Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
August 30, 2009
It had been one of those days, a long drive to Denver in near-whiteout conditions and then a six-hour stretch of sitting with my sick mother in a big-city hospital. Mom mostly slept and I read the lion’s share of what the Lutheran hospital had lying around, which, as you can imagine, was mostly of a spiritual nature. Blasphemy, blasphemy, why does the philosophical entanglement of that word still threaten my serenity?
Around nine o’clock, I took my leave, struggling between a desire for sleep and a need for food. The best of the storm had reached the Denver suburbs and it was difficult to see the road ahead, let alone read the blurred neon that might advertise a decent restaurant. Soon, however, a huge sign beckoned from within the lonely, wind-whipped landscape, PRIME RIB its essence, followed in smaller letters down below – Piano Bar. Something warm struck me about the idea of sitting around a piano with other lost souls in the middle of a howling blizzard on a lonely Friday night, and I went in.
Ambling up to the half- full bar, I got the distinct impression my physical appearance resembled that of the latest ax murderer and I guessed the crowd as mostly blue-collar regulars who’d like nothing better than to complicate my life. Being contrary, I ordered a Coors in what was obviously a Bud joint and focused on the piano, its rippling keys lightly caressed by the thin, sexy fingers of a well- dressed, lifeless woman wearing high, black heels. She finished the tune, picked up her purse and announced she was breaking for dinner. No one seemed to notice.
The impulse suddenly enveloped me, and I figured, ” What the hell,” if she’s off eating her dinner, who’s gonna play the piano? The bartender concurred with a nod and within a blink of an eye, the large, black, grand brute harboring shiny, slick ivory was mine. “Loud,” my dad had said. ” You always start loud when you’ve had a bad day, and it follows your mood from there.”
It was the personality of the room on that strange night, crying out for recognition, for stimulation, that found an unused energy residing just below the surface and pulled it to the fore, almost as though it had been ordained. Frowns became smiles, glasses began to clink and the bartender was forced to disregard the lazy slumber that previously held him. Don’t get me wrong, my playing didn’t dazzle them, but rather, it simply provided a catalyst which, at that very moment, was incredibly potent.
But don’t tell the patrons that, for they began to send bottles of Coors my way, and the huge, brandy snifter- type tip jar, previously as empty as a dead man’s personality, started to fill up. A few couples circled the dance floor, and I was smiling like a cat. A sloe-eyed, curvy beauty with long, flowing dark hair and a well-polished wedding ring whispered close as she brushed my ear with her lips and stuffed a dollar in my shirt, the aroma of her body suggesting I may not be the first to taste her charms that night.
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We had it going really well, all of us together, and nobody cared anymore, at least for a while anyway, about the storm outside or what tomorrow might bring. And then, like a crash of vehement thunder, the regular piano player, frustrated by the turn of events, came striding across the room, not to reclaim the piano, but to swiftly and accurately kick one of her black heels deftly into my left shin. The crowd laughed, a little nervously, and we continued on for a while, but she’d killed it.
The married lady, now ugly in her drunkenness, stumbled out alone. I pocketed my tips and ended up on the couch at my mother’s empty house, sleeping the sleep of a man who drank dinner, once again.