen that would make the movies an even bigger part of Chester P. Farnsworth's life.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon on the second day of spring. Chester had just finished watching the first two movies of his Saturday quadruple feature at home. He had a headache. He decided to go for a stroll through the park at the end of his block. He duck-walked his way through the new grass in his wingtips, looking down at the ground, snorting occasionally. Suddenly he heard faint music. He looked up.

A woman was lying on her stomach on a blanket. And even though it was still only April, she was wearing a bikini, maybe trying to get an early start on her summer tan. Chester gaped, knowing he'd never have the guts to go and speak to a babe like that. But then the music grew louder:

Soaring violins.

A melody like a robin's song.

Like something from ...

A movie.

Chester swiveled his head. Where was that music coming from?

No bandstand in the park.

No houses close enough.

No radio on the woman's blanket.

No speakers hanging from the trees.

And then Chester figured it out. The music was coming from inside his head.

Of course, he'd always had movie themes rattling around up there like mice in the attic, but this was different. This was an audible sound, loud and clear, as if his head itself had turned into a radio.

"Cool!" he said out loud, not bothering to question a good thing.

Chester smiled and tapped his foot. The music was pretty, and it started making him feel romantic.

"I know this song!" he exclaimed. "Theme From A Summer Place,© 1959!"

He'd seen that movie at least fifty times. He'd always had a crush on Sandra Dee. And the woman on the blanket looked a little bit like her.

Before he even realized what he was doing, Chester took a few jaunty steps toward the blanket. He wasn't just good old Chester P. Farnsworth any more. No sir.

He was Johnny Hunter, played by Troy Donahue.

White swimsuit with stripes on the side.

Lean, tan, muscled body rippling for the camera.

And there on the blanket was Molly Jorgenson, played by Sandra Dee.

His girlfriend.

The music played on.

Chester bent down and tapped the woman on the shoulder. She turned her head without rolling over and squinted up at him.

"Is it that easy to be good?" said Chester.

"Excuse me?" said Sandra Dee.

"Is it that easy to be good?" repeated Chester.

He was waiting for her to say the next line from the movie, which was, "Are you bad, Johnny? Have you been bad with girls?"

"If you don't get out of here, I'm gonna call the cops," said the woman, who suddenly looked a little less like Sandra Dee and a little more like Bette Davis in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte

The music skipped a beat and went sour.

"I'm not kidding," said the woman. She reached for her purse and brought out her cell phone. "I'm dialing right now. 9-1-1. I'm gonna push the send button if you don't leave, you big fat creep."

Chester held up his hands. "Okay, okay," he sputtered. "Don't have a cow. It's not my fault if you don't know the next line."

He shook his head and ambled away. The music died out all together.

"Play it again, Sam," he muttered.

But it wouldn't play. At least not until later.

Later turned out to be the next weekend. Chester was walking up to the store to get some snacks. It started to rain.

These were some of the many things wrong with Chester P. Farnsworth:

Bad heart.



A problem with weight.

Lactose intolerance.

But in spite of all that, he did something completely out of character.

He began to run.

It was the music in his head that made him do it. With the first drops of rain, the music had begun like the week before in the park. But this wasn't romantic music. This was music that made you want to get some exercise.

Chester felt his toes begin to twitch inside his wingtips. Before he knew it, he was running down the sidewalk.

"Theme from Rocky©!" he shouted as he ran.

He threw his arms in the air as high as he could, which wasn't very high. As he mounted the steps to the bridge across Union Avenue, he pumped his fists into the air. By the time he got to the top of the stairs, he was wheezing and snorting continuously, like a water buffalo having a real bad day. But he was still smiling and the music was still playing as he hobbled down the steps on the other side of the bridge and went into the 7-Eleven®.

He came to the counter holding:

Six-pack of Mountain Dew™.

Case of Twinkies©.

He smiled at the Pakistani clerk and held his goodies aloft, proclaiming, "I'm gonna eat lightnin' and I'm gonna crap thunder!"

The clerk looked at him as if he was from Al-Qaeda.

"Obviously, you didn't see the movie," said Chester.

"What movie?" asked the clerk.

"Move it along, Buddy!" shouted a big, burly, Hell's Angel's guy in line behind Chester.

"Okay, okay," muttered Chester as he paid and went out the door. "You people have no passion."

But after that day, it happened again.

And again.

Chester was walking home from work in the dark and fog one night. He suddenly heard music from the movie Dracula,† starring Bela Lugosi.

"Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make," quoted Chester, as he pulled his collar up over his neck.

Once as he was getting ready for bed, he heard the strains of The Baby Elephant Walk© by Henry Mancini. He began jumping up and down on his bed and making a noise like an elephant instead of his usual water buffalo snort.

In the weeks to come, it seemed that there was music for nearly everything he did:

Woody Guthrie songs from Bound For Glory® whenever he saw a freight train.

As Time Goes By© from Casablanca™ whenever he saw a man wearing a fedora.

The theme from Jeopardy©®' while he was stuffing envelopes at work and ...

"Wait a minute!" he shouted up at the ceiling when that one came on. "That's from a TV show, not a movie!"

The music died immediately.

Mostly, Chester liked the music in his head. It made him feel like a movie star every day.

So it was with great excitement that he boarded the plane that would take him to Key Largo for his vacation. That was where they had filmed the 1948 movie of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart.

He checked into his beachfront motel and decided to go for a little swim. It was late in the day, but it was still hot and sticky. Chester wandered down to the beach in a floral-patterned swim suit, looking for all the world like a Jimmy Buffett™-themed bean bag chair. He stood on the sand and gazed up at the sky.

"No island music?" he shouted.

There was no one else on the beach and he heard only seagulls.

"Huh," said Chester. He had been hoping that the music would be festive down here. But there was nothing at all so far.

He put his towel down on the sand and waded into the warm water. It felt like his bathtub at home and he sighed with pleasure. As he kept on walking further out, he was surprised that it wasn't getting much deeper; at 75 yards from shore, it was still only up to his waist. He peered out toward the ocean, trying to see if it would get deeper soon, and trying to ignore the clamshells and pebbles that were grinding into the bottoms of his feet.

He finally got to the place where the sandy bottom dropped off and he began to dog-paddle. There was a buoy about 50 yards further out, and he decided to swim out to it and then turn around. As he paddled slowly through the water, he kept listening for music. What was he hoping for?

Music from an Esther Williams movie?

The theme from Tarzan®?

Anything like that would have been inspiring. But it seemed like the orchestra was taking the day off.

He reached the buoy and grabbed on, snorting and gasping. His heart fluttered in his chest. The buoy was slippery with seaweed and he struggled to hang on as a series of waves lapped against it. Far out on the ocean, a freighter was going slowly by from east to west. He looked back toward the beach. It seemed like miles away.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," he whispered.

And then the orchestra came back to life:

Single, lonely bass note.


Two notes together, one a half step higher than the first.

More notes, louder now.

Tension building.

French horn in counterpoint.

Throbbing bass line.

Faster and faster, matching the skipping beat of Chester's heart.

"My God," he gasped, "it's the theme from Jaws©.

Chester P. Farnsworth was more terrified than he'd ever been in his life. He knew his feeble heart wouldn't be able to take it.

Through a mouthful of seawater, he managed to spit out one last movie quote:

"We're gonna need a bigger boat ..."

The story might have ended there. But these are some more facts about Chester P. Farnsworth:

He was very good at swimming under water.

He liked to open his eyes under water, even in the ocean.

He was a hypochondriac -- his heart was not nearly as feeble as he thought.

When he saw that there were no sharks anywhere near him, he surfaced again, spitting water and sighing. As he dog-paddled in the gentle waves, he looked up at the sky.

"That wasn't very nice!" he shouted. "You scared me half to death."

But the music had died. Chester swam easily toward shore, until the water was again shallow enough to stand. He picked his way over the pebbles and seashells, until he made it to shore and retrieved his towel. As he dried himself off, he muttered, "I'm not sure I like the music down here. I hope it's better tomorrow."

But today wasn't over yet. He heard more music.

Two instruments.

A banjo and a guitar.

Ttrading chords.

Chester's heart began to beat faster again, because he knew that he looked at little bit like Ned Beatty "Wait a minute!" he shouted to the sky. "That takes place on a river. This is the ocean!"

But the music got louder. Against his will, a movie quote spilled out from between Chester's lips.

"You got such a purty mouth ..."

After the false alarm in the ocean, Chester was skeptical. But it didn't pay to take chances. He took off running toward his motel as fast as he could.

Living your life in movies was:




Sometimes terrifying.

But it was never dull.


Article © Wayne Faust. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-07-26
3 Reader Comments
04:47:59 PM
It's not often you get to tell someone "excellent use of sound" in a story, but there you go. :)

Some great laughs here, thanks!
completely r. voza
09:00:50 PM
i would have liked for you to have ended the story when you wrote, "it's the theme from jaws." that would have been funny.
Wayne Faust
09:11:59 PM
I just got around to checking comments on Piker. Thanks for both of those. As to ending it at the Jaws theme, that's what it did in the original incarnation of this one. Maybe I should have left it alone...
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