The drummer was faking the pain on his face. That denim jacket wasn't worn enough to have lived, but he closed his eyes as convincingly as the next rhythmic cat while massaging his cymbals.
The guitarist needed shoes and a friend to tell him that ponytails aren't alright, even for jazz artists. His gear was solid and deliberate. I have a pair of boxers in the same gray and black print as his flannel shirt. The rest I could do without.
Sometime between blurred songlines a half-way to Florida businessman asked if he could sit at my booth. Not having a valid argument in opposition I made the universal face of indifference, sans shrug. That sentiment soon changed. He began smiling with too much tooth for no reason toward the stage. His head rocked so hard that the stubble of his salty goatee began to shake loose. And then the laughing commenced. Maniacal. Senseless. Caught up in a moment that I knew wasn't there, like a Born Again Christian speaking in tongues. It's no wonder this man would leave alone after the gig. A fraud in a herringbone blazer blowing inaudible whistles of approval through cracked lips. When he took the microphone between sets to play MC I wasn't surprised, especially by his quip about "working the box" when it came time to beg for donations.
"I don't know. I guess I'm getting old," I told the kid across from me.
"I'd prefer that to constantly embarrassing myself."
The kid had a point.
But the jazzmaster stole the show--switching between brass and woodwinds, equally war-torn, in three layers of collared shirt; pockmarked and fragile, thrusting his thin hips at the mic stand during a bold improvisation that made my stubborn head spin on the inside. Years of humble penance at his muse's bloody altar showed as scars through the tight curls on his damp tobacco face; raging against pain with the jowls of a black Bukowski, his watchman's cap unquestionable, his jeans worn at the knees. If you saw him on the subway you'd swear he'd never left it. This is why I came here. This man had truly lived it, unlike his choice of cohorts. It's too bad there's no whiskey. We'd share our fun renditions of making our own blues.