The man woke to a familiar phrase.
The sun beat down on him, bright and menacing. It was punching him in the face, is what it was doing. Reassuring him that it hated him, disliked his whole existence. He found it somehow comforting, since the nightlife was more his scene anyway. Then the sun found new intensity. A starburst, strobing now, pulsing, flashing, killing his entire being through the tiny slits in his eyes.
“It’s time to move along, sir.”
The hotel security guard removed the high-powered flash-light. High-powered. Shit, atoms might as well have been fusing inside that thing. Dom realized that it was still dark out. Probably almost morning he figured, judging by his encroaching hangover and the city quiet around him. Must’ve been that eery hour that still exists in the city, that wee small slither of time between when the bars close and and worker bees wake. It was eery because all the other urchins didn’t sleep and most of them were fucked up on a head full of bad medicine. Nobody just got drunk anymore. They needed something else. It made them untrustworthy and he hated that hour because of it. In their desperation to get most fucked up, they gone and fucked up the night.
“Excuse me, sir!”
Dom always found it funny, the whole sir charade. He had never been sir to anybody except policemen and security guards – men who genuinely meant the word as much as Dom genuinely thought he deserved the label. He rose, thanked the man courteously for the rousing and asked him for a light. “Sure.” The security guard said, and then brought the strobe light back to his face. Dom got the message. He wandered drunkenly down what he now considered a lame and unenthusiastic street of Hell’s Kitchen. ‘New York’s gone to shit.’ He thought, rubbing the burnt stars out of his eyes. ‘Now I’m the reason people fear the night. A goddam fat drunk lying asleep on a stoop. People forget man. The people always forget.’
He made his way past Broadway and saw the opening to Hamilton. There were a few die hards taking photos and selfies behind the billboards. He read the reviews, snorted at the clever plot line and jealously made his way toward Port Authority – the grundle of New York. The city’s last bastion of scoundrels. Dom wanted seediness. Needed it. Wanted to dive head first into the muck. You see, the sign had pissed him off. Dom had tried his hand at theater and failed. He wouldn’t want you to know it but he was an understudy for Jean-Vel Jean in Les Mesérables back in ‘96. Now, he paints and sings on subways for money. Oh and don’t worry. When he says “I paint,” it doesn’t come with the same air of douchebaggery that comes with the vanity of an artist. No, he paints to get by. He paints walls. Stains wood. Sands steps. He sweats…grinds. And he hates it. Actually. He hates artists.
“I fucking hate artists!” He yelled at the people as they took selfies. “MUSICALS SUCK SHIT!”
Smiling youthful asian women gawked and went scurrying all about.
“EAT SHIT, DIRTBAG!” A flamboyant man yelled from down the street.
“YOU WANT SOME!”
“I wouldn’t fuck you with Hamilton’s dick!”
This made Dom laugh. Dom wanted to fight. The man, on the other hand, had something else in mind. Middle fingers were exchanged, as was custom in the city and they parted ways.
Dom was jaded, he knew this. The truth was he loved artists, he just didn’t love them post success. He had no stomach for it. Their knowing smiles, their dreams come true. Their assuredness in their talent, their vision – that they were the one who was supposed to make it through the bog. Dom shook his head…’One man makes it through and a thousand others fall short…tens of thousands. All of ‘em stuck in the mud and spinning wheels till their goddammed motor stalls out.’ He was never a man for odds, but he figured this was why his own engine died. Still, there existed in him the gnawing obviousness that he sang on subways. No one could explain that. He couldn’t even explain it. He didn’t need the money but he felt compelled, almost driven by some ruthless demon to use his voice everyday. It was as if that demon wanted entertainment and Dom had no choice but to obey. Sometimes he would sing in the rambles of Central Park, specifically hoping that no one else could hear it. He just needed to sing. And the demon needed to listen. Horny little bugger.
Up ahead Gene was hanging on the corner, sending up smoke signals. He was as skinny as a rail and it always befuddled Dom how a man who drank and ate more than he ever could remained so bony and anemic. Dom walked up and asked for a light, this time he covered his eyes just incase a smart ass guard might be around.
“Tha fuck you doin?” Gene asked.
“Just light my cigarette, would ya.”
Gene obliged, “Wine no good tonight?”
Dom pulled away his hands, shaking his head at the question to reveal eyes full of tears. There was no sobbing, no emotion, just the souring leftovers of a dream never realized.
“Must’ve been a bad batch.” Dom tried to smile.
Gene had seen this before in Dom, a common occurrence when he frequented the old play houses. They walked around the corner and headed back toward Time Square together. Highlights of the democratic debate flashed across the towering fifty foot screens that lit up the city blocks, advertising to the concrete jungle the need for more cement.
“The ducks…they quack.” Gene said, staring unwillingly at the CNN ticker.
“Yeah. But at least they’re the good ducks.” Dom said. His cigarette had now burn down to the filter. He thought about smoking the filter too but wisely spit out the stub.
“What’s a good duck?” Gene asked.
“The ones who know that flight is still within in their grasp.”
“You’re full of it.”
“Naw-naw. It’s about lift.”
“These quacks don’t know that.”
“It’s not about them,” Dom said. “It’s about the others they might inspire to fly.”
“People like you are why I drink.”
Dom smiled. When Gene said that, it normally meant he was right. And Gene entertained the bottle often.
“You can’t get on that platform without some sort of ego, though.” Gene said, Dom nodding along. “You know that…”
Gene kept on about what is required of a human to talk from a soap box and none of it being good. Dom remained silent and always disliked Gene for never letting his metaphors end conversations when they clearly already had. They stayed in midtown and strolled aimlessly, Gene had work soon.
“So when are you gonna get a job?” Gene asked. “You need a job.”
“I paint.” This time Dom said it like an artist.
Gene was unappreciative of the humor, “No you don’t. You sing.”
“Not right now.”
Gene shook his head and let out an egregious exhale. “You lie. You sing all the time. Hell, you probably sang at the sake bar six hours ago.”
“Well change that.”
“Sake bars pay shit.”
“I mean – audition. Shmuck.”
“We’ve been over this. It almost killed me – literally. I’m done.”
More sighing could be made out, “But you house a trumpet in there.”
“I’d rather have a house and a strumpet.”
“I’m sure you would. So tell me then, why do I always hear Vivaldi on the subway platform every evening come 6pm?”
To this Dom had no response. Somewhere deep down Dom knew that he sang in public with the hope of a passerby hearing his gift and being somehow connected to the world of theater. That the ears of the unexpected stroller would be so entranced, so transformed and helpless against his all consuming voice that the demon would release its hold on Dom and take up new ownership over the will of the passerby. That the need to get his voice out to the world would soon overwhelm the bystander and in theory, land Dom a lead role somewhere on Broadway, or at the very least, a goddammed agent. There was a cartoonish bubble forming over Dom’s head that was quickly wafted away by Gene.
“At the end of the day, you’re not just failing yourself. You’re failing me.”
“At the end of the day..really Gene?”
They both shuddered at Gene’s word choice, reeking of a boardroom as it was.
“But at the end of the week, I’m still alive.” Dom said, full of snark. “And at the end of the month, quarter and year too, for that matter. Jesus fuck. Why not use a goddam baseball metaphor and tell me I’m striking out!”
Gene was sheepish and fell heavy to embarrassment when his corporatism spilled out into the real world, but there was a point to be made. “What I meant to say was…you’re giving up, and yeah. The game iddn’t over yet - it’s not even the seventh inning stretch - you fuck.”
All the sudden Dom started checking his pants pockets. “Shit.”
“I think I lost my keys.”
“Of course you did, again.”
Dom struggled through every pocket. Change spilled onto the curb. He bent over to pick up the few quarters and dimes and his pants started to fall down.
“You’re maybe the most pathetic roommate I ever had.” Gene was chuckling now and absolutely lost it when Dom, woozy from trying to stand upright, doubled over on top of himself and face-planted into the brick wall. “And the most entertaining friend ever…here.” Gene held out his keys.
Dom smiled at this. He made for the keys but Gene pulled them away as he noticed his friend’s dirt riddled shoulders. “You sleep in the fucking gutter?!” Dom made as if it weren’t out of the realm of possibilities at which point Gene offered him a proposition. “Two keys for two auditions…or back to the gutter.” Yeap, to get into the building and into their apartment, Dom had to agree to two auditions.
Dom thought long and hard about the gutter he woke up in and the cold, damp, dark, urine-scented cement. This wasn’t the usual for him, by the way. Normally, he loved sleeping inside overpriced hotel lobbies. Snoozing on their comfy couches and schmoozing accomplished women and acting as if he, too, were an out of towner. Some drunkard businessman passing through, just another Clooney Up In The Air. Last night, however, the bottle got the best of him and he could never quite clear the entryway.
The sun was up now and he was still tottering over the proposition. The gutter, full of piss and shit, still sounded better than the gut-wrenching, pride-killing, soul-crushing stage, but Dom had to be honest with himself – self pity was no longer for him.
A deal was struck.
After that night, there was a quickening of all things in Dom’s life. And much of it was owed to years of reliable friendship. A sympathetic symbiosis for the two men were both urchins who liked the wee hours of the night, Gene the early riser, worker bee, and Dom, his degenerate late-blooming counterpart. One owned a voice of reason and the other a voice from god. It seemed as though these two were interchangeable and when Dom took to the stage, he finally stopped listening to the voice in his head, and instead unleashed the voice from within. The Voice of the Night: the struggle of darkness that comes with trying to find the light.
And out came the trumpet. The notes he waxed went beyond his natural given talent. This time around, the notes were earned and held within them the growing pains of the long hard road. The polished grit created a gravitas that consumed the room. The atmosphere fell on happy ears and pulled the judges into him; into his melodious and emotive vocals and there they found an opus of friendship; of folly and fortitude. Of truth. And just a few short months later, a sold out audience would respond in kind by rising enthusiastically from their seats to Dom’s curtain call.
He no longer had to tell people he painted.
He could now tell them…
This story marks the end of a long bout of blogging for me. It is the second goodbye to be attempted here and I fear the final one. Though I may share music from time to time, all efforts with words shall now dutifully be put toward print. What else is there to say except that I am tired of hiding. There is too much work to be done, too many steps to be climbed to come out from the shadows. And let’s be honest, to live a life behind a blog is to live permanently in the shade.
Recently, a much older and wiser gentleman told me that this is bar none the worst time in the history of books to be an aspiring novelist. And then he told me that that is exactly what makes it the greatest time – for “where the struggle is greater, the voice is louder.” I agreed with him and am passing on the same sentiment to you, dear readers. In which ever path and passion your heart takes you…
At the end of the day,
Press on regardless.
Cyndi Lauper – All Through The Night
The Jam – Town Called Malice
The Style Council – My Ever Changing Moods
Foals – Mountain At My Gates
The Lovely Bad Things – Hear or Anywhere
Mac Miller – 100 Grandkids
Barbara Lewis – Hello Stranger
Wayne Fontana – Game Of Love
Willie Colón – Che Che Colé
Louis Armstrong – High Society Calypso
The Untouchables – Crawlin’
Gary Numan – M.E.
Boxed In – Mystery
Shalamar – A Night To Remember
All the People – Cramp Your Style
Dawn Penn – No, No, No
Quincy Jones – What’s Going On?
Gal Costa – Baby
Ehtiopiques – Tezeta 2
Barbara Lynn – You’ll Lose A Good Thing
Irma Thomas – Anyone Who Knows What Love Is