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September 26, 1993|M.H.

In my youth, like every other brave in my tribe, I went on a vision quest to see which animal spirit would guide my destiny. Would it be buffalo or beaver or crow, deer or eagle or mountain lion?

But the vision that came to me after days of prayer and fasting was of none of these. I saw a short, fat, bald white man who wore a shirt of blinding colors. Circles of what looked like obsidian hid his eyes. He smoked a great cylinder of tobacco.

"Hollywood," he told me. "That's your destiny."

I struggled to understand.

"What's your name, kid?" he asked.

"Rain-That-Evaporates-Before-It-Hits-The-Ground," I answered.

"Too long for a marquee. We'll call you Tonto."

Soon afterward I met the Lone Ranger, and we began our heroic pursuit of truth and justice throughout the West. I never saw the short, fat man in my vision again--but I thought of him every time I heard the music.

The music was greater than any tribal drumming I had ever heard. It came like thunder, even out of a cloudless sky, whenever we had finished doing good and the Lone Ranger held up his hand and cried, "Hi-ho, Silver, away!"

It was galloping music that no horse could resist. Both of our mounts would race out of control until exhaustion stopped them, often miles away, in a mudhole or a thicket of prickly pear. Then it would be a long, weary hike back to the cave where we mined silver for bullets.

"Darn Rossini anyway," the Lone Ranger said once, as close to profanity as I had ever seen him. "Why couldn't they have given us a little Debussy instead?"

But every time it was exactly the same. Until today.

We had just saved another town. The outlaws were being led away to jail. The women who wanted to kiss the Lone Ranger but knew they had no chance swelled their whalebone corsets in a collective sigh. A towheaded boy at the livery stable was asking: "Sheriff, who was that masked man?"

Just like a hundred times before.

But when we rode off, the music was different. It still galloped, but it confused the horses. Silver stumbled in mid-stride, and for the first time I heard the Lone Ranger curse. My faithful Scout reared and threw me.

My head hit a hitching-post rail, and everything went black. Then I saw the short, fat man again, balder than ever.

"Sorry, guys," he said, "but I just couldn't take the 'William Tell Overture' anymore. Sheesh! All these years of da-da-dum, da-da-dum, da-da-dum-tum-tum! Drove me bananas. Then I saw where the Bel Canto Opera Company is performing Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" at 7 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 9 at Lincoln Auditorium, 14th Street and California Avenue, Santa Monica. Tickets: $20. Information: (310) 201-0749.

"And I thought, why not sub the overture to that? It's still Rossini, right? You'll get used to it."

But then a great mob of people ran up, shouting, and tore the cigar from the fat man's face and chased him away.

When I woke up, the music was the same as it used to be.

"Kemosabe?" I asked.

The Lone Ranger bent over me. "Funny," he said, "but for a moment there I could have sworn my name was Figaro."

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