I set my phone on the ground next to the locked door after hanging up with Pops. Ivory and her 88, black and white bloodstained keys waited on the other side to be rescued and taken out to sea—twenty-six miles across the channel for a gig with The Blues Merchants on Catalina Island; a gig Pops was adamant about me attending, but I couldn’t figure out why…
“I don’t care what you gotta do; just kick the door in and get it out.”
“Like break it? Come on dad you know he will kill me.”
“I’ll help you fix it just get your keyboard out of there and come over here.”
“Okay but I don’t feel so good; I think I’m gonna puke for sure.”
“Just get it son. Hurry up.”
And after a few kicks to the hollow closet door I backed up as far as I could go, past the drums, around the Marshall half-stacks and empty boxes of beer, against the purple wall of our lockout studio we built ourselves, I could smell the day old tequila slithering off my tongue and out my pores, contaminating the air, making it harder for me to breathe, then I counted to three and ran full speed at the door, lowering and driving my left shoulder with full vehemence, crashing through the door and landing on a plethora of guitars, amps, microphone stands—a pile of neglected and broken instruments, hiding sadly in the darkness of the studio’s closet. I just wanted my sweet sweet Ivory. And there she was, leaned graciously in the corner against the unpainted wall, smiling down at her Master as I lied on my back, a microphone stand slowly working its way up my virgin ass. I picked myself up. I picked up Ivory. I carried her to my car, then drove to my parents house on the south end of Huntington Beach. It was a quarter past ten in the morning.
I was holding the vomit down as Momma, Pops, and I drove up Pacific Coast Highway. Pops doing anything he could to make sure we made it to the boat in time for its departure, meandering in and out of traffic in his red pickup truck like Mario Andretti did on those very streets in the Long Beach Grand Prix. Ivory laid in the back, wrapped in an old comforter with a thousand cigarette burns, sliding around the bed of the truck as we tried catching the Catalina Express which was set to leave at 11am sharp, with or without us.
We parked and ran as fast as we could. I towed Ivory on a big awkward noisy cart that sounded like a dump truck driving through an underground dungeon. He yelled for the employees to hold the boat, probably scaring them a little at first with his giant self—6 foot 2 with long black hair and beard, shades that never came off—but as soon as they saw Pops, trudging as fast as his bad knees would allow him, the deckhand tied the boat back up, signaled to the Captain to hold up, then practically rolled out the red carpet for us.
(Pops rode the boat all the time. The deckhands called him The Dude. Yes, The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges…The Dude. His long dark hair and Hawaiian shirt, illuminating his somewhat colossal size, and tortoise shell Ray-Bans, to this day, does make him the spitting image.)
We boarded the Catalina Express at exactly 11:00am, huffing and puffing, drawing a lot of attention to ourselves as we climbed in our booth by the window. I immediately ordered a water and a Bud bottle. I rested my forehead on the dirty table. The beer and tequila were working their way up my burning throat and neck. I wanted to get off the boat, go back home and sleep it off, but the Express left the dock the minute we sat down. I was face down. Eyes closed. My body asleep—like a fixed junky in a irreversible nod, while my head stayed wide awake, writhing in a restive vexation: passengers talking about their sister’s cancer, their husband’s prescription pill addiction, how dad used to rough him up and push him around, claiming he was teaching him how to be a man. The strangers’ monotonous lives spun repeatedly in my tainted head, their upcoming weekend and all of its bore. I picked my head up and turned and rested it on Momma’s shoulder. The boat waltzed up and down like lovers at sea. The generators hummed an ugly tone. The water splashed the plastic windows—a veil made from Plexiglas—the swell evolving into something colossal and nauseating, the ice cold beer swooshing violently in my stomach. Then Pops kindly asked me if I was okay, looking genuinely concerned:
“Not really Pops I think I’m gonna yak.”
“Do you want me to get you a bag or something?” Momma asked just as concerned.
“Sure I’ll probably need it.”
I saw my verdant reflection in the window, a clear wet veil. Momma got up and came back holding a bag with a picture of the Catalina Express on both sides. It was white with blue handles. It was made from recycled water bottles and hemp, the kind that people, including myself, a lover of our Mother, carry in the grocery store. And I was sure I could fill it with everything dead, dying, and rotting in my stomach.
I was able to hold it down until the boat pulled into Avalon at just about noon. My head still buried in the bag. I started heaving. But nothing came up. Just hot dry breath from the driest heaves I ever tasted. Roger, the lead singer and guitarist of the Blues Merchants, was waiting for us in his green golf cart. We exited the boat, walked to the luggage line, waited. When Ivory showed I grabbed her and carried her to the golf cart, like a bride is carried by her groom on their wedding night, stood her up in the very back and sat next to her. I held her like a predator holds his prey, detaining my muse so she wouldn’t fall to her death, leaving me with half a soul, the shitty half, the deaf tone half that is rarely invited to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and most holidays involving dead birds and dead trees and drained bank accounts and unwanted pounds and alcoholic tragedy’s and long meandering lines and exhaustion with a side of glamour and a very small splash of serenity and a shred of suicidal thinking I just can’t bare to think about but I do anyways when I sit alone starving, lonely, disconsolate, muddled, wondering what I did to deserve this horrible isolation. I can taste this poisoned reverie that reoccurs night after night. And then the morning turns purple. And the grinning moon shines a clear pearl white. Then it happens again. This time illuminated by the fiery sun and its power to adorn, before shriveling up to a deep scarlet burn, juxtaposed with the ultimate demise while lurking the realms of my dimmest shadows, searching for anything to mend my shattered soul, and sometimes my perishable thin shelled head, that, on occasion, walks as far as it wants to walk. No matter what the circumstances. No matter what kind of rules. But always returns to its Riveting Master.
Momma, Pops, and me piled in the golf cart. We were chauffeured to the Casino on the west end of Avalon Bay. The gig was set up for 2pm, under a Catalina sun. We pulled up to the casino and parked. I headed straight for the bar.
“A beer and a shot of your best tequila por favor,” I said, my arm around Ivory.
“And her?” He asked with a scathing grin.
“She is so quiet.”
“She only speaks when I tell her too,” I said shooting the shot and chasing it with a beer. By the time our first set started I was no longer sick. I was nice and buzzed again, someone had kept setting beers on the stage during our first set, right under Ivory as I fondled and caressed her accordingly. She yelped and crooned like Chelsea Girl and Chief Mojo Risen, fucking on stage in front of hundreds of people as the booze soddened everyone’s brain. And brought the best out of the worst. And the worst out of the best.
I emptied each bottle rather quickly. I lost count after six beers and three shots. In the interim, Momma cleaned the bar out of all its wine. Pink wine, her favorite, with ice. During the first set I watched her from the right side of the stage, if you’re facing the crowd, dancing like a teenager, having the time of her life.
Pops sat with his arms crossed.
Not saying a single word.
During intermission I drank two beers and a shot of Patron. Ivory waited patiently, imposingly on the right side of her stage. She was by far the star of the afternoon. When it was time to get back on stage I brought two beers with me and set them underneath Ivory, away from my Chucks and safe from disaster. I flipped the switch. I watched Ivory’s eyes light up like a pinball machine. I touched her softly, as the others crept back onstage to start our second set. But something was different. There was a stranger on stage with us, at least to me there was, tiptoeing around Ivory, giving her the respect she deserved…an older man holding a vintage Fender Telecaster, white, plugging into a vintage Orange amp that was sitting on the floor next to Ivory. And this guy was by far the oldest on stage. At least sixty years old.
I shook his hand…
“Hey I’m Jon.”
“Nice to meet you Jon my name is Spencer,” he replied, and just as I suspected, he did it in an English accent.
Pops was down in front, about ten feet from the stage, his arms uncrossed, grinning a mighty grin of the proudest father I had ever seen. The old man on stage appearing for the second set was Spencer Davis of the Spencer Davis Group—an important band that helped carry the British Invasion—and he was the surprise guest for the day. Pops was right. He had told me I will regret it if I don’t go, “NO hangover is worth missing this,” he had told me on the phone, and on the Express. And just like most of the time, Pops was right. We played for over an hour. We played three of Spencer’s classics, and about seven other classic blues songs—Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton—granting me a solo on each song, letting me outshine everyone in the band, even with my bright purple hair, and Crimson Skull smiling on my faded black, Misfits t-shirt.
Towards the end of our brilliant set, the music decelerated, but while the thundering bass and drums kept rumbling along, a tribal beat that pulled my gaze towards the hills of Catalina where the Buffalo roam like the stars of a Hollywood movie, Roger introduced everyone, one by one, in the band, guiding the audience’s attention to each member, enjoying the crowd’s approval for each man who held his shiny, and sometimes bloody ax. But when Roger pointed to me, and told the crowd this youngster’s name, the crowd erupted with the biggest, most obvious approval of the afternoon, applauding my vibrant youth, and how I handled Ivory like a beautiful witch, leaving a trail of red on her black and white dress, letting her drink the blood straight from my hands.
We were all loaded up in the golf cart when I remembered I hadn’t yet been paid. Roger told me to talk to the bartender, who I believe was the owner. I walked inside and the owner was sitting in the nearest booth, counting a pile of money.
“Hey how’s it going?” I said with a heavy slur, “We were just leaving and I almost forgot to get paid…Roger said to come in and get paid.”
I was definitely drunk.
“Oh really?” he said sarcastically, a big smile crawling along his wrinkled face. “You’re the piano player right? Your pay was $100 for the day minus 11 beers and six shots of tequila; you drank $108 worth of booze so you owe me $8. “How do you want to pay?”
“Be right back,” I told him with a grimace I was sure he would notice, “I gotta go get the money from Pops, and he’s just outside.”
I walked outside and lit up a cigarette. The cart now surrounded by a cloud of delicious smoke. I sat on the back and gave Ivory another bear hug. My Pops asked me as he tousled my purple hair like a proud father should:
“Everything good son? All ready to go?” He asked.
“All ready Pops, let’s hit it. Ready Momma?” I said rubbing shoulders with my smiling mother, a grin that never gets old.
As the golf cart rolled away to the other side of the island, I could see the owner of the place walk out, veiling his eyes from the sun with a piece of paper in his hand. Once he spotted us, he lowered his hand and kept staring as the golf cart and me, and my middle finger, shrank quickly into the distance, to the other end of Catalina, where the boats come and go every hour, keeping the Island alive and breathing.
We boarded the boat, and strangely found the same seats we sat in on the way up. Pops got up to go to the bathroom and came back with two bottled waters for me and Momma. I pounded the entire bottle, furtively popped a Valium I found in my wallet, closed my eyes, and thought of the once displaced Buffalo, roaming the green hills of their new island home.