December 22, 2017
Enter through the cafe, walk to the back, climb up narrow steps to the guitar shop. At the doorway, a hand written sign lists this week's new arrivals and sales. It is taped to a shelf at eye level and lists brands I recognize from years of being around music, musicians, and trips to guitar shops. A couple items are scratched off, marked SOLD in red.
A group of men, in their fifties and up, jam on acoustic guitars and harmonica at the front of the store. The gregarious owner exclaims to Jared, "I know you!" Jared pauses. "No you don't," he replies. Skip an eighth beat. "But, my name is Jared," he adds, extending his hand to shake. "Ok! What are you looking for?" the owner says.
Jared asks about resonator guitars, and he sits down to play a few that the owner brings him.
I am in a familiar situation. I do not find myself in this one often anymore. Girl with guy in music store. Nothing to do.
My last guitar was a Hondo which is a knock off of some brand. To me, it looked like most or many electric guitars, except for Gibson SGs and Flying Vs. I departed ways with my old Hondo back in Queens. A greying (I am probably about his age now) rocker who collected weird, crummy guitars bought it from me at a sidewalk sale outside our apartment building.
I don't miss my guitar. I miss the idea of it. I wish I could I see it, and then give it back to the guy in the Queens. The Hondo probably likes the smell of cigarettes and the company of oddly detuned, partially strung guitars. The Hondo probably was a better life now.
I don't miss my violin either. I see it leaning against a cabinet or on top of a dresser. It moved around. I thought of taking it out of the case a couple days or weeks or sometime ago. In the midst of a big house clean up, Jared held up the violin in its case, "To the attic?" he asked. "I was thinking of taking it out," I said. "Ok."
I did. I unzipped the case. I hardly looked at it. I plucked its out of tune strings. They hee hawed back at me. I zipped up the case. "I never want to tune this thing ever again," I said to Jared. "Ok." And to the attic he and violin went. Jared came back. The violin did not.
Girl. Guitar store. Nothing to do. I pluck at the violins. They hee haw. I shudder inwardly. I strum interesting looking guitars and look at the prices. I think: Cheap. Expensive. I look at the Gibson SG. I think: Ian MacKaye.
I remember a skater from high school, Christian B., who would drive to my house with my boyfriend. They were the best of the skateboarders around. Christian would ask, "Wanna watch us skate?" "Um, no, but I'll take a ride."
I'd get in the car, and we would drive to a parking lot somewhere. Milford, maybe. "Wanna hold my flannel?" Christian would ask. "Um, no." Christian was mildly surprised like I was a kid who honestly did not want to take a yellow lollipop from a kindly, elderly, completely beneficent, not at all weird bank teller. Or, maybe like I was about to be knighted by King Arthur of the Flannel but decided 'nah'.
The music jam continues. I quietly sing along with their energetic versions of Jim Croce's You Don't Mess Around with Jim.
One of the fellows in the shop compliments my jacket. It's red, black, and white and patterned like a Turkish rug. It even includes fringe trim. "Got it in a thrift store in Queens," I say. "Nice ensemble," he says. "Yeah, this vest. I got this in Hungary." "Oh!" he says.
He drifts by a second time. This time he bears a nearly empty box of chocolate and offers it it everyone in the tiny store. There are a few shoppers. A woman picks out a strap. A small group chats with the owner. I pick the last dark chocolate which is located under the guy's thumb. "Oh, dark chocolate!" he says.
I try to think of something friendly to say, and this is what I say: "Yup, that's what I like." He drifts away again. He is the talker in the group, or maybe he is drunk.
I am now beginning to enjoy myself. I find myself looking at the SG again because it is one of the few familiar sights that make me think. Ian MacKaye .
The candy guy budges past again and makes more conversation. "Do you play, too?" I ask. "Oh, yeah," he replies and bustles towards a vacant seat in the circle of musicians. He gestures to an empty stool. Some hands me a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I swig it halfway down as they belt out a blues tune with lyrics about another Long Leg Woman.
I smile. This is better than any past trip to Sam Ash or other guitar shops filled with drippy, slouchy dudes.
Jared comes by. "Do you need help with that beer?" He swigs it.
I ask the harmonica player in between songs, "How did you learn to play?"
I sense the players are ready to get back to it, but I couldn't help myself from asking. I have wanted to play harmonica for decades, maybe since hearing the song Desire by U2.
The musicians politely wait while the harmonica player tells me this: "I'd go in an hour early to work every day. I'd sit in my car and play along with music until I found the right harmonica to play along with the song." His thin red hair brushes his shoulders as he talk to me.
"You gotta pick real slow music to start. You work on single notes. I found myself some cheap harmonicas. Do you play anything or sing?" He looks at me with friendly, squinty eyes.
"I used to play guitar, then violin. Now, I sing," I say smiling.
"Ok, well, you have an ear then," he says. I have doubtful thoughts about that. "I had some notation, kinda like tablature for guitar, but for harmonica it's a little different. It's numbers. The music goes by so fast. It doesn't work. I threw all that stuff out. Just threw it out. So, one day it just happened. I just got it." He mentions the song and artist that bore witness to his breakthrough, but I missed it. I some parking lot, this excellent harmonica player got it.
"Thanks. Thanks. Thanks alot," I say. "I really appreciate it."
The musicians play again. I finish the beer. Jared squeezes onto the stool with me.
I look at a newspaper on the amp next to me. One article is about holiday lights and shopping in Peddler's Village in Lahaska. I remember that I wanted see the lights with Beren and my friend, Robin, and her two sons. The writing tells me that Giggleberry Faire, a kids play space, is a good option for entertainment. I heard from another mother that it is hell.
Below the holiday shopping article is another. This one is about J.B. Kline celebrating thirty years of something. I don't read it. Pictured is the guitar store's owner.
We listen to another song. I am enjoying myself. Cheap chocolate and beer. Cheap music. Jared and I head back down the steps and out into the moist evening air. I am a little buzzed and cheerful.
At home, I pick up the harmonica that has been sitting in Beren's bin of musical instruments. I inhale and then exhale into the harmonica. A deep, singular C note comes out.