Maybe tossing the phone was a bit much. Well, not so much tossing it as throwing it sidearm. I don’t know how to throw sidearm but standing in the opening of my cubicle; it felt like the best way to get some sink on the throw. Aren’t most side-armers sinker ball pitchers? There is a 2 foot section of soft cubicle wall between the desk and the task light. It seemed like an easy throw. I think I kind of made a grunt, well, not a grunt but a sort of growl as the cell phone left my hand. Felt good. It was bummer, the way it hit the lip of the desk and spun like the blade on a lawn edger. The case popped off in one direction and the spinning phone jumped into the light fixture. I am sure they must have replacement covers for those … right?
Look, I know I can get excited at work. Sure, when my blood is up, I can get loud. Not yell. Well, maybe yell, but not in a scary way. I mean no one harm. Almost 30 minutes on hold listening to that same butchered Musak Eagles song over and over. I mean, it’s understandable … right? My team members kept looking at me for an answer, and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and wave the useless cell phone at them. The Eagles. Come on, everyone has a breaking point. I started the call again on my landline and we eventually fixed the problem. No harm. No foul.
She said I could have hurt someone. There was no one else in my cube. How is that even a thing? I have only broken two phones this year, and no one got hurt. That seems like an exaggeration.
“No Charlie, you don’t have a choice,” she said.
“But boss I started,” and she cut me off.
Her neck turns red when she is angry. I’ve seen that. Kind of the color of ketchup in a bottle. This time she was serious as death, so I backed off fast and listened.
“You need to take some time off to think about how your anger effects the team.”
Lea slid a written notice, something official, across the table to me. They took away my key card and remote access to the office for a week. I was to take the time off immediately. I have tons of vacation time in my account, so that’s no big deal. Immediately?
“But my wife can’t get the week off on such short notice.”
“Well, Charlie, then call it a staycation. Relax, exercise, sleep in, do what you love for a week then come back to us a new man. Think about how you can be a better team member. There’s a number on that document for someone in HR who you SHOULD call.”
Document? Damn, that sounds official. I started to say Okay, but what was the point, I just nodded, got my stuff and headed for the elevator.
Staycation. What idiot came up with that name? I am stuck in the same place with a week off. Get your mind off of things. What things? What am I missing? Were things so awful to be shown the door? We appreciate your talent and how hard you work was nice to hear. You just need to reset your attitude would have been sufficient. Hold it. Are they going to take the week to figure out how to fire me? No … they wouldn’t do that. Would they do that?
When I explained I had the week off, my wife seemed both concerned and relieved.
Suzy said, “Good, but I can’t leave work so you need to entertain yourself. I am really busy at work this week.”
She reached for my hands and held them while looking me in the eye, “Honey, you have been so stressed lately. This is a good thing. They are giving you a second chance. Don’t waste it.”
“What? I need a second chance? Hold it Suzy, what am I missing here?”
“Les, I think that’s the problem, you don’t see it. You are so up in your head all the time that you forget how other people see you. A phone, honey? Another phone? Think about it. Please call that number they gave you. You have such a good heart. I know that better than anyone. Please, honey.”
I couldn’t sleep and wanted to log into work and check on the problem. It feels like someone has cut off one of my hands. Read a book? Nah. Maybe stream something, a movie. I used to sit for hours in front of my computer killing imaginary beasts but that got to be an obsession so I quit … mostly for Suzy.. But now what. Fuck it. I still have sleeping pills from those long flights. Maybe I just need a good night’s sleep.
Washed both cars. Mowed the lawn. Picked up the groceries. Maybe clean the garage? No. Saturday night dinner with Suzy was nice. Our favorite place, a couple of cocktails and the conversation flowed. Suze gets me. Well, maybe she is just used to me. I wish other people could see what she sees. She is right. This is my chance to go see some music. That always calms me. Me roaming the streets alone on a school night sounds like fun. Yeah, tomorrow night.
“Night honey, I will be home way after you are asleep. I won’t wake you.”
“Have fun, Les. Just give me a kiss when you come to bed.”
Mick’s has always been one of great blues clubs in the city. I have so many fun memories. Charlie Musselwhite, John Lee Hooker and Little Charlie and the Night Cats. So many brilliant shows. Tonight, it’s just me and Jerry Roberts, maybe the best white delta blues player ever. He has a terrific band. Mick’s will be jammed.
I pulled up to the bar and found parking right out front. My lucky night. Such a great bar with a big stage and perfect sound system. I’m a little early, but that’s fine. Time to get that first shot and a beer down. Warmed up. Inside there was something wrong. The stage was dark; the club was empty. What? I had checked the weekly paper. Jerry is supposed to be here tonight. The small bar off the main room was open, a chair and a single speaker were near the front window. The bartender raised his head and smiled at me as I approached the bar.
“What’s going on tonight, no show?”
“Oh yea, Jerry just went out to his car to get his guitars. He will start in about 3O.”
“ Just him. Yea, he is solo tonight.”
“Oh, I … give me a shot of Jack and a beer back. You pick the beer. I don’t care.”
I looked at the row of 2 person tables across from the bar. Idiot, nobody goes out on a Sunday night. At the table closest to the chair and speaker sat a couple. The older black gentleman in a nice coat and tie seemed familiar, his date not so much. Wow, she’s young, must be a daughter or niece or something. She’s pretty hot. I am sure I have seen that guy at other blues shows. I exchanged nods and smiles with both of them.
“I guess it is just us and Terry tonight. Pretty cool … right?”
“Yes sir, don’t get to do this often, do we?”
I took my drinks to a table one away from the couple. No need to crowd them. I am sure the place will fill in. I mean, Jerry, he’s a genius. People will not miss the chance to see him up close like this. Just then he walked in with two guitar cases. He pulled out the National Steel and put it in one stand, then unlimbered his Martin and tuned it.
A shaggy, disheveled guy with grey hair and a gut over his Levis came in and sat at the bar. He ordered something on the rocks, then turned back to nod my way. I smiled and lifted my shot in his direction. We air toasted each other, and I downed the Jack. Nothing like the sensation of whiskey hitting the back of your throat, that burn that works its way down your gullet in a hot straight line. Then a delicious radiated out from my chest to your fingertips. I let fire burn a little longer before dousing it with a long pull on the cold beer. I eased back into my chair and watched Jerry tinker with the mic stand and speaker, shifting both until he was satisfied. He was all business as he looked at his watch and then back up to the bartender. They exchanged nods and Jerry shrugged his shoulders and pulled the guitar closer. Leaning toward the mic, he thanked everyone for coming out and began to play.
The liquor smoothed the wrinkles in my psyche. Nothing drastic, just that feeling like your body has suddenly discovered more gravity. Jerri broke into Crossroads Blues. I recognized it in the first few bars. He closed his eyes and dissolved into the music. I, on the other hand, while more relaxed, was suddenly a horrified. This is it. The four of us. I liked the anonymity of going out to a crowded show. This is way too intimate.
I stood and put the shot glass on the on the bar.
“One more. I’m still working on that beer.”
“Run a tab?”
I never run a tab at shows, but with only six of us in the room, why not. I slid my card across the bar and harvested the shot.
The four of us, the fans, were all nodding our heads to the music. Jerry is a passable singer but good lord, those hands working that guitar. Second shot in, beer drained, I was that new man. Jerry was working his way through delta blues standards, John the Revalator, Coffee Blues, Where Did You Sleep Last Night. So good. I had most of the songs he was doing on albums at home. Home? Damn, I better slow down, I still need to drive home at some point. What is it from here? 2 miles? Maybe a little more. Almost a straight line. I smiled and whispered to myself, “The car can drive itself that far.”
Between songs, Jerry looked at the table in front of me, then the guy at the bar and me. He half-grinned and gave each of us a nod.
“Feel free to come up and dance,” he said, laughing.
I thought about the economics of the moment. What does he get paid for this gig? A hundred bucks? There was no cover. This isn’t making anyone any money. I need to give the bartender a good tip. I once went to a see a movie on a Tuesday night, art film. There were two of us in the theater. I thought about the guy running the projector. I remember thinking if me and that other guy agreed, we could call it a night and that projector guy could go home. The longer the Jerry’s set went on, the more I wondered if the four of us were just holding him and the bartender hostage. It was creeping toward 10 PM. Then I panicked. What if someone leaves at the break? How long do I need to be here to be respectful? I really need to pee, but I can’t just stand up now. It would be rude. This is getting stressful. I raised my hand to the bartender, pointed to the empties. He started pulling a new pint and poured another shot of Jack.
Thank god. Jerry stopped. The bartender had picked up the glasses and reloaded my table. I slipped him a fiver. Better to tip in cash.
Jerry said, “I am going to take a brief break. Don’t go anywhere. I am going to pick up that National Steel for you.”
Jerry went to the bar for a soda and went to the restroom. Yikes, I am pretty buzzed. That’s OK. No, that’s fine. I am supposed to be relaxing. This is just what the doctor … heh the boss … hey my wife ordered. I did my business and slapped my wet hands on my cheeks. Looking in the mirror, I check my eyes. I am not sure why. I stared hard at myself. What the fuck are you doing here on a Sunday night, buddy? A reward. Through your phone and see some blues. Broke phone blues. Hey, that’s pretty good.
When I got back to the bar, shaggy man was gone. Three of us left. Well, this sucks. I drank half the shot and sipped the beer. I am a hardcore bluesman now. This is the thing … right. This place in now a juke joint. Jerry sat back down, slid a metal tube on his index finger and ran it up and down the neck of the National Steel.
“Oh, yea, a little slide guitar,” I said out loud, a little too loud.
The black man turned his head to me and said, “Yes indeed, I love some slide.”
Jerry looked my way and laughed one bark of a laugh, and then his face went back to serious. A man at work.
Good blues slide guitar is like a can opener on your soul. The ringing notes sliced me open. Back Door Man. So good. It revitalized me. Awake. I finished the shot and beer and motioned to the bartender. But this time I was rational.
“No shot,” I mouthed, “give me an IPA.”
Yea, good, slow it down a little. Cold pint on the table, I took a swallow and savored the bitter on my tongue. Jerry’s playing made me want to cry. So beautiful. I tried to focus on what he was doing with his right hand, finger picking. So fast. So clean. Damn, I wish I could do that. I’d never work again if I could do that.
Then it happened. No, I thought, as the man and girl stood, her sliding on her coat. Jerry was going back to his Martin, so they figured this was a good time to call it a night. The man leaned in and said something to Jerry on the way to the door. He slid him a bill and Jerry laughed. They both turned and looked at me. The older man nodded. I nodded back. Jerry just grinned. I took a long drink and nodded my head and the glass as if they were the same thing.
What do I do now? I might as well be sitting in Jerry’s living room with him. Part of me loved the whole command performance feeling, but mostly tension rose in my muscles. A sensation that even the booze couldn’t dull out. When can I leave? Why am I making these two guys stay here just for me? The buzz mutated to a dull throb in my head. I was tired, so tired. Come on, Charlie. Rally man. That guy is playing his heart out for you. I knocked back the rest of the IPA and clapped along with Jerry. The sound of my hands was loud, but I just kept it going, rocking my body with the tune.
It was creeping to about 11:30 when Jerry said, “This will be the last one. Thanks for coming out and hanging in there with me.”
I kind of bowed and made a sweeping motion with my hand toward Jerry. He shook his head and broke into Going Home. And then he finished. I rose to take my empty to the bar. Yikes, I am swimming here.
“Close me out good sir,” I said to the bartender. I took the slip and put a twenty-dollar tip on the bill and handed it back.
“Hey man, thank you,” he said, reaching out his hand to shake mine, “you good?”
“Oh yea, I just live down the street, walking distance.”
“OK, take care.”
Jerry at the front end of the bar raised a fresh glass of beer toward me and I waved as I headed for the door.
“Great set, man.” I like to say set because it shows him I am more than a casual fan. So I said it again. He just smiled.
I crossed the empty street to my car. The key bounced off the car twice before it found the lock. I plopped into the seat and shut the door. Damn, I am fucked up. This isn’t good. I put my hands on the wheel and stared up the long empty avenue. Man, Sunday night is quiet. Where did everyone go? I imagined what it would be like to drive home. What? Four stop lights. Two right turns and one to the left and there I am. Simple. I can do this. I put the key in the ignition and started the car. Heat. I’m cold. I’ll just sit here to warm up and sober up. Let’s see, the first drinks were over two hours ago, so those are already out of my system. Yea, this will be fine. Ah, there’s the heat. Good.
Car in drive, I opened the driver's side window and hung my head out of the window to be extra safe. Come on Charlie, you can do this. Just check everything twice. All clear, here we go. I eased the car out into the right-hand lane. The street swam. The lights blurred as I turned my head. No. No. No. This is not working. Suzy would be so mad if I got pulled over. No. A block down the road, I pulled over and bounced the front wheel off the curb.
“Shit, there goes my pretty wheel? You fucking idiot! Why did you do that?”
Ignition off. I can’t call Suzy to come get me. She is asleep and will be furious. Hold it. I can’t call anyone. I don’t have a fucking phone. I can’t believe this. I looked back down the street to the bar and the lights were out. OK, I guess I am walking. Yea, that is safe. I did this myself. I will just come back tomorrow and get the car.
What is it two miles? This is going to be a long walk. I paused at every corner and took a deep breath and exhaled hard before stepping off. Man, I have not been this buzzed in a long time. Walking past the closed Mexican food restaurant, I tried to think of the last time I was this drunk. Gotta be a few years. Back in the old days, before Suzy. Suzy … oh man, I can’t wait to get in bed with her. Drink lots of water, Charlie. Don’t forget to drink lots of water. Am I half way yet?
Damn, it got bright suddenly. Colored lights. Of fuck … Fuck … Fuck … a cop. Be cool, Charlie. A little adrenaline will sober you right up.
“Sir, where are you going tonight?” said the tall city police as he aimed a flashlight up and down my body.
“Home officer. Just up the street.”
“Been drinking tonight, sir? Can I see your ID?”
Be cool, Charlie. This is just routine. Damn. Are you kidding? Dropped your wallet. Pick it up, idiot. Goddamnit. You are fucking blowing it.
“Officer, I just wanted to be safe, so I stopped my car down the street and walked the rest of the way. I want to be completely safe for everyone.”
“Is that right? So you were driving?”
“That’s right, officer … just now from Marty’s. I saw the best blues show ever. You know the blues? You ever see Jerry … uh … Jerry … “
“Are your planning to go back to your car?”
“Sir, I need you to turnaround. You are under arrest for public intoxication.”
“What? No, you don’t understand. I am relaxing this week. I have the week off.”
I started to run away from the cop but stumbled to the right and into a wall. Oh, that hurt. The officer pushed my body against the wall and before I could turn; he had somehow handcuffed my hands behind my back.
Over and over I just yelled, “I don’t have my phone. You don’t understand. I don’t have my phone!”
The officer steered me to the back of his car, opened the door and slid me into the car, touching my head like I had seen so many times on television. He came around and sat in the driver’s seat and started taking on the radio, saying a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand. He then turned and said through the holes in the plastic divider.
“So, Mr. Reese, where did you think you were going when I asked you to turn around back there?”
I turned my head and looked out at the pet store. There were tall cat stands in the widow.
“Staycation. I was going to my staycation.”
Copyright 2021 Jim Blackwood, Jr.