We were all waiting in a hallway outside the performance room. The hallway was lined with steel and wire shelving that was stocked with boxes of cereal and large institutional cans of soup, mostly beefish. Max was nervous, resplendent in his orange robes, which looked like orange bedsheets from the 1970’s that had simply been starched and ironed and wrapped around him. He shuffled back and forth on his bare feet as we waited to enter the room.
Behind me, the Grand Master passed by. He was a short fellow with glasses who looked vaguely like Woody Allen, and he spoke to no one, looked at no one, just pushed his way past everyone into the room. A hush fell over the assembly in the hallway — the GrandMaster! — and Max looked thoroughly respectful, clasping his hands together as if he were monkish supplicant — we had all been told that once the ceremony was finished, Max himself would be considered a Master, and it was a tenet of the GrandMaster that all Masters be shown due respect by the general population.
Max was about to graduate from throat-singing school. He had learned somehow to sing with his throat, and the ceremony was intended to note his elevation to a higher plane of existence because of his mastery of the technique. I found the whole thing privately ridiculous, and before the gathering, Max had indicated that he too found the pomp and circumstance associated with the practice to be a little self-consumed. It seemed, however, that the GrandMaster was extremely serious about the whole thing; anyone who mastered the art of throat-singing was to have ascended to the highest possible plane of existence, and should be considered to be far beyond all other beings. Max, somewhat sheepishly, had admitted that perhaps he did not think it was necessary that I treat him any differently, and I grinned my standard mocking-of-Max grin at him as he continued to shuffle back and forth on his bare feet, his starchy orange bedsheet-robes crackling with each movement.
A hush grew over the crowd in the hallway; the ceremony was about to begin. People began to file in to the performance room, and as we prepared to enter the holy throat-singing sanctum, I incongruously noted the brand names of the large boxes of cereal stacked on the wire shelves beside me. Most of them seemed to be bran-and-raisin based.
Max crinkled in his bulbous and stiff orange shroud as we turned and aligned ourselves for entry. He was nervous.
“You’ll do fine,” I whispered as we moved forward towards the entrance.