Night Air and a Cheap Guitar

It wasn’t even fully dark, but my wife – being an early-to-bed-early-to-rise sort – had abandoned the vacation-ship for the night. Being more of a night-owl, I put down the paperback book and slipped out of the condo and into the Caribbean night.

Our rental was off to itself, but we were provided an electric golf cart and in no time I was humming my way down the road to the marina. Near a line of anchored yachts was a long, open-air bar called the Tipsy Seagull, mostly deserted, with plenty of space for me on the near side. I sat down and ordered a frosty pop. Back then, there were no mounted televisions blaring sports commentary – but there was still plenty to look at.

Probably the main grabber was the shark. Maybe eight or ten feet long, mounted below the beams of the roof. Could have been a real catch, or could have been a rubber version of a reef shark – the open-mouth toothy grin had the same Jaws effect, either way. From one end of the bar, all the way down to the other, there were hanging nets, strings of colored lights, fishing poles, seaweed, harpoons – everything but a wax-version Captain Ahab.

The bar was long and as irregular as Elbow Cay – just wide enough to be too far to have a conversation with the two or three folks sitting opposite me. That was okay, too. I was enjoying the beer, the evening air, and the whole Abaco Island vibe.

There was a young guy walking toward the bar from the marina area, and just as I noticed him, I realized he was headed straight for me. He looked like a man on a mission.

“How ya doing?” he asked, before dropping onto the barstool next to me. We exchanged pleasantries before he came to the point. He was flying back to the US in a few hours and was hoping to lighten his personal effects. “Wanna buy a guitar?”

I didn’t really want to, especially after hearing him describe it as a cheap, no-name brand, without a carrying case. Cheap… he said – which turned it into a what-the-heck kind of deal. He promised to run back to his room and return with it straightaway.

He showed up just as I was giving up on him. I dug into my pocket for some cash, and he handed it over. Star brand. Star Guitar. Five Star, to be precise. Never heard of one, but now I was a proud owner. Or at least, an owner.

As he started away, he turned back and said, “Can I play one last song on it?”

It only took a couple of seconds for me to realize he had the guitar set up with an open tuning, so he could change chords just by moving a single finger across a different fret on the neck. He had a nice voice, and did himself proud. When he handed it back, he suggested I play one for him as a way to complete the deal.

I explained that I didn’t know how to play with an open tuning, but that if he would allow me a minute, I’d give it a quick reset. After a couple of tilted-head listens and turns on the tuning keys, I launched into an easy James Taylor song – one that I could manage even on a guitar I had only just strummed for the first time. He grinned broadly through the whole song, and when I finished, he laughed and said, “Maybe one more before I’m off?” So I did.

We shook again when I was finished, and after watching him walk away, I knocked back the last dregs of my now – no longer frosty pop. I set the little guitar down on my lap and turned around to face the bar. There were four big mugs of beer sitting in front of me. And those folks who had been sitting across the way? They were sitting on the barstools just to my right.

“Will you play another one?” the lady nearest to me asked. I’m pretty sure it was more the ‘ham’ in me than any sense of social obligation from the row of beers they had sent over to me, but I launched into another. When I finished, I was flattered to see the bartender joining in the applause from down the way.

The thing is – I’m a pretty hack guitar player. A guy who knows just enough to accompany myself as a singer. And I never have professed to be anything more than a mediocre vocalist.

But I do like to sing.

It may have been the Caribbean moon, or the salt in the air, or the extra tasty drafts that were accumulating in front of me – but there came a cosmic alignment of bar crowd and goof-off strummer. Every song title that was requested over the next hour-and-a-half was – by some miracle – a song I knew how to play, and remembered the words to – at least most the words.

At one point, the woman who first spoke to me leaned in and semi-whispered, “Are you someone we should know?”

“What do you think?” I replied.

She grinned and said she thought I was. Since she obviously couldn’t come up with a name, and since I certainly WASN’T anyone she should know, we just smiled at each other with our secret safely kept.

Later, a young man was setting up a keyboard just to my right, and I realized he was likely the night’s scheduled entertainer. I was loving the evening, but I knew I was AWOL from the condo and my sleeping wife. So I gave an appreciative thanks and bid the gathering a pleasant evening. As I walked away toting my little Five Star guitar, an island constable who was standing near the bar extended his hand and smiled. He said he had enjoyed hearing me.

The smile the constable gave me, I wore all the way back to the golf cart and then glided back down the dark road to the condo. My wife was still sleeping. The guitar got propped up in a corner and I lay down on the bed thinking there could be no sleeping dream better than the waking one I had just experienced.

Next morning – bright and early – my wife and I took a walk along the gentle surf looking for some beach-side breakfast. We had managed a hundred yards or so walking along on the sand before we saw a figure approaching from the opposite direction. When he drew near, I recognized him as the constable from the Tipsy Seagull.

He took a quick step out of his way to shake my hand.

“Will you be doing a follow-up tonight? he wondered.

I glanced at my wife, whose puzzled expression told me she had slept uninterrupted through my absence of the previous evening.

“You never know,” I answered, “what might happen on an island night.”

These days, that Caribbean island refugee sits atop a book shelf in the shop, and occasionally whispers out to me to remember a moonlit evening at water’s edge, a night when I was almost a somebody.

Going to the Dogs. And other such sayings…

Knock on wood. Why? How come we need to do that?

I was updating our online menu page (bumped up the priorities list to the point it finally got completed!) and saw a previous blog headline, in which I implored myself to “knock on wood.” It seemed appropriate at the time.

While moving some books around this afternoon, I came across a little volume entitled “Heavens to Betsy!” (which is a whole ‘nother story…) and I looked in the index. Sure enough, “knock on wood’ is listed among the “400 Colorful Words – and Their Origins” in the book.

bawl

Apparently, I’m not the only one curious about the origin of the superstition, but – according to the author – the exact beginning of the phrase has been lost to time. He quotes a similar book from 1946 in which the writer attributes it to an old game called “Touching Wood” or “Wood Tag.”

I’m old enough that I remember playing outside games. And I seem to recall one in which we raced around wildly trying to get from point-A to point-B while whoever was “It” chased us. If you touched a tree or a porch railing – something made of wood – you were safe, and could dart away again when “It” went after someone else.

Remember, we didn’t have video games back then. We chased each other around. Get over it.

At any rate, the 1946 author seemed to think that whole thing dated clear back to the old, Old Days, when people believed that there were tree spirits that could keep people safe. (What? Tree Spirits aren’t Real?) He also suggests that it could have something to do with the original wooden Cross and taking an oath on a crucifix.

This is how work in the book shop tends to be put off – reading one tiny paragraph in a book leads to another, and the next thing you know, a half hour is gone.

I was trying to put the little “Heavens to Betsy” book down and spotted a phrase that made me immediately think of my dear grandmother, who exclaimed with exasperation, “For Crying in a Bucket!” when she was put out by something.

The book says Granny was doing a turn on “For Crying out Loud!” which is called a ‘minced oath,’ which many of us are guilty of professing on occasion – like saying “Shoot!” instead of that four-letter expletive that is the originating profanity. These days many things that never would have been said aloud are spoken with reckless abandon, including “For Christ’s Sake!” – which waaaay back when was lumped in with those other words and phrases never said publicly or in mixed company, for cryin’ out loud.

This I recognize from Charles Dickens novels in which even such phrases as “By G–!” are dashed instead of put forward uncensored, to avoid offending the dear reader, who might become so astonished as to grumble:

For Crying in a Bucket!

Magnanimous Magazine.

Mystery solved. At least partly.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve had comments about our “ad” or “article” from folks who have come in for lunch.

Huh?

Today, the gentleman making the reference trotted out to his car and grabbed his copy of the magazine, which he had brought as a guide to our location. Wow! A full-page article, complete with photographs, hours, phone number, and website address.

reviewVintageMagNov2017

Not only that, but it was a nicely written, flattering article, that was pleasing enough to me that I read it twice.

Lindsay Morris is the author, and I owe a debt of gratitude for the kind press, however surreptitiously researched. Guerilla journalism, in a way, because – you would assume that someone would be noticed as they moved about a shop taking pictures.

Not the case.

In the immortal words of Sgt. Schultz (Hogan’s Heroes, Google it…) “I see NOTHING! I know NOTHING!” Granted, the photographs were taken during the lunch hour, when I was more than likely trotting around from table to table, old man style.

Reading the article, I did recall a brief exchange with a lunch guest – specifically, a book title mentioned in the article and the specifics of a shepherd’s pie presentation. Didn’t know I was being interviewed for a magazine article though.

vintageMagJan2018

Having done a number of Q and A sessions (on both sides of the reporter’s notepad), I’m guessing that was among the most painless ever, with about as pleasing a result as could be expected.

Obviously, the magazine has a readership, since it has been mentioned here in the shop several times already, with its January 2018 date.

Our thanks to the author and editors for honoring us with an inclusion!