A Man's Best Set

It's about 5 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. I'm in a large lobby of a Greek tourist hotel. The picture windows face the busy street and we're a hundred yards from the beach. The traffic hums. I sit on a cool white Naugahide but the knot in my gut is as tight as the strings of my guitar.Facing me are the two hotel managers. Stefanos and Julie are married. Stefanos is in his late 30's, over six feet tall, and he is starting to lose his hair. His voice grinds like a car in first gear, yet for me he's quick with the joke. His Julie lights up the room with her soft eyes and her glamour girl grin. She's American, about fifteen years younger. He tells me what to see and how to get there. She gives me color commentary. I've just left the service and here in Athens - and all Europe for that matter - they're the only friends I have. Since I arrived a week ago they have an edge about them when they talk to each other. Maybe it's the age difference, or the different cultures. Now as they sit at opposite ends of the same lounge sofa, I hear him growl, "I'll send you a postcard." She answers, "If you think I'll be here." Thick dark clouds are about to burst outside - just like in here. I've played twice for them before on my guitar, harmonica setup and they've loved it. Now they've agreed to listen to me play one more time before I leave. I love playing for them - they clap harder than anyone. My music is me, I am my music and love is something I haven't touched in a long time, except from Stefanos and Julie. That's why I need to get them together tonight. I won't stop until I do. It's all about the love. I quickly set up, I get my acoustic six strings in tune, put on my harmonica holder and force my G harp in but it falls on the couch. I try again, but it slips out of my fingers and bangs on the floor. It's less than a second, but it feels like forever. The lobby becomes my personal dungeon. I rattle my chains. Sometimes it takes time to connect. I'm slow as a semi at rush hour on the Santa Ana. I'm packed, paid up, and my plane ticket is in my pocket. I could walk out, but I promised I'd play. I pick up my harmonica and jam it in place, strum a little to tune again, and return to real time. I'm back in gear to double clutch into music. My first song is bluesy and sharp. It's got a bite, but they aren't biting. Stefano's eastern gaze is still frozen. Julie's eyes are burning west by northwest. I play louder, sing harder but I get nothing. Stefano tells me he's got to get back to work, but Julie tells him he better not move. Without stopping, I merge into another song, a love ballad. Now Julie looks at me. The phone rings, he stands, starts for it but it stops after the third ring and he lumbers back. After three ballads, they glance at me. After six Julie smiles. Stefanos is tapping the beat with his foot as I jump into some original songs. Julie claps. The sun slices a final streak of crimson and gold through the clouds before it sets. I'm going to make it, and so are Julie and Stefanos. They're studying each other now, sliding across fields of Naugahide to get close. My every note, every word soar. It's my best set, and they smile at me like they know it. Now they're laughing and cuddling. Julie blows her nose. They hold each other tight. They don't know it, but something is grabbing me too as I pack up and slip upstairs. I leave before dawn and I never see them again. It doesn't matter. We all got the love. Writers' Workshop West, active since 1962, is open to anyone interested in writing fiction, non fiction, drama, and poetry. Meetings are held the third Tuesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at the Downey High School library. For information, call (562) 862-3106

********** Published: May 22, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 5