May 11, 2010
~Based on four mostly true stories.~
It was seven A.M. The darkness, although it seemed to have begun only a few seconds ago started to fade to the bright light of day. Well, not actual daylight. Yellow artificial light, filtered through crosshatched glass. It took a moment for Joe’s pupils to dilate, for them to filter in the right amount of light and adjust. He looked around. The car he resided in was mostly empty, dominated only by a large African American woman who watched his slow, measured movements with staring, hateful eyes. “This stop is-Times Square: 42nd Street.” The automated voice mumbled almost incoherently. Joe sighed and got up. He looked up and saw that the large black case and cardboard sign were still on the rack above him. He picked both on the rack and carried them gingerly and sleepily out of the train.
Joe trekked to his usual spot and put his things down. He breathed deeply and coughed as he snapped the latches on the faded leather case open and lifted the top. He pulled out the instrument that lie inside, and felt its soft curve wrapped around him as it had been for years now. He ran his ancient, arthritic, callused hands tenderly over the six strings that had been there for ten years now. He set up his sign and began strumming a simple twelve bar blues riff. This riff was widely accepted as the easiest existing blues riff to play, and was used in almost every blues and rock song out there. Joe preferred to play things that could be accepted by anyone as whatever song they wanted. This got him more tips without taking people’s requests.
But alas, the fish were not biting today. The identical suits passed by. Joe noticed that there were only 7 types of suits businessmen bought. He also noticed that in each group of people that passed by, there were exactly seven people wearing each one of these seven suits, and seven people who weren’t wearing suits of any kind. Joe noticed at least seven of these groups per hour. The only people who did pull out their wallets for Joe were the ones who wore no suits. He remembered one kid that had passed by many months ago…
…I remember…It was almost…7 months and 7 days ago. At first he walked right past me, didn’t seem to take any notice. But then he backtracked as if he had dropped something, and stopped right in front of me. He listened for a moment, tapping his left foot like it was spring loaded. He then pulled something small and brown from his pocket-could it be-yes, it was-his wallet. He reached inside, kept his hand there for a few seconds, and then pulled something out. It was only one bill. I was grateful nonetheless, and thanked him. I had seen a 5 on the bill as it glided slowly into the case, but I could have sworn I saw a zero…I checked the bill, and realized that it was a 50. I ran to offer more thanks to the kid, but he was already gone. I came back to my little nook, only to find that the $50 was gone. Just gone, disappeared into thin air. I saw a man running away, and figured he was the culprit. But I didn’t go after him. Anyone who steals money from a homeless man must really need it.
One businessman stopped before Joe and listened for a moment. But his coworker told him that the train was about to leave and they had to move on. The next train didn’t leave for 15 minutes. It’s amazing how much you learn if all you have to focus on for 10 years is music and the automated voice telling you what train is arriving when.
The day passed slowly, like a nightmare that you want to wake up from but just can’t. At the end of the day, Joe looked inside the case. Seven dollars. The same amount he had almost every day. Sometimes his spare change added up to $7.07, $7.70, or even $7.77 a few times. Joe glanced at the overhead clock. It was almost midnight, an understandably dead hour in the subway station. A single man in a trench coat and sunglasses with a suitcase and a cigarette passed by and sat down next to Joe, without the fear or disgust most people had when they came within 100 feet of him. Joe turned to him and greeted him. The man greeted Joe back with a quick “Hey,” without turning his head. The man looked around absentmindedly. Joe asked the man, “What are you doing here at this hour?” The man turned towards Joe, an expression of concern behind the sunglasses that he used in an attempt to hide his face. “You a cop?” he asked, then took a long puff on the cigarette. Joe replied with a blunt “No” and continued staring into the man’s dark frames. “Good,” Said the shady man. “To tell the truth,” he continued, “I’m a dealer. I’m waiting for my client to show up.” Joe mumbled something to himself and looked around the station with the man. The two sat there in silence for a half hour, when the other man broke the silence with, “Forget it. He’s not coming, he was supposed to be here 45 minutes ago.” He stood up and was about to leave, when he looked at Joe and smiled. “How’d you like to buy some?” he asked. Joe looked at him and asked what “some” was. “LSD,” replied the dealer. “Acid, lysergide, swallowed. I can give you a few blotters for $5. $5. I have seven. Joe thought. He had a rising temptation to buy it. So Joe handed the man a $5 bill, and in return the man gave Joe ten solid white squares.
Joe put one of the tabs on his tongue. He didn’t feel any different at first, but he knew it might take a little while. And a bit later, it began. The subway station was melting away slowly. Joe was going somewhere else, and he didn’t know where. But he liked it.
At first it was just colors. Shades of red, blue, green, and yellow that you didn’t even know existed yet, and had never imagined. Then, the colors began to take shape. There was a man standing on a platform, and thousands of people were watching him. The random colors faded to true browns and whites, and the man’s true identity became true.
It was Joe.
He was at Carnegie Hall, he recognized the shape from his second grade music class field trip. It was him, but it wasn’t him. He wasn’t as skinny, and he had a new, polished guitar, with brand new steel strings. He seemed to be towards the end of whatever song he was playing, because he was building to a climax of some sort. Joe didn’t recognize the song, but it was beautiful. It sounded like all the emotions he had ever felt were pouring out of the notes that rang sweetly in his ears. The man finished the song, and Joe just stared in bewilderment as the words “That was my new song, The Scu…”
…And then fading back to reality. Joe didn’t know what time it was, but the station was still deserted. He remembered what he had seen and tried to copy what he had seen himself playing in his fantasy, but it was no use. He couldn’t do it. He tried starting on every possible note, and found the first one. He moved on to the next one, and hit that one too. But when it came to finding the seventh note he had heard, he couldn’t find it. He tried all 7 notes, all 7 naturals, all 7 sharps, and all 7 flats seven times each, and he tried each one in all the possible positions it could be played in. But to no avail. He was trying the last possible note one final time when his heart stopped. It was like that feeling you get when you’re about to put down your foot and you look down and notice you were just about to step on a dead bird.
It was an epiphany.
Joe realized he was never going to be able to make it big where he was. He was making only seven dollars a day on his best days. That wasn’t enough for a man-any man-to live on. Joe packed up his things (his guitar and his sign) and limped away, coughing the whole way. But on his way out, Joe dropped his cardboard sign without knowing, and continued moving on.
The next morning, the same group of people passed through the station on their way to work. They saw Joe’s sign lying on the ground in the same spot it had been yesterday. The identical suits and the standouts both came to the conclusion that at sometime during the night the man had died, and a cleanup crew of some sort had removed his body so as not to frighten passers-by, and entirely neglected the sign. They also assumed that his old guitar had been stolen by a thug looking to make some easy money. One particularly brave young man stepped forward with a pen, flipped over the cardboard sign, and inscribed things such as “IN MEMORY” and “REST IN PEACE”. Even the suits that used to ignore him shed a tear for the man that, although they had never talked to him, it seemed they knew him better than anyone else in the world. Everybody passing by stopped to remember and say a prayer for the old man.
Meanwhile, Joe did the exact same thing he had always done-only now to a different audience that seemed to appreciate him just a bit more. And he is still sitting in that same spot today, playing the same songs over and over until he knows them by heart. One song Joe happens to play a lot is a Grateful Dead song entitled “Truckin’”. He loves this song-it’s easy and fun to play, and he seems to earn a bit more when he plays it, mostly because it’s a very well known song.
So for now, keep on truckin’, Joe.
Keep on truckin’.

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Modrockerhippie2 said...
May 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm
Great story! Seven used to be my lucky number too. I know just how Joe feels by the way you wrote about everyday events. Keep up the writing. You're great at it!
Modrockerhippie. replied...
May 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm
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