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Best of plans, p.1
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       Best of Plans, p.1

           Christopher Blickensderfer
 
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Best of Plans
Best of Plans

  Christopher D. Blickensderfer

  Copyright 2013 Christopher D. Blickensderfer

  The sun pounded mercilessly on the tiny glass windows but only a few stray beams made it past the tilted metal slats of the dusty blinds. This was a place where natural lighting was not welcome. A musty hole to be illuminated only by neon beer signs.

  A dead mirror ball with only half of its little squares intact hung over the small open space of dirty floor tiles that served as a dance floor. The darkened corner stage covered with stained carpet remnants had a small drum kit and a few amplifiers on it. I looked through the smoky gloom to see if there was a keyboard up there, maybe covered with an old blanket as were the drums, but there were no keys. It was tough to find a keyboard player that was willing to play bars. In the past that had always made it easy for me to find a gig.

  For a few minutes my thoughts wandered off to past gigs I had played, many of them in bars not much better than this one, and most of them much worse, if that was even possible. Thinking of music, I turned on my stool to eye the jukebox against the far wall. It had been silent since I walked in several hours ago. The few people sitting at the bar, their money was for drinking and not for music. I suppose the same could be said for me.

  A group of guys walked in, their opening of the door letting an unwanted blast of sunlight into the room and their swaggering noisy banter disturbed what had been a tranquil place to spend the afternoon. I had seen them before. Construction workers of some kind from what I had overheard. Union guys making good money, yet they still lived in this dumpy neighborhood and drank here. Maybe it was out of some sense of loyalty to the area or nostalgia of better times gone by, but I suspected they just didn’t have the sense to leave. Me, I was getting out of here.

  Forced to leave the musty darkness because I was out of cash, I walked outside into the painful afternoon sunlight. Even after walking several blocks my eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the bright intensity. I staggered into the alleyway behind the barber shop where a sagging stairway clung precariously to the dirty bricks. The stair treads, a rusty metal grating, rattled and clanged under my feet as I climbed the flight to the top and let myself in.

  Although it was at the top of the building, I’ve had apartments in dungeons of basements that smelled better. The place was a mess, but there was no need to clean things up. I had more important work to do. However, it seemed like it might be a smart idea to lie down on the sofa and rest for just a few minutes.

  When I was rudely awakened by the incessant ringing of the telephone, the world outside was dark. The glow of the lighted slowly rotating barber’s pole out front seeped in through the soiled drapes. The phone was an antique. Black, heavy, rotary dial, hard wired into the wall so it had to sit on a small table in the short hallway between the front room and the kitchenette. Paying the bill to keep it turned on was the one luxury I afforded myself.

  “You passed out drunk?” Snarled the voice on the other end of the line. It was more of an accusation than a question. It was Charlie, the night dispatcher for Tallman Taxi. He didn’t wait for me to respond. “I need you to get your ass in here and drive for a couple hours. Donny went off the deep end again so I’m a driver short.”

  I started to answer, my tongue thick and fuzzy in my mouth, but he hung up, assuming I’d start making my way down to the cab company right then.

  I wasn’t a cab driver, at least according to Charlie or any of the other bums who drove for the son of a bitch. It didn’t matter that I could get across town in rush hour traffic as good as the rest of them. They didn’t care if I could smell a speed trap from two blocks away or could crack a mugger’s skull with a heavy flashlight, maybe pick up a few fares off the street and run them off the meter between radio calls for extra cash, but they still didn’t consider me to be a cab driver.

  Tallman Taxi operated out of a dingy office and oil soaked lot on the north side of town. The guys that worked for Tallman were from the bottom of the barrel. I drove their same old Chevy Caprices with cheap paint jobs and bought the first coffee of my shift at the same drive thru they did, but they all drove cabs because that was the only job they could get. In their eyes I would never be one of them because they thought I had thrown away chances for a better life, opportunities that they never had and never would. I drove a taxi by choice, and that offended them.

  It probably offended Charlie most of all. A robber’s nine millimeter slug still embedded in the meat of his left shoulder, quadruple bypass surgery, and several failed marriages later he had earned the status of night dispatcher and strutted around like a king on the rare occasions he got up from his desk. Although he despised me, I had been the one he called on when his ace driver was back to hitting the crack pipe. I suspect it was because he and I had more in common than he would let any real cab driver know.

  There is a little place I like to go every now and then. A coffee house near the university but off the main strip of college bars and trendy restaurants. Filled with college outcasts dressed like beatniks in thrift store clothes even though most probably came from wealthy families. A place with an open mic late in the afternoon.

  You got the sort of stuff you’d expect. A hippy born decades too late strumming folk guitar, some dumpy girl in a sack dress singing a warbling song about her lesbian lover without musical accompaniment, or some dude with facial piercings and eye liner slamming down his angst filled poetry.

  There were a few times when I took the stage and worked some improvisational piece on the Baldwin spinet piano that despite its scarred finish was in perfect tune with a keyboard that could be pounded mercilessly or barely touched to give any artistic inflection you wanted.

  Sometimes I’d bust out some of my raw prose or verse from the stack of spiral notebooks I had taken to writing in since college. Most times though I was just a spectator, waiting for someone really brilliant to take the stage. I think everyone was waiting for that moment, and I saw it happen. Once.

  It was a while back that I walked in just as he took the stage. I was surprised to see him there, of all people. Charlie, the self proclaimed king of cabbies, walked up to the microphone stand like he intended to strangle it.

  His menacing delivery tore at the room like an enraged dispatcher cursing an ace driver who had become hopelessly lost in a new and unmapped subdivision. The content was from the deep bowels where he dwelled and he flung his filth at the crowd as I might have expected. The kind of brutal and jagged authenticity that could only come from someone who had lived it. Unexpected though was the genius of his work.

  The rhymes, the meter, the apparently well-rehearsed cadence of his verses slugged the audience like a skilled heavyweight prize fighter. His poetry was from the streets, and for the streets. Not just of the grime and decay, but the beauty that only he could see in it.

  Broken shards of glass littering a cracked asphalt lot, gleaming like hundreds of stars in the night sky. The drone of traffic snarled on the street and distant sirens, all woven together like a discordant symphony. When he was finished the crowd gave him a standing ovation, something I had never seen there before.

  No one dared take the stage after Charlie. His performance was impossible to follow. Once out of the bright stage lights, he spotted me by myself at a small table in the back, nursing a high octane espresso. He gave me a stare that chipped my teeth and told me I should never mention that I saw him here.

  I was momentarily distracted by something I can’t remember now, and when I turned back to look where Charlie had stood, he was gone. Sometimes if I catch him alone in his office I’m tempted to say something like,

  “Hey Charlie, that was some good shit.” However, I’m not sure i
f that’s a smart idea.

  Mike was leaning back against the steam radiator in his usual fashion in one of my old kitchen chairs and he said,

  “Man, I got an idea for a project. We’ll get another musician, it doesn’t matter what they play, and we’ll cover a bunch of old Spike Jones tunes.”

  “We’ll get our start by playing the open mic sessions at that coffee house you go to, use our old fan base to build some interest in the group, and it will be easy to book bars from there. And hey, the name of the band? Mike Jones Does Spike Jones, or maybe Mike’s Spike.”

  I got up for a moment to stomp a cockroach on the dingy linoleum, realizing too late that he thought that was my response to his idea. Mike and I had a good run not long ago playing in the house band at
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