The local pawn shop was having a President’s Day sale. All items 50% off, stolen items 75% off. I went because I had been recently retired, right-sized or otherwise been acted upon instead of acting on. My services would not be required. I lugged a sousaphone carefully through a door decorated with bars.
I’d had the tuba since high school but hadn’t played it since. My lips were out of shape and my lung power suspect, the result of a pack-a-day habit that had begun in my 20s until by 40 I was shivering outside my workplace, experiencing the odd sensation of feeling both good and bad simultaneously. Like when you cut yourself shaving in a nice, hot shower.
The tuba had been in cold storage for over 30 years, but with its sale imminent, nostalgia overcame me and I began making loud, flatulent notes. Soon I was playing the melody line of every John Phillip Sousa song I could recall. The next day I was at it again attempting Vivaldi's "Four Seasons”. It sounded like a German grocer on speed.
LaTonya Baumgartner was the proprietor. I’d expected someone seedier, like Adrian’s brother Pauli in Rocky. She grimaced when she saw the tuba.
“How much for this?” I said.
“You know, this shop is kinda small. That would take up a lot of room. Do you want to find something in trade, something equally big?”
I looked around numbly. The sad collection of misfit toys looked morosely back at me, like one large Evil Eye. Guns and jewelry filled the shop, much of it traded for drug or booze money. Trading the permanent for the temporary.
“Well, I could use some cash…”
“How about that foosball table?”
She eventually agreed to take the tuba for $20.
I spent the sundown on Mallory Square where the best entertainment was the sunset but where the people-watching was good too. There was the tight-rope walking dog named Mo, and his shaggier owner. Later at a karokee bar called “Two Friends” I discovered the etymology of the word "Karokee": it's the Japanese word meaning “those who lack the embarassment gene”.
There was the ice princess in the short skirt singing irenic, ironic songs like “Black Velvet” and “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”. She accepted applause as her birthright. There was Bunny, the scared little girl who gripped the microphone like a lifeline and your heart went out to her as she stood rigid as a statuette. There was the tall and angular-faced Ric Ricardo, still possessing boy-next-door-looks despite grazing the north pastures of the 40s. He sang standards so old they’re coming back in style, and he also sang “Song, Sung Blue” straight-up, irony-free.
The emcee for the evening was friendly and wore his poker face even during the worse song fractures, which apparently must be part of the job description.