A Nemesis By Any Other Name…

I never met him, never even saw him, never heard him play. But he impacted
my life on several occasions, and in hindsight, one might wonder if he even
existed at all.

Wikipedia tells us… In ancient Greek religion, Nemesis,[a] also called
Rhamnousia or Rhamnusia (“the goddess of Rhamnous”), is the goddess
who enacts retribution against those who succumb to hubris (arrogance before
the gods).[1]

Eh… not impressed with that one. At the time my nemesis was actively engaged
in bringing unhappiness and frustration into my humble life, I was not “arrogant
before the gods-“ hell, at the time I was still years from becoming the arrogant ass
I would be rightfully accused of being.

The Free Dictionary tells us –

nem·e·sis
(nĕm′ĭ-sĭs)
n. pl. nem·e·ses (-sēz′)
1. A source of harm or ruin: Uncritical trust is my nemesis.
2. Retributive justice in its execution or outcome: To follow the proposed course
of action is to invite nemesis.
3. An opponent that cannot be beaten or overcome.
4. One that inflicts retribution or vengeance.
5. Nemesis Greek Mythology The goddess of retributive justice or vengeance.

Ah, that’s more like it. Because, you see, my nemesis was several of these
explanations. 1. He was “an opponent who couldn’t be beaten or overcome,”
because he was never present at the scene of the “crimes.”
2. He was a definite, though temporary, “source of harm and ruin.”

I figure that karmically, I must have deserved a nemesis for a short time for
one reason or another. He never really hurt me, just pissed me off at times,
and frustrated me because there was nothing I could do about it… or him.
In hindsight, I should have gone looking for him at school, and… confronted
him? No, that wouldn’t have worked. He wasn’t hurting me or bugging me
on purpose, his name just kept popping up at inopportune times, each time
adding to my frustration and confusion. Hmm, maybe I did piss off the gods
somehow… it sure felt like it at the time!

So I had a bona fide, for real nemesis. And what was my nemesis’ name?
Why, Elliot Hoenig!

Now I have googled Elliot Hoenig and, nothing. If he exists, or ever really
existed, it’s not on the internet. For all intents and purposes, he exists only
in my brain, in two specific instances. I’ve decided that it takes at least two
“nemesis sightings” to even realize one might be your nemesis. As I have
only two instances, I console myself with the thought that my karmic content
in this particular regard must be slight, at best. The first time my nemesis
appeared to me it simply pissed me off. The second one hurt my feelings.
But then he (it) was gone.

A Most Surprising And unlikely Nemesis

In my sophomore year in Boston, I was playing with a thrown-together 5-piece
band that played a pizza parlor in Back Bay on Fri. and Sat. nights. Pat
Labarbera, who was to become a well-known tenor player in his own right,
was leading, and booking the group. We were each making $5 a night, the
very bottom of the barrel as far as paying gigs go. But as all jazzers know, at
least we were playing, and at the end of the gig we could buy a pizza from
the place and still get change!

We had that gig for maybe two months, when Pat caught me in the hall at
Berklee one day. “Hey man, no more gigs on the weekend. We just lost
that job.”
“Didn’t they like us?”
“Oh yeah, we were fine. They replaced us with a different group.”
“Really?! Someone who is willing to play for 5 bucks a night??”
“Worse. They offered to play it for nothing.”
“Oh god, that’t incredible! Who would do that?”
“I don’t know, some guy named Elliot Hoenig.”

School was fairly intense at the time, and I didn’t go back to the pizza parlor
to hear the Elliot Hoenig group. Wish now that I had, of course. I quickly
forgot the whole thing, and pursued other avenues of playing, not yet knowing
that I now had a nemesis… I didn’t even know what a nemesis was!

It was about a year later when Pat put that band back together for a Sunday
afternoon show out at Lennie’s On The Turnpike, one of the best-known
jazz clubs in Boston at the time. Lennie was having a fund-raiser for something,
and Bill Evans was the headliner. There was a good crowd there, plus a music
critic from the Boston Globe. We were the opening band, and were fairly
stoked about being on the same bill with Bill, if you will.

When the time came, we got up on the stand and played our first tune. Then
Lennie introduced each member of our band. “And on piano, Elliot Hoenig!”

I will never forget how I felt at that moment! My brain spun out of control, and
I don’t remember playing the rest of the set. Elliot Hoenig? ELLIOT HOENIG?!!
The biggest moment of my young professional career, and I get introduced
as Elliot Hoenig!!! And Pat didn’t help the pain much, patting me on the back
and smiling, “You sounded pretty good today, Elliot!”

Thankfully, Only A Temporary Nemesis

At that point in time I had no idea whether Elliot Hoenig was going to follow
me to the ends of the earth or not. Fortunately he didn’t. That was, thankfully,
the last I ever heard of Elliot Hoenig. And believe me, that was enough!
Evidently my contract with Karma had run its course, and Elliot mercifully
disappeared from my everyday life, and from my music career in general.
I’ve often wondered since what I might have done as a young man to invite
such a weird warp in the time/space continuum. True, I drank too much back
then and smoked, but I was never mean, never hurt anyone. Well, I take
that back… I hit Yvonne DeMars in the head with a small rock once. And I tried
to beat the shit out of Ford Bovey one night in Montana. But Elliot Hoenig?!
If I said this once, I’ve said it a dozen times,.. life is really just that strange!

Have I had to watch my back for Elliot Hoenig ever since? No, I forgot all
about him. Only if I happen to walk into a club somewhere and see a no-name
band up on the stand, I occasionally wonder if it just might be my old nemesis,
Elliot Hoenig. But I never ask.

Steve Hulse

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