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Music To My Ears
“Brad, get me my d*mn rent, or you’re done. YOU HEAR ME? DONE!”
I don’t even know why I live here in this dump. As the fall months approach, my dingy little apartment grows colder, darker, lonelier; it’s no home. But then again, my childhood house wasn’t even my home. I would go to high school and goof off with the guys, chase after the girls, maybe even sneak in a smoke. After the unending hours of school were up, I was at the slopes, the woods, stores, anywhere that wasn’t my house.
My house was the one on the street that people would think everyone would envy. That’s right, I had been pretty privileged, but I never really felt that way. Mom and Dad? Ha ha! Who’s that? My parents had been gone all the time. They were both lawyers, but with all the time they were gone you would think they were up to something no good. They were always up to their eyes in papers and just work in general. They’d come home for dinner some days, other days I was eating alone, sometimes even for weeks. Dinner together was awkward. They’d take a stab at some conversation starters, but it would die down to silence quickly. The only place in my house that I looked forward to going to was my room. I painted it dark blue to match the rest of the gloomy, lonely mood of the house. But for some reason, it comforted me. It’s like my room understood what I was going through; how I was feeling. I was feeling dark blue.
Whenever I started to write my music, my room changed into an explosion of colors. It was red, yellow, green, turquoise, magenta, everything. I liked my room. It was my place to let myself go. I would take my guitar and strum along to some lyrics until my parents would barge in and tell me they couldn’t “hear themselves think with the noise.” My room would go dark blue again. Sometimes I think everything I said to my parents was just noise. That is why most of the time I would get together with my friends after school and snowboard. We lived in Lake Placid, New York, where wintertime was the best season of all. One time my best friend Frank and I were shredding up the mountain when he handed me a cigarette. “It’ll make you live forever. Let’s snowboard forever big guy.” The moment it touched my lips and I breathed in, a fire started in me. I needed them every day to relax; to think.
My life became sleep, smoke, snowboard, songs. I learned the piano and worked on my sound instead of studying for science or math. I wrote about the fire inside of me, thanks to my cigarettes. I wrote about my cr*p parents. I wrote about how everything else didn’t seem to matter anymore. Every miserable experience that was held storage in my brain helped contribute to my lyric writing. But writing lyrics all day did not contribute to improving my grades.
Since I wasn’t the educationally ambitious type, I ended up dropping out at a community college while studying art history. That was my only interest in school. After that, it has been just work at the pizzeria at 3rd and 4th street and gigs at fancy restaurants, as if I was anything close to being fancy. I haven’t gotten many gigs thanks to my bum appearance. I have my bum appearance because the pizzeria pays me next to nothing. I get paid next to nothing because I dropped out of community college. It’s a vicious cycle.
Right now I was just focused on showering and sleep. Tomorrow’s stresses would wait. Obviously, tomorrow couldn’t wait to be called “today”, because my screeching alarm clock woke me up seemingly seconds after I just closed my eyes. My eyes fought to stay closed, and I let them win. The next thing I knew was that d*mn clock read 10:13. By the time I drove to the restaurant, I was? “Late. Why can I never depend on you Brad? That’s the third time this week. WE OPEN AT 10 JUST IN CASE YOU FORGOT!”
“I know Sal, it’s just that I’ve been working real hard on my music lately.”
“Well how about you try working real hard on our pizza?! I can’t pay you if you don’t do s***! And you look like freaking chaos to boot!” I stroked my hand over my dark unshaved scruff. I saw my ridiculous hair and stained uniform in the reflection of the restaurant window. I didn’t even need a mirror to know that I had humongous dark rings underneath my large, dull dark brown eyes. I was a big, tall, gangly mess. “Listen, one more screw up, and I’m firing you.” I couldn’t process how Sal just threatened me, considering I had a hangover from drinking my stress away the night before. I blinked a couple times, furrowed my eyebrows, and tried to piece together an apology.
“I’m sorry Sal. I haven’t given you a hundred percent this week, but I'm here now. Um, I’ll get started on some pizzas,” I mumbled. Sal shook his head. “You’re an okay guy Brad, but you’re just not reliable. Work on it, or you’re out.” He said as I walked away.
I tossed some flour on the lump of soggy dough. As I rolled it around every which way, I couldn’t help but be disgusted with it. Don’t get me wrong, I like pizza. I used to love it, but when you throw it around, bake, and garnish it all day it gets old. I swirled the cold tomato sauce on the slab of dough and threw it in the blackened brick oven. I couldn’t lose this job, not when this was my only source of income. My music hasn’t been doing too well lately, after I got canned from my daily appearances at “Le Bol de Pain.” Yeah, after I showed up to work late for the fourth time, they weren’t too keen on having me back. I think it was apparent that I needed to clean up my act a bit. But “just doing it” was a harder task than it sounded.
Right now, the only thing in the world I cared about was making my music. Re-writing my life into lyrics and melodies were the only ways I felt worthy as a person. I needed to share it with the world! Yet here I am, making pizzas.
When my shift was done, I decided to take a walk around to get some inspiration. The city itself is musical, if you have the ear for it. The nippy air stung my nose and fingers as I shuffled down the busy sidewalk. The cars were honking, the people were talking, and …the trombones were playing? I swung my head around to find a jazzy duo on the street corner, playing as hard and soulfully as if they were on stage in front of millions. The loud voices of the horns were singing so lively together that it got my body moving. I looked down at my tapping feet, embarrassed, and walked into the nearby Starbucks. After I paid for my coffee, I sat down by the window and stared at the two of them. They both looked around 50 years old, obviously a couple, and were giving all of their heart into the music with so much youthful energy that they might as well have been 20. I also had noticed that the hats at their feet were overflowing with cash!
Driving home, I couldn’t wait for the next day. Saturday is the best time of the week to stand at the corner and play, as all the people are out and about enjoying themselves. I decided to practice a bit in my apartment. I got my guitar out, some of my original songs, and started singing along to my guitar. I started to get into it when all of a sudden, BANG BANG BANG “Get out here Brad!” I swung open the creaky door. A wrinkly, permanently frowning face with big, furrowed eyebrows stared up at me.
“Oh, hi Tiburisto.”
“It’s Mr. Tiburisto. The rent is due, as in right now. Fork it over.”
I bit my lip while I fiddled through my wallet, only finding ninety dollars. He snatched it from me. “I expect the other half by tomorrow,” he growled, as he waddled back to his room. Since my flowing creative juices died down after the unpleasant visit, I decided just to go to bed, in the hopes that tomorrow would bring me the other half of the rent.
The bright sun woke me up. I grabbed everything and sprung out of my apartment, feeling hopeful. I set myself up on the corner by the Dunkin’ Donuts and Michael’s Deli. I tossed my hat down by the floor, and slowly started strumming, lowly. It took a while before people started acknowledging me. They stared, listening, but would walk away without the drop of a single penny into my hat. I decided to give myself a break and nervously lit a cigarette. I walked down to where I saw that jazzy couple just yesterday, making green appear in their hats out of thin air. People were actually dancing around, having a good time around them. People were laughing, talking, interacting with one another. They must not have anything better to do. So lame, I thought, even though deep down, I secretly wanted to know how it felt to be so involved. I continued to play for the whole rest of the day, only making a total of thirty dollars. I sighed and headed towards the bank to get the rest of the rent money. I left my starving bank account, feeling a wave of worry and anxiety for how I would ever be able to support myself. My one man street act went on like this for a long, exhausting week.
As much as I hated older people (just look at my relationship with my parents), I decided to talk to the jazz couple. I needed to know how they were bringing in so much cash; so many people; so much d*mn success! I had just caught them while they were closing everything up after the day’s performance. “Excuse me, can I have a word? I’m Brad Somna, and uh, I was wondering if you could help me out.” The small, blonde woman smiled at me as she scanned over my face. Her eyes twinkled, giving off a friendly vibe as she nodded. The lofty man firmly shook my hand and proudly introduced themselves. “I’m Rob Dieron, and this is my wife, Shelia. Should we do coffee?” he chuckled. I wasn’t used to such warmth and friendliness after just an introduction. I nodded, but was a bit confused as we walked into Starbucks.
As I told them my troubles as a musician, somehow all of my woes started flowing out of my mouth. Their welcoming, helpful expressions showed me that they were actually taking it all in, and were processing some helpful solutions for me. I closed my mouth and waited for their response, astonished that I actually had willingly opened up to some older people.
“Brad, have you ever played jazz? You know, good ol’ trumpets and trombones and dancin’ beats and such?” Shelia suggested.
“No… it’s always just been me, my guitar, and my own music.”
“It sounds like everything you do is by yourself, alone. Am I right Brad? Now listen here. You need to live it up. You need a family in life. Join the family of Jazz, and you never gon’ be lonely again! We’ll be out here tomorrow night at 6. You and your guitar are welcome to the session.”
They then simply got up and left, smiling to themselves. I took a step back and examined my life. I barely spoke to my parents, I gave up my friends in high school to get serious on my music, I lived alone… I immediately jumped up and decided what the h*ll do I have to lose? I picked up my car keys, and started walking out, nervous for what the next day would bring.
After my grueling shift at the pizzeria was done, I sauntered over to Shelia and Rob. “Oh good! You’re here! Take this, it’s the same as your guitar, I promise! It’s just a little bit smaller.”
Shelia presented me a ukulele. I hesitantly took it, reminding myself that I couldn’t possibly have anything to lose by this. “Play whatever you feel, just go with it!” Shelia told me. I watched them set up their instruments. Why were they so friendly to me? They just met me yesterday, and the warmness in their eyes seemed as if they were looking at me as one of their own. They smiled to each other, and started to tap their feet and play their horns. Anyone could tell they were just so happy just to be there with people and play their hearts out. My feet started tapping again, but this time I let them. My fingers started moving at a much faster rate than I was used to. I closed my eyes and listened to the amusing tune. When I opened them, a crowd stood all around us, smiling, some dancing, but all were having a good time. I laughed, partly because I couldn’t believe I was actually doing that, and partly because I was actually enjoying it. I started to sing loud and confidently, just letting everything out. But this time I was letting out feelings of happiness, inclusion, and most importantly, Jazz!
At the end of the day we started to pack up. I had never felt so full of purpose and happiness in one day! While conversing with Rob, a tall man in a dark suit approached us. “Excuse me, I’m James Sendon. I just have to say, I’m intrigued with your son’s style! You put a new twist on fast-swingin’ jazz, kid. You know, with just a little help from Razz-a-taz you could have a lot of potential…” James smiled to Rob, while handing me a Razz-a-taz Records card. I quietly gasped to myself, and responded “Oh, I’m not related…” “Sure you are Brad! You’re our jazz brother!” Rob chuckled while he ruffled up my already-disheveled dark hair. James smirked, and motioned me into the Starbucks. I looked back at Rob and Shelia and hugged them. They winked at me as I walked into the whole new world of jazz .