Easy Strumming

(Names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent, though innocent of what is unclear.)

Weekends are the obvious time for spring-cleaning. Saturday, at least, one supposes. Been living for a bit in a kind of unfortunate hotel downtown to ride out some of the Great Recession...some of my own bad choices and personal, almost physical-seeming allergy to money. We’ll call the place the E Street Hotel, though it isn’t. It’s not the Golden West, though, okay?

A sign on the elevator door in the lobby reads: DO NOT WALK ON 6TH FL. EPOXY BEING APPLICATED. I want to correct the sign, of course, but don’t. Beneath it is another sign: “Extermination Saturday,” and instructions to clean apartments and pull wooden furniture away from walls. Saturday rolls around and I begin.

Moving furniture out a foot or so soon provides a kind of Chinese puzzle-box problem due to the size of the room. First the big bureau with books and meds lined up, with mustard and a small, one-cup coffee-maker on top. These items, along with other items of assorted bits of junk (nail clippers, etc.) are arrayed in rough formation like soldiers in an irregular outfit. Pulling the dresser toward me launches several of these to the right and onto the floor. The top drawer slides forward and nearly spills its contents, among which are a series of old photographs I’ve been packing around with me for months.

The top one is a shot from 24 years ago, myself onstage with a Stratocaster, my sister to my left on a Fender bass, behind us, my late brother Paul on drums. Paul was the best drummer I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with some good ones. I’m not just saying that because he was/is my brother. It’s true. Not in this shot is our lesbian/recovering alcoholic lead singer. The band is Strange Brew, and we’re onstage at some bar in Chicago, possibly a lesbian bar. We played quite a few of those. I am 36 or 37 years old in these shots, a quickly trotting-toward-middle-age rascal. I’m hardly the only drunk in the Brew, however; just one of us doesn’t drink. Actually, we were quite popular doing originals and covers both and booked quite a bit around the city in 1986 and 1987.

After cleaning out the closet, I decide to break. It’s about 10 a.m. I no longer smoke, but I make my way to the second-floor mezzanine smoking area where two other guys are sitting on a couch, having already finished their clean-out. Presumably. One of them is Davy, with an imitation Stratocaster, called a Maxtone or something. It is duct-taped together here and there.

“Hey, Davy.”

“Hey.” Davy is maybe 40, I don’t know. He’s got long red hair to his shoulders and thick, gnomish facial features. He looks like a Scotsman. I’m betting he is but I don’t ask. He’s not playing the Maxtone at the moment, and I ask him if I can. By way of answer, he swings the broad-necked axe toward me. Davy and the other guy resume their conversation while I finger a fretboard for the first time in two years.

“So this guy is telling me, ‘Don’t say that stuff on my cell phone, like, buy and sell and stuff. You’re going to get me busted, man.’ I say, ‘What are you talking about? I’m talking about selling Frisbees to a preschool.’”

Davy says, “Guy’s probably an old dope fiend, never had a job.”

“He is, man. That’s exactly right. In fact, he’s just a freelance telemarketer avoiding taxes. Hey, sounds good, man.” This last directed at me.

“It can’t, man. I haven’t played in a couple years, and this is like playing with a garden tool.” I lift my left claw. The guy I don’t know nods his head. “You can’t just set these things down for years. You pay.” In fact I’m playing like an arthritic orangutan. I know it, but I want to listen to more of these guys, They’re like characters in a William Burroughs novel.

“Jungle Boy Timmy is coming back here,” says X man. “His shit didn’t work out in L.A.”

“He still doing his thing?” asks Davy.

“I believe so, I believe so. Hey, you getting inna band or what?”

“That’s what I’m working on,” Davy hacks out a few chords: blocky, heavy. “This town does not have itself together or know what time it truly is.”

“What time is it, Dayvo?”

“Rock and roll will return!”

I return to my room after thanking Davy and start pushing a broom, concocting a story about Davy and Mr. X. With dialogue just like theirs. Thinking of calling it “Mystery Train.” And though I could, I know it’s been done.

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Once saw a publicity photo for Strange Brew. 80's hair!!!

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