Mine? That’s easy. Singing telegram messenger.
Talk about tailor-made for me. This gig involved 1) singing, 2) writing silly poems, 3) driving around western Pennsylvania like a nut, 4) performance and applause, and 5) not one of my other friends had the stones to do it. Folks, this…was the real deal. If I could support a family on it, I’d be doing it today.
As so often happens, an opportunity is never as new as you think it is. There’s always some thread connecting it to your former self. When I was nine or 10, my Mom took me to see The Music Man, produced by Mt. Lebanon High School. The lead role was played by an enthusiastic young man with a marvelous voice named Frank Cappelli. When he hooked the crowd — “Your attention, if you will/I’m Professor Harold Hill/And I’m here to organize a River City Boys’ Band!” — he whipped off his drab sport coat, turned it inside out, and put it on again as a shiny satin bandleader’s jacket.
I was slain. Done. Nabbed. Locked in. I was already a showy kid, but that little episode sealed my zeal to perform. I eat applause like a dog let loose in a butcher shop, and the hunger dated from that moment.
And indeed, when I reached high school, I started on a career of unschooled but earnest performances in plays and musicals of all kinds. I developed a pretty good voice for a teenage kid. So when I heard you could get paid to show up at a party, sing some choice lines to a simple song, get applause and some tips — I thought it was a scam. My parents always warned me that anything that seemed too good to be true probably was. But it was true. And it was the brainchild of….
Frank Cappelli. Frank and his no-nonsense, energetic (and yet quite kind) wife Patty started Horsefeathers BC in 1978. I must have come to them soon after; I don’t recall even how I heard. I just knew that all I had to do was show up at the Cappellis’ charming old house on Pittsburgh’s North Side, pick up my half dozen forms with songs, presentation copies, driving directions and such, and head out in my Mom’s 1978 Cutlass (I had not yet wrecked it).
Oh, and that uniform. The old bellboy/messenger thing; that got the looks. I was instantly the center of attention and the butt of drunken jokes at every party, restaurant, office, wedding reception, maternity ward, golf outing and backyard barbecue that I entered. Of course, my job was to focus the spotlight on the lucky recipient — whose friends and relations had, on the sly, told our office six or seven facts about him or her, enabling us to write a bunch of rhyming in-jokes to the tune of “Bicycle Built for Two” or “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” or some other old standard. (In the years to come, I even helped write some of the songs, which I think has led to my enduring penchant for doggerel poetry and nonsense rhymes.)
And I sang good. Well. Whatever. I had a nice young-guy baritone, and I owed it to them to let it loose, I thought. I could quiet down a whole restaurant, and I loved doing it. When done, I took a bow, and insisted that the recipient take one too. And then I rushed out (sometimes I even kept the car running) and left ’em wanting more.
I remember once delivering a ‘gram to some place like Dravosburg, one of the industrial suburbs near one of the rivers…it was a barbecue, and as I left, a guy followed me out, holding a business card, all smiles: “Hey, call me; I’ll get you a job at the mill. Real money, down J&L [Steel].”
“Oh, um,” I stammered. “Thanks, but, um…bad back.” After all, he was just trying to help.
But give up this gig to chuck sheet metal? Mister, you’re just not gettin’ the message.♦
[Horsefeathers still exists, as far as I can tell, but the Cappellis sold it in 1983 (I worked for the successor owner too). Frank had a successful children’s TV show for awhile, in which he showed off his considerable musical talents. Among other accomplishments, he wrote “Roberto,” a poignant song about the late, great baseball player Roberto Clemente. Check out Frank’s YouTube channel. Patty Cappelli is an eminent real estate agent in Pittsburgh’s South Hills.]
© 2013 Adam Barr