Author's Note: There is a constant struggle between the things you have to do and the things you want to do. Fortunately, encouragement comes from the strangest places, like maybe your last two customers of the night. Even though everything doesn't always work out, you know you must be doing something right.
Rebirthed Like a Phoenix Through The Spirit of The Beat
by Pierce Lydon
The walls are sweating. I’m sweating. I’m stepping on someone’s broken beer bottle and a large plank of wood just fell from the ceiling. Feedback rips through the room. The basement is packed like the E train during rush hour. A broken chair, a mop and scraps of duct tape litter the floor. They used to be a mic stand. The crowd looks on expectantly, straining to see over each other. I quiet them down.
“There’s only one line in this song. Ok?” A few heads nod. “The only line is ‘I wish I could fall out of love.’ I wanna hear you guys sing with me. Ready?”
My band waits for my mark. I give the signal.
“Can we lock the doors?” I ask my manager Eric.
“Come on, it’s only 10:58. We’ve still got a whole two minutes of business left.” He continues eating. It’s his second meal this shift. I haven’t eaten since breakfast.
“It’s dead in here. My tables are practically stocked and my side work is almost entirely done. I wanna get out of here before the porter comes in.”
“Take a look at the door. You’ve got customers. Go seat them,” he says with a mouthful of our famous Original Hamburger joining in on the discussion.
I’m one of only three servers left in the fake “1940s hamburger and malt shop.” They make us say that. It really just looks like a ‘50s diner but it sounds like Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees are keeping it all really authentic. There is an older couple looking around.
“Hey folks. Welcome to Johnny Rocket’s. My name is Pierce. I’ll be your server. You can sit right here.” I seat them in my section, right near the front door. I wish I hadn’t just restocked that table. “Can I get you anything to drink while you look at the menus?” I flash that shit-eating grin I’ve had permanently plastered on my face for the last 6 hours.
The man answers, “Yeah, uh, two Diet Cokes. Thanks, boss.”
I return with the sodas and place them on the table. I twirl the straws in the straw holder. The man stares straight at this menu.
“You guys got lucky. You’re the last table of the night.”
The woman is admiring the store. She’s got to be in her mid-50s but she dresses like she’s in her early 40s and she talks like every Italian woman in Queens does. She was definitely pretty once. She probably really loves The Sopranos.
“Oh, you guys must be busy all the time huh?” she says motioning to my dirty apron.
“Not really. I just got into a fight with a bowl of chili and lost.”
“Hey, I don’t usually see you here. Are you new?” Uh oh. She’s a regular.
“I’m seasonal. I go to school upstate. I’m just here during breaks or whenever I need some extra cash.”
“That’s good. That’s good. What are you studying?” She is ignoring the menu now and all the cooks are waiting impatiently for me to put in my order.
“I’m a journalism major. I mostly want to do entertainment journalism though.”
“Oh wow that’s really great.” She looks down at the table now.
Her date interjects, “Ok. I’m ready to order. I’ll have two Rocket Singles and an order of fries.”
“No problem sir.” I write down his order on my pad. “And for you ma’am?”
“I don’t know yet. Haha. I haven’t even looked at the menu.” She scans the menu quickly and turns it over a few times.
“Come on sweetheart, don’t keep the man waiting.”
“Oh ok ok. I’ll just have an Original.”
“Ok. No problem folks. Coming right up.”
The other servers are counting their money. I’m the only one with a table. I punch in the order and get an order of fries complete with two ramekins sporting ketchup grins.
“Here you go guys.” I leave the fries on the table. “And here is your ketchup with a smile.”
“Aw that’s so cute. So you want to be a hard hitting news journalist?” she asks.
“Um, not really. I mean ideally I want to be in a band.” I always like when I can talk to a table about something that I like. I tend to get better tips when I can talk to little kids about Spider-Man.
The man perked up. “I used to be in a band. Yeah. I play the drums. What do you play?” I believed him. He had those big forearms that drummers tend to have despite the fact that he looked relatively out of shape.
“I’m afraid I don’t play anything. I just sing. A couple of friends and I have a band together so I let them do all the work. I’m too uncoordinated to actually play an instrument.”
This is entirely true. I was awful at piano when I took lessons. A guitar has too many strings for my alien like fingers to comprehend. Drums would require the combined effort of all four limbs as opposed to just two so that’s out of the question.
We’re only in high school. We’re graduating in a few months. The band that should’ve beaten us in the battle of the bands is playing. They have one song left. I pull back the curtain to watch them. There are over 1000 kids there. The gym is packed. Parents are watching from the bleachers. My grandma is here. She doesn’t know what to make of this.
My band, my best friends, go out on the stage before me. The curtain rises. We worked in a Metallica intro for our drummer because we told him we couldn’t cover any Metallica songs. We’re just not that kind of band.
They get near the end of the intro. I run out on stage.
“Archbishop Molloy! How are you doing tonight?” The crowd cheers. I stand above them. The lights illuminate us in multicolored iridescence. We can’t stop smiling. This is it.
Our drummer counts it off.
“Honey, let me see your hand.” The woman stretched out her hand, palm up, and without protest I placed my right hand on top.
She sandwiched my hands between hers and began feeling each of my fingers one by one. “You have very long fingers. I’m surprised you don’t play anything. You know, they say that people who have long fingers are more talented than those with short fingers.”
I took back my hand. The man spoke up. “Well, that can’t be true. I mean, he has longer fingers than me but I’m better at drums.”
“No. If he played drums, he would be better than you.” She shook her head at him. She was completely serious.
“I definitely can’t play drums. Don’t worry sir. I’m sure you are better. What kinds of bands were you in?”
“Oh just a few bar bands with some friends. We got paid to play covers. You know. It’s never something I could make a career out of.” He looked down while he said it.
“But why couldn’t you?” the woman was incredibly interested now. They were obviously on a date. They didn’t know each other very well.
“Well, eventually I had a family and a real career and there was just no room for it.”
“But if it was something you really wanted to do, like this young man here, why wouldn’t you just do it? Don’t you think he should follow his dreams?” She was almost offended. I stood there, the topic of discussion, completely silent.
“I did do it. For a while. Then reality just caught up with me.”
“I don’t think you should have ever given up. You could have made it!”
“I don’t think so. It’s not that easy.”
“PIERCE!” The cooks were calling. “FOOD’S UP!”
I excused myself from their debate to grab their burgers.
“Alright, folks. Here’s your food. If you need anything else, just let me know. I’ll be around restocking and everything.”
“Ok thank you. But let me tell you something.” The woman put her hand on my arm. “Don’t listen to this guy over here. You just do it. You just go for it because you never know.” She looked me straight in the eyes.
After that, they were just another table. I came back a few times to check on them. The bill came to 26 bucks. They left me four. Thought I’d get more.
“This is our last song. This is our last show. Thank you all very much for being here.”
Steve just isn’t into it anymore. Phil doesn’t want to play this kind of music. Derek sort of just agrees with the both of them.
No four count this time, just tired looks. This is how a dream dies: Tired, sweaty and passive aggressive with guitars and drums as silent observers. This could never happen again.
Drumsticks are dropped to the ground. The song is done. The crowd is reverent.
This hurts my throat sometimes. But it’s alright on my heart.