You Can Play
Here’s another story I wrote. It’s a bit different than the first. Enjoy.
The great city on the east coast stands alone
aloof and distanced from all neighbors
like a man standing on an island
afraid to tread with the deadly sharks
or through the seaweed
that they believe makes up
the rest of the world.
Excerpt from Joseph E. Erlaub’s
“A Tale of Tall Cities”
If I hear somebody fucking say “I love New York” one more time, I’m gonna punch em in the god damn face. Now now, don’t think I’m saying I don’t love this city. I do. I’ve been here my whole life. I love this town, you know that. You know how much I care, man.
I just get sick of these punks from outta town acting like they own it. They come in, move to Brooklyn and start strutting around like kings. Wearing those shirts. You know the ones. I hate those shirts. I tipped over a cart with all those shirts on it the other day and took off. Yeah, in Manhattan. You don’t see those shirts in Queens. Or, god forbid, the Bronx.
You been down there since you got here? The Bronx I mean. I go through there once in awhile, sometimes when I’m visiting my cousins. It’s looking bad, I tell you. Queens though, Queen is always the same. To me anyways. I never want to be there and can’t wait to leave. Like most good New Yorkers, I come from Brooklyn. Salt of the Earth. I swear, salt of the Earth. Like you and me, true blooded New York bad asses.
Born and raised right? Never left this town till we were what, 20, 21? Old enough to drink and stupid enough to drive. That’s when the great tours started. Back when we’d jump in the back of your van and drive all around town. Playing crappy music at crappy shows to crappy crowds in crappy venues. Remember Hoboken? God, what a dump. Anything in Jersey, any show. Always shouting for Springstein covers.
“Born to Run! Born to Run, man. Nobody cares about your originals!” What a pile of shit. New Yorkers, that’s all they want to hear. They don’t care if you can play like somebody else. Like you can play other people’s songs. There’s a million bands on a million blocks that can play a million covers that sound exactly like everybody else. You gotta be original.
And that’s why I love it here. We’d throw together some chords, throw on some weird squiggles on the keyboard or the saxophone and call it a song. Some simple, stupid base lines. Pounding drums, smashing cymbals. Holding down on one chord for hours. Hahaha yeah man that was the life. Remember how much money we used to get? I used to pay rent just by playing shows.
Not any more. Venues don’t pay as much any more. It’s harder to get gigs. Those fake “Noo Yawkers” come in with their guitars and their midwest accents and sing about how hard it was living on the plains. Fuck that. They still get the gigs though! Or at least enough gigs that it made it harder for local guys. I haven’t played in years.
Christ, I need a drink. I get pissed talking about these punk poseur fake guys, dropping their drawl and trying to talk like “they from Brooklyn.” Like an accent is a badge of pride. Like you’re automatically cool because you talk like Deniro or like a dipshit. Christ, I didn’t choose to talk like this, you know? I can’t help it. I notice your accent seems to have disappeared. I can understand being out in Iowa, who wants to talk like this? You’d stand out like a sore thumb out there. Especially as a teacher, you know?
Enough of this kind of talk! Let’s just go sit in this bar here. Yeah, that’s the one. “Tony’s.” This is a good bar. Right, it used to be “The Dry Dock.” Closed down about two years ago. Dude, I know tell me about it. Remember when we used to play here? I met Jessica here. Remember, she came in wearing those dark black, goth clothes. Yeah she was all “dark and mysterious” back then. Her and Betty. Came in together, looking like something Robert Smith dragged in, like Siouxie Sioux or something. Boy, did they change after that.
Anyways, let’s not dwell on the past. It seems to be all I’m doing. Right now, this place is the best. Notice how busy it is? Dollar shots on Wednesdays. Yeah, that’s why I go out on days like this. The booze is cheap. And you can usually find a good table. Like that one there. Nice. Relax for a minute, I’m gonna go get the shots. What you want? Jack? My man. I’ll be back here in a second, here.
Right. One, two, three, shoot. That’s the good stuff. You look pale. Hahaha yeah man, you can’t take it can you? I understand. Let’s take it easy for a second. Me, I come down to this place two or three times a week. They have good bands, sometimes. They got some band playing tonight, “The Tunsington Tree.” Whatever the hell that is. Back when we ruled this scene, we didn’t have bands call stupid shit like that. That’s just an annoying name, you know?
It’s good to have you in town, man. Good as hell to see you. Can’t believe you’ve been gone five years.
The rest move in, like vultures to them natives
to swoop down low and take over for them.
But when they try to snare the invaders
they end up only trapping themselves
and watch the rest rule the land.
Excerpt from Joseph E. Erlaub’s
“A Tale of Tall Cities”
You haven’t been here to see those punks move in. I mean, come on, I get sick of em real quick. They come in here with their guitars and their distortion pedals and they make this awful racket. It’s like the 80’s, man. Remember, all those bands, coming in, blowing their minds off with their amps? Laying right against the damn things and screeching out howling feedback? Hell yeah those were the days.
Now it just seems stale. Like, it’s been done to death. Remember our little band there? We were good. That tour to the California was amazing. Terry though, that shit, couldn’t keep it together long for a whole tour. Kept drinking and drinking. You can’t play if your drummer’s drunk.
But yeah, these guys come in and play that same old stuff. Those same old chords. Sing the same old lyrics. You know it gets old, man. I can’t handle it. I haven’t played since that last tour. It was too hard. I almost had to go to my folks house. If they’d have let me. I was just lucky to get that job, you know?
You’ve been teaching, right? That’s great to hear, man. We were glad to hear you were going back to school. Get that second degree you know? Luke, he went and got a degree in massaging. He does that now, traveling around with a board. Yeah just like in Seinfeld. Oh trust me, he’s heard all the jokes.
Married yet? No? Woman? Me neither. I just haven’t had the nerve to even try. Not since the tour, man. Sure, I was in and out a few things but nothing that counted. No focus. No drive or desire. It’s kind of like I completely forgot how to woo a lady over the last five years. A few drunken encounters and swapping spit with random skanks can’t really count. Who would ever think that could replace the real thing, you know?
Look, guys like that. No no, don’t look. Just wait for them to walk by. There they go. See what I mean? They got the clothes, they got the smirk, the look, the style…but it’s all wrong. It’s fake. They can’t pass themselves off like me and you. They don’t got the real New York style. We got it in spades.
I can still see it in you too. Even after five years of being gone. You still got that look, that “been everywhere” look. Been there. Done that. So those things. Just because you’re out in Iowa, doesn’t mean you ain’t still here. I can see it in your eyes too.
Haha you won’t sell me on Iowa man. I don’t care how many corn fields or whatever they got. I don’t give a fuck about corn fields. I’m a city man. You know that. I love the look of the buildings blocking out the sky and the sun. The smells. The people, pressing against you. It never gets old. There’s something to do all the time.
Agoraphobic? What the hell is that? Oh. I dunno man. I’ve never really been in any wide open spaces. Not sure how I’d react. Last year, I was a janitor at Yankee stadium. That’s kind of a wide open space. It didn’t seem to bother me.
That’s funny eh? I guess you’re right. Nope, never seen no miles and miles of emptiness. Closest I’ve seen is the ocean. That doesn’t count I expect. You don’t miss the big buildings, the big city, the hustle the bustle? The ladies. Come on, how many great ladies can there be in Iowa? All wide ass, corn fed farmer’s daugthers I bet. That’s not my style, man. You know that.
I guess though you know that well. You know my style. The kind of girls I like. We tend to share the same taste. Now, come on man I’m just saying. No need to get mad. That stuff, that old stuff, that’s ancient history ain’t it? I don’t think about that any more. Do you?
Bullshit? I don’t man. I try not to anyways. Those times, with the band with those girls. Those are long gone. They ain’t real to me any more. Sometimes I can half remember how I felt, half remember what we sounded like. I threw away all our CD’s, deleted the files on the computer. I don’t even think I could play the songs any more.
I haven’t even seen those people. I couldn’t tell you where any of them went. I mean, I guess Betty, what, she was in some video wasn’t she? Come on man, I’m just asking. She was wasn’t she? Like some rap video or something? That’s probably about it for that old crew. It’s so funny to think, that out of all of us she was the one who “made” it. As far as that can be called “making it” I guess.
It makes you wonder. Are looks all that matter? I mean, Betty had plenty of those, no doubt. Not a lot going up stairs but…aw come on man I’m just fucking with you. And you know it’s true. She wasn’t that bright. Sarah, Lanie…Jessica. Now they were bright. Good looking, bright but dull. Not like that wild child, Betty. She was something else.
Sit down man! Come on don’t be like that. I didn’t think you’d still be sore about that. It’s been awhile. It is ancient history. You’re not still hung up on you are her? You say that, but somehow I’m doubting it. Why would get up to leave if it didn’t still bother you? It’s okay man just fucking let it out.
No? Look, if it makes you feel any better, I got burned on that whole deal. We all did. Jessica? Yeah of course she left me. Would I be sitting here otherwise? You think I avoided a trip to Iowa because I hate empty spaces? Ha. She didn’t want me going. She finished her degree though, man, went off to Italy. Good for her, I say. Good for her.
She was never that wild either. Not like we were, back in the day. You remember snorting those lines and playing for ten hours? Just switching instruments and playing our own shit? That was the best man. That was an amazing tour. Just the six of us, playing for hours every night, in four or five different bands with different sounds. Oh man those really where the days.
But…you know, women really get to you after awhile. It’s hard to deal with. I love em a lot like, I can’t deal with not having one around sometimes. But sometimes you just can’t have them around either. I can’t figure it out. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to deal with these girls. I got a few around sometimes, you know…like I’m banging this one right now. But there isn’t much interest there. I played her a song at a party one time…that was it. It wasn’t even a good song. One of mine, yeah. They were never that good. Just a few basic chords.
And she was all over me. I hate that. It was fun but…a waste. An absolute waste. I can jerk off for 20 minutes and feel just fine. And then I don’t have to deal with the problem of dealing with the girl…like, I don’t want to have to talk to her after. Normally I would but…not with girls like that. What a waste.
Another shot eh? Of course. Shit, let’s do two. A piece. That’s right, why not get good and hammered? You don’t gotta work tomorrow. Yeah, I do but I’m used to this. This is my Wednesday routine. We can even scrounge around for some girls later right? There’s always girls in this town looking for some guys like us.
Especially if we hit up those karaoke bars. I’m sure I can still belt it out like the old days. We can belt out a duet. Ha, imagine that man, just the two of us going for broke. Singing like wild men. Hell, you should just come stay at my place tonight. I still got the old guitars around. I can dredge up a keyboard or violin for you. You might have to tune the instruments but you know. We’ll have a good time.
I mean, this is New York right? It’s not like Iowa, where everything closes at eleven. Everything is open all night here. We never sleep here. I mean, I don’t anyways. There are so many things to do. We don’t even have to stay here to watch this shitty band. Oh God, look man, a mandolin! Can you believe it? I haven’t gotten mine out in years. We should jam some folk rock shit tonight. That’d be great.
Busy? Come on man, we’ve only been out an hour so far. It’s not that late, it’s only ten. This is our night, man. You said you had one good night to hang out with me. It’s been five years. Don’t be a bitch like that. We used to tear up this town till five in the morning, go home, sleep for two hours and then work for eight hours at that god damn factory. Then we’d do it again.
Christ man, I know you got stuff to do and people to see. But it’s been five years. All that stuff that happened, all those years ago, the girls, the band all that shit. That’s ancient history. That shouldn’t matter. History man. This is now. Tomorrow is the future. Don’t worry bout what you got going on tomorrow. We’re having a good time right now. That was the band motto wasn’t it? Have a good time right now?
Okay fine. We aren’t in a band any more. We’re not exactly the same people we were five years ago. I get you. I understand. You have people to see. Things to do. I suppose you need sleep. Yeah. I know man, you haven’t seen your parents either. I understand. I get to see mine regularly. They started talking to me again. It took awhile. But they did.
I’m sorry to come across like this. I’m sorry. We don’t need to dwell on it. No. You don’t have to apologize. I understand. Why don’t we get one more shot? You’re taking a cab aren’t you? Just one more man, for the road. Nah, that’s okay. Go ahead. I’m gonna stay here. I’m gonna take a few more shots and go home. It was good to see you too. Hopefully we can do this again when you have more time.
Yeah thanks, man. Yeah, I will have to get out the guitar again. Record some chords. Maybe send them to you, so you can do something with them. Play some piano on top? Or violin or even some drums? Are you serious, you don’t play at all any more? God, that’s a fucking shame man. You could really play back in the day. Better than any of us. You could really play back then.