Chapter 1: Mr. Mister
I unwittingly fell into a rabbit hole. One I could not have found if I had been looking far and wide. It was my doorway back into music. It was a slow seduction.
The first night I wandered into the little bar on the Mainline, I had no idea it was open mic, much less what an open mic was. (A scene from "Annie Hall" comes to mind. Wish I could find a Youtube clip.)
I sat sheepishly on a bar stool by myself, scribbling notes in a little purse-size journal. I was practically wearing pajamas, a comfy cotton pair of capris and a sailor striped t-shirt. No make up. Not attractive- to avoid attracting attention.
I was not ready to commit to buying a beer yet. I had to remain ready to make a beeline for the door as soon as someone hit on me... I had a boyfriend then, Mr. Rolex. We had been living together for over a year. We were hardly a perfect couple, but we looked great on paper and in pictures. It was at his urging that I had gone to this venue while he was out of town on business.
For over a year, he had failed to find work, and I had been the breadwinner. He compensated by comforting me through the end of graduate school and my year long contract, working at a hospital- with fabulously cooked meals, cocktails, and recreational drugs. But these were his coping mechanisms, and they were not working for me. The one thing that had started to save me, as his career began to take off and my unscheduled sabbatical from the working world began, was music.
Mr. Rolex was a big Grateful Dead fan. One of the many attractive features of the town we moved to was a weekly Grateful Dead tribute band (Splintered Sunlight) night at another local venue. The first night he came home from a show, he stumbled into bed, elated, "He's the Asian Jerry!" Week after week, he would come home, smiling ear to ear, rambling their set lists that did not mean anything to me. As far as I was concerned, Mr. Rolex played the same five Grateful Dead songs ad infinitum- even if they were different recordings.
It was not easy to convince me to go along... Shows were Thursday nights, and I was still working- ten hour days on Thursdays, an hour away, as well as shorter days, Fridays and Saturdays. However, when it finally happened, I could not deny the good energy emanating from the band, the fans, the atmosphere. The band's Jerry was indeed Asian, another good sign- to me. The fans were all ages, all walks of life. Some were lawyers and doctors, some looked as though they might be homeless. Some people were there with their adult kids! There was a lot of tie dye, a lot of smiles and hugs... and dancing. Oh, the dancing!
This was the point at which I began to question whether my social anxiety was serving me. I worried that I was judging people in the room. I had been told that I can seem pretentious. It was difficult for me to explain that I was simply shy to engage and petrified of making a regrettable faux pas. But I slowly began to realize that no one there was keeping score. Over weeks and months, I gradually worked my way up from standing stiffly next to my boyfriend to wobbling my knees in the back of the crowd... to letting my body sway with my long hair among the other women... to eventually jumping and twirling with the most active dancers at front-center stage.
I was learning to be loose, comfortable, to let people see me. The only time I felt the prickly creepy uncomfortableness come over me was when I worried I was being hit on. I could not tell whether a man was flirting with me or not. I could not figure out how to calmly extricate myself from such situations. Although we were not even considering marriage yet, we had begun ring shopping- So I could simply wave my left hand in a man's face and hope he took a hint.
My contract ended. I was free to find another job... and Mr. Rolex was finally paying bills. The burden was off of me. He told me to really take my time. This was his way of repaying me, of redeeming himself as the male household head figure. This was how I ended up at an open mic while he was out of town.
He told me Splintered friends would be there. People we trusted.
Alone on my bar stool, I wrote admiringly of the girl who was yelling more than singing a cover into the microphone, as she read the lyrics from her smart phone. I can not recall the title of the song. I just know it had the word "fuck" in it, and her eyes widened with excitement and her friends cheered whenever she said it.
I was writing in my journal how I envied her enthusiasm, her eagerness to be the center of attention. I wrote, "I should find a guitar teacher."
Then suddenly and swiftly, a blonde boy swooped in, in front of me. In a single seamless motion, he had grabbed a bar stool and parked himself upon it, facing me. His eyes were green, his skin pale and boyishly clean shaven. He wore a red Phillies t-shirt and a pair of old blue jeans, tattered around the ankles.
"Hi. What are you writing?"
"Hi. Uh. Nothing. Just kind of what's going on... This girl is really into this."
"Can I read it?"
I blushed, "No."
He made small talk. The entire time I was barely able to pay attention to anything. I was overwhelmed by the crowd, the music, and the ongoing analysis of whether or not he was flirting. Fighting my flight response from going off prematurely, I told him I am a speech-language pathologist. This always leads to a long explanation. This reveals I am not a common barfly. It was important to me then that people acknowledge my intelligence... when I was not confident in my mind and accomplishments.
He said he taught guitar lessons. I laughed at him, as I had heard this line from several men at the Splinter Sunlight shows. "Every guy who plays a guitar says he teaches lessons!"
"No, really. I teach at a music shop in _______."
I turned my head back down towards my notebook ready to end this conversation. Then I see the last line I wrote, "I should find a guitar teacher." I laugh at the irony- the perfect, imperfect meeting. I manifested an instant guitar teacher. Why hadn't I asked for a million dollars?
I gave in and shared the humor of the situation with him, letting him read the line in my journal. Without a word, he took the pen from my hand and wrote his name, number, and email address, next to a smiley face.
He offered to buy me a beer. I said no thank you. This was too far for me. He had already given me his number and now he was offering to buy me an alcoholic beverage. Definitely flirting. I let the conversation tapper off. He excused himself to go talk to his friends, "I'll be back."
Turning to my journal, I stared at the blank page with a loss for words... I ordered myself a beer.