Sunday, February 16, 2014

What Lurks In the Basement

Where the hell is it?  I close another beat up cardboard box of old toys and open a towering armoire that’s lost a majority of its flakey white paint.  A weathered Santa waves to me from a cobwebbed corner.  His pudgy red face is so bloated that it looks like it could explode.  I slide a few more plastic bins and former appliance boxes around the room.  Plumes of dust roll like a miniature Arizona dust storm.  On the floor is a cheap baby blue backpack.  It means I’m close.  Pushing more shit out of the way, a strange form is revealed covered by a garbage bag.  I loosen the drawstrings and pull it off the guitar.

I didn’t want it.  Right before band practice, I went to Loewe’s Music for strings.  Man, that was years ago.  Anyway, I was waiting for the clerk when I picked up the fiery red guitar and messed around for a bit.  Kind of weird looking with an oblong body, but fun.  “Whatcha think ‘bout that guitar?” shouted the clerk from the cluttered back.

“It’s awright.” I replied.  “Da lead in my band has a blue one ‘nd likes it enough.”

“Wanna plug it inta an amp?” that metalhead thought he had me on a line.

“Nah.  Just gettin’ strings ‘nd hafta get goin’.”

“’Kay…” He grabbed the high gauge strings and was about to ring me up when he asked, “Whad if I gotcha a deal?  Wouldja consider buyin’ da guitar then?”

“Yer persistent, aren’t ya?  It’d hafta be a great deal since I awready have a guitar.  What’s wrong with it anyway?”  There’s salesmanship and then there’s desperation.

“Nothin’.  Nothin’.  Just had it fer a while ‘nd need ta move it off da sales floor.  How does $300 sound?  I’ll even throw in da strings ‘nd a gig bag.”  I tried to pretend 50% off wasn’t a good deal.  Faked a moment to think.  Luckily, I had enough cash for the down payment and paid the rest off the next day.

The guitar is in rough shape.  The body and neck are fine, but there are patches of rust on the pick-ups, keys, and bridge.  Fine brown dust forms around the corroded strings with every pluck as I tune it: not an easy task when I’m missing the D string.  It’s still a fine instrument if you can get over the disheveled appearance.

Reaching in the nylon backpack for a pick, I remove a crumpled piece of paper from our CD release show.  An old set list with twelve original songs.  Each one about an inside joke, a twisted relationship, or personal disaster.  One melody was even sung in a made up language (not our most popular hit).  Two songs are about the same girlfriend: one at the beginning of the relationship and the other at the end.  I didn’t write any of them, but they are still special to me.

The amp appears to have survived its long hibernation.  I won’t really know until I can plug it in.  It used to be so loud.  Absolute no reason to have a half-stack if you’re only playing V.F.W. halls.  But, it was all part of the act.  The highest I ever turned the dial was “3” and I nearly lost an eardrum.  It could produce a sound wave that resembled a chainsaw cutting steel.  Spray painted on one side is the band’s name: Justice Fire.  The white stenciled letters almost glitter on the battered black cabinet.  A message from a former era, like a cave painting.

I’m still unclear how I joined the band.  They lost their drummer and I had a friend without a group.  I introduced them and was about to leave when someone asked, “Where’s yer guitar?”

“Uh…  At home.” At the time I had an inexpensive beginner’s set.

“Why didn’t ya bring it?”

“Why would I?”

“’Cause we have practice.  Go home ‘nd grab it.  We’ll start on drums ‘nd be ready ta work with ya by da time yer back.”  The drummer and I had less than a week to prepare for our first show at a banquet hall.

Peeking at the mechanicals in the amp head, there’s a stack of photos in the nook.  I forgot all about these.  There are shots from every show and the dumb stuff we did waiting to play.  Here’s the set we did in our underwear.  That’s us eating all those free burritos because we wrote a song for a Mexican restaurant.  There I am arguing with a cop because he’s trying to shut us down citing nonexistent laws and ignoring our permit.  Oh man, this picture is from the basement show we played and thought a serial killer tricked us into being his victims when we first arrived.  And, that’s me posing with friends after my last performance.

I didn’t know that was my last show then.  A week later, we practiced at the studio as usual.  I was packing up my stuff when one of the guys said, “Hey Luke, can ya talk fer a minute?”  They politely cut me from the band.  I was disappointed, but I realized I was the least talented member.  I collected all my stuff as they watched me from the couch with melancholy faces.  It was quiet as I crammed everything into the blue backpack.  I unlatched the door to the alley and stopped when I heard, “Hey man, we’re sorry.”  I couldn’t respond.

The half-stack was the first to go downstairs.  A while later, I stored the recording equipment in a tub.  A lot was changing in my life at that moment and music didn’t seem to be a part of my future.  So, I wrapped up my guitar, just as I’m doing now, in a shriveled garbage bag.  It crinkles as I carefully place it on the stand.  I turn off the lights and head back upstairs to reality.

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