Jazzy Girl Ch. 1
She stood at the microphone, waiting for her cue, worrying a cigarette and gripping the mike stand like a spear. The girl was a study in opposites with blood red lips set against a pale, white face, and smart, sharp features buried under a sweep of messy brown hair. Her sensual arms and neck hinted at a curvy figure beneath a frumpy black t-shirt and jeans. She was instinctually sexual, but her keen, gray eyes burned with a sober intelligence. She was a seductive fusion of dark and pale, calm and chaos, sex and brains. To me she was jazz incarnate. I didn't know her name, but as I stared her, waiting for her to sing, worshipping at the Altar of the Eclectic, I reverently dubbed her "Jazzy Girl".
I was walking home in a foul funk after a lousy gig at some club on Lafayette that thinks it's so cool it don't even have a sign over the door. Cheap blues and expensive drinks, and don't it just kill you to have to sing on a Friday night for the bridge and tunnel people who order Long Island ice teas too loudly, and request Billy Joel too much, and wear glitter eye shadow and pinky rings too proudly. "Fuck people" soon goes from mutter-to-mantra in New York.
Usually, New Yorkers never notice the moon. Firstly, there ain't enough sky, and secondly, only rubes look up, Chester. But by some arcane cosmological crinkle in the machination of arcs and orbits, the moon somehow found itself that night perched just to the left of the Twin Towers and just above Wall Street -- in other words, in perfect sight alignment with Greenwich Village. It was so glorious and unexpected a sight that the whole freaky-hip Friday night Park crowd started "Ooooing" and "Ahhhhing" and "Eeeeeing" in a very un-hip, breathy fashion. Even the skeezy Hatian drug dealer (who never stops scanning West Fourth for fresh NYU meat) let out a reverent "God-daaamn!"
I looked around at the whole freaky Village crew, with their crack and dirty clothes and guitars and paper-bagged beer, and they seemed warmer somehow, bathed now as they were in mystic moonlight. They seemed more human, like men and women again, and not the rat people they had become. I found that I loved them. I loved them for taking a moment to contemplate the cosmological. I loved them for allowing poetry back into this dirty, urban park that once kissed Hippie feet. Most of all, I loved them for noticing the moon, Chester.
But would this feeling last? It had been a shitty year, and a shitty night. I felt the icy hand of despair clutch at my throat again, and, as I was about to lower my eyes and slink off home to my tiny bed, an eruption of fire-works exploded above the park as gorgeous red, orange and yellow streaks of screaming bottle rockets burst into smoldering starbursts and thrilling multi-color jelly-fish tentacles that dripped across the Moon. It was abso-fucking-glorious.
Of course, I knew where the fire-works really came from. Seems that some lunatic had taken to setting off illegal fireworks displays all over Manhattan lately -- "The Mad Cracker" The NY Post called him. No one knew why he did it, or where he got his fire-works, but the police suspected a pro because the shows were so good, and so enormous. The cops wanted to catch him desperately, but so far no one had gotten hurt, and the public loved him. I even saw him! A little guy in overalls and a Yankees cap, running away up Fifth Avenue, some sort of remote control apparatus in his hands, two policemen on his tail. Why he chose to strike Washington Square Park at that particular moment I don't know, but with those unexpected streaking rocket trails flying past that magical moon I took it as an omen that things were about to get very interesting for me.
I knew the doorman at The Bitter End, so that's where I headed, not having much chump change for a cover elsewhere. So I hung a Louie, and made my way down Sullivan to Bleeker, and stepped up to the door. Fat Harvey was there checking IDs, and he waved me in, giving my back a friendly slap. That was strange, cause Harvey was usually a prick. He lets me in free 'cause I live in the neighborhood and I can always cover a set when the manager needs somebody last minute, and like I say, he's usually a prick about it, but tonight he smiles and slaps my back like we were Mafia brothers or something and says, "Lookin' good there, Chief!"
"Gotta' be the moon, working its magic ." I said to myself, taking in the girl's perfume.
Someone hit a spotlight, and that's when I got a real good look at her. All pale skin and dark clothes, and no make-up except painted ruby lips. Jazzy Girl.
Finally her cue came. She stubbed out her cigarette, opened her ruby mouth, and my whole world changed. She had a smoldering voice. A whiskey voice. She sang with her eyes tightly closed, like she was coming up with the lyrics moment to moment, like she was living the song. I'm telling you she torched up the joint. She lifted it up, spun it around, and sent us into some smoky jazz oasis where it's always four a.m., the drinks are cheap, and the girls all have vocabularies. She stirred me, kids. Stirred me. And I hadn't been stirred in a long time.
After a bit she settled back and worked her cigarette while the band did some freeform. The audience was tapping and head bopping. A few couples started dancing, including the pretty young thing sitting next to me and her beefy boyfriend who lumbered around like he had cement in his pockets. You couldn't even tell he was dancing, he just kind of stiffly swayed back and forth on his feet like some ponderous autistic giant. The sexiest music on earth and he couldn't feel a note. I swear, the man couldn't move if he were on fucking fire. The girl was something else, though, twitching and twirling her slim frame beneath a shimmery dress, her bare arms and legs glistening with perspiration. She looked very yummy. "Easy, Sparky, her dance card's filled" I said to myself while checking out the size of her boyfriend's neck.
Cleavage Girl caught me checking her out, and, not wanting to risk a punched out tooth, I closed my eyes and listened to the music.
Forty minutes later the set was over, the band was drinking in the back, and I was still flying high on sexy staccato rhythms, sweet saxophone solos and that sultry, edgy voice. My mind and body were on fire; lyrics were leaking out of my ears. I had finished the re-write I had started earlier in my head and set it down on paper and very much wanted to show it to Jazzy Girl. I'd found my Muse, and she was a chick singer with ruby lips and black jeans.
As I passed the bathrooms she suddenly appeared and knocked into me with a "Whoa, hey." She was stumbling out of the men's room. I must have looked at her strangely because she just shrugged and said. "No line for this one." She was right, the line for the girl's toilet was enormous. "You got a lighter?" she said, not at all embarrassed. "Lost mine." I shook my head. "No? 'Kay." she said. "Later."
"Okay, that went swell." I muttered to myself, realizing it could have been worse. I could have opened my mouth, for one Goddamn thing! I realized I had nothing prepared to say to this chick, this singer, this pale young thing with the foggy voice. Like what? Like, "Gee, you sure do sing purty."? Like this was my plan? Better I should shut-up.
That's when I heard Billy Tuttle scream my name. Billy and I used to gig together. We started doing one-nighters in Jersey and all that, and he was part of that wicked trio of mine that kicked ass once upon a time. Billy was a good old friend.
My last name's not really "Blue". Five years ago I thought it was jazzy sounding. Five years ago I was from Pennsylvania, okay? Gimme' a break.
I walked over to the stage and shook his hand. "Billy my man!" I said. "You gigging tonight?"
"Still." I said.
"Scribbling's more like it."
If he had asked me two hours earlier I would have said no. But two hours earlier I had no moon, no stirring, no poky boner. Now I had energy to burn, so I jumped at the chance to get on stage. I grabbed the mike like a life-line.
The lights came up and Billy started playing my biggest hit, the one that got us the CD deal way back when, a nutty blues riff called "Hoop Girl' about a girl we both knew who loved to shoot hoops more than making love. It's very sexy and gritty, with lots of room to improvise, and I get to be all bluesy and anxious and show-off my range. "Hoop Girl" has gotten me laid more than once. I love the damn song.
We finished "Hoop Girl" to great response, and did five other songs Billy still remembered from the old days. I played the house keyboard, the old tunes falling under my fingers with ease and joy. Hell, I was having a good time!
I went back to the bar where the Cleavage Girl suddenly seemed to know I was alive. I had just sat down to a free drink from the bartender when she swiveled her lovely frame away from Thick-neck Boyfriend and sparkled and marveled my way.
"Yeah. A long time ago."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I am." I said.
"Yeah." said her boyfriend, trying to edge his way into the conversation. "You was good."
So, I'm chatting and flirting, getting a very good vibe from Cleavage Girl (and a not so good vibe from Thick-Neck) when along someone comes and taps me on the shoulder. It was Jazzy Girl! She swiped a messy browb sweep of hair out of her eyes, flicked her lighter once at me and said, "Thanks".
Let's back up. Manhattan. October. Last year. Night.
That's what I was chanting all the way home when I hit the park (Washington Square for those of you without a subway map) and saw it -- a big old country orange moon, stuck up against the canvas of the night sky like a sticky lollipop on a black velvet painting.
Now, I grew up in Pennsylvania, where they have plenty of sky, and I knew the different lunar phases, so I said to the drug dealer, "It's a Hunter's Moon". He nodded, thoughtfully, as if I'd just explained to him, clearly, for the first time, the secrets of the universe, and all of life encompassed.
So, despite my mud-dried urban scowl, I smiled. I smiled with the memory of summer, fireflies and young girls who smelled of lemon.
I took it as a sign from the Universe that things were about to be spinning my way. Yep, it was as if God himself had said, "Magic time for you, dude."
No way was I going home. No way was I going to waste this night, this moon. I needed a drink, and music, and people. I wanted to go somewhere noisy and toast my re-found soul.
And damn me if there wasn't actually a seat at the bar next to a very nice looking girl. She was wrapped around a thick necked-boyfriend, but, hell, if you have to sit at a bar it's cool to have scenery, even someone else's scenery. She wore one of those strap dresses that shows off the sides of the breasts. She was hot, probably from dancing, and a bead of sweat dripped down the side curve of her boob. Love that.
So I plopped down beside her, got a beer, pulled out my notepad and started scribbling. (I write all my songs in bars. All my best stuff was written half drunk in some dive hole.) So I wrote for while, finished a new lyric, not too bad, ordered another draft, grabbed me a handful of salty peanuts, sneaked a peak at the cleavage sitting next to me and decided that life was pretty good, and how could it get any better, when I caught another girl's reflection in the bar mirror. She was good-looking, so I turned around, and saw her climbing the stage. "Cool. Chick singer." I thought. "And she's okay to look at." I put my notepad away, swung my stool around, and waited to see if she could warble.
Behind her sat a serious looking quartet: piano, sax, drums and bass. They reminded me of a wicked trio I had a couple-three years back in the days when I had a CD out and concert hall gigs and money out the wazoo and everybody was talking "next big thing" and "blues original" and I couldn't buy my own drinks from here to Miami. I was on top. Now I was lucky enough to work a crappy piano bar for utility money. Hey, don't ask me why creativity fails, why talent wanes, why the songs dry up. The times they went a changin', that's all. Inspiration vanished. Oh but for a Muse of Fire that would ascend the highest something, something, something. I had it, I lost it. No pity, okay? No use crying over spilt gin and tonics. Anyhoo, this band looked tight, and when the orange and blue lights came up and pushed through the smoky haze and they started playing that first sweet phrase -- Lordy! -- a thrill shot through me right down to the shakras. Only two measures in and you knew they were gods. Nothing better than walking into a club and discovering the band is gold! And if the Girl can sing...!
I think that's why I followed the moon that night -- it stirred me, too. "Maybe this night, and moon, would change all that." I said to myself from the vinyl loneliness of my bar stool. "Maybe that's why it brought me here to this club -- to meet Jazzy Girl."
I'd had my fair share of the fair sex, but not lately. Frankly, I hadn't missed it much; depression and eating macaroni and cheese three times a week will do that to you. But between Jazzy Girl's throaty voice and Cleavage Girl's slinky dance I got myself a pleasant little hard-on. I enjoyed the chubby so much I didn't even try to readjust, but let it grow and push against my jeans.
Jazzy Girl started singing again. It was an original piece, and I liked her phrasing, but the lyrics were all wrong, so I started re-writing the lyrics in my head, like I used to years ago, back when I had IT.
But she'd vanished. She didn't drink with the band, and I didn't see her leave. I didn't know if this was her only set for the night, and I didn't see any table tents or fliers telling of her next gig. I might never see her again, and sweet Judas I wanted to see her again. So I made my way to the storage room where the singers hang out between sets, hoping to find her there.
And then, before I could say "Nice set" or "What's your name?" or some other puppy dog bullshit, she brushed past me like I suddenly went all invisible, and took a seat with her jazz boys. They all chatted and drank and made for a happy, incestuous little group while I stood in the hallway with no lighter and a boner that was getting distinctly uncomfortable.
So, I guess the moon had given me its fill for the night. Hell, I heard some good jazz, I wrote a few lyrics, I saw some nice cleavage, I got inspired, I got a boner. "Go home, Sparky, whack off, and wake up at noon." I said again to me. "That's your freakin' plan. Stick to it."
"Freddy Blue!" he called from the stage, happy to see me.
"Freddy Blue!" he says, "Yo! What up?"
"Yeah," he said, twirling his guitar, "doing a tight twenty. You still playing?"
"Still writing?" he asked, hopefully.
"Oh." he said, sounding disappointed. "Hey, you wanna' sit in?"
Before starting I noticed a yellow lighter on the floor beneath the piano. I glanced over to Jazzy Girl's table, and there she was, still looking to light her stick. "Gotta' be hers." I figured, so I picked up the lighter, called out, "Yo! Jazzy Girl!", and tossed the lighter across the room to her. She reached up, made a smart catch, smiled, and gave me a big thumbs up. Then she lit her cig, blew out a puff of smoke, and watched our set.
But I hadn't sung it two years. I hadn't sung anything but covers in two years, and Billy probably knew that. But he was a good kid, and probably thought it was about time I got back to my music. He had to vamp around the intro a couple of times before I could find my voice. But once I did it was like bumping into an old friend in the street, and the years just sort of rolled back, and with the crowd bopping and tapping along I was the new kid in town all over again.
We killed as best you can in a tight twenty, and left the stage to cheers. Billy had another gig uptown, and had to split. "That was Goddamn fun!" he said, slapping my hand. And it was.
"That was wild!" she said, her black eyes darting all over me. "Did you write all that?"
"You really feel what you're doing, don't you?"
"I mean, you don't just sing la-di-da. You really look like you're having fun up there."
"Well, you've very good." she finished, clicking her glass against mine in toast.
"Thanks." I said.