Hollywood Jazz Trio

We lived around the corner from a Shakey’s pizza joint off Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. I’d just got discharged from the VA after a short stint in the Air Force, where I crazed out the first night at Lackland AFB boot camp, and was sent to the base hospital dissociating and ending up answering the psychiatrist’s questions with what he later termed “bizarre metaphysical overtones,” which got me honorably discharged a few months later, sans any GI Bill. Mark, a friend of mine from back East, who’d just flown West and moved in with his brother, who was then living in Hollywood, told me to join out there. Fresh start. So, out I went to La-La Land.  And here I was standing at the counter to pick up our pepperoni pizzas. I came in twice a week for happy hour specials that featured ridiculous amounts of pizza and pitchers of beer. A Dixieland band played widely as I paid the tab, grabbed my pies, and left.

Coming into my apartment building a Latino guy named Manuel (pronounced like the artist Buñuel’s, but without the tilde). He was in his 40s I guessed, quiet, nervous, always smoking. He looked a little like James Dean, from the way he dressed and groomed, but one who’d been beaten half to death a few times. He didn’t look you in the eye right away. He sometimes hung around the front steps, stirring.

“Hey, Jimmy,” he said to me, as I tried to pass with the pies. “How’s it going?”

I just nodded. He saw the boxes. I said to myself, Fuck it. “Wanna slice?” I gave him a couple.

“Muchas gracias,” he said.  “Jimmy, I believe in fair exchange.  You must come up to my mother’s place sometime and shoot up some heroin with me.”  I nodded and moved on. “But if a man should double-cross me,” he was yelling after me, “I would have to kill that man.” More nodding and moving away.

Inside the apartment, Mark and Jeremiah were preparing their instruments. Jeremiah, a muscular Black guy who Mark and I met at IBM, where we all worked as ManPower temps, mostly preparing legal documents we would send to some firm in White Plains, New York, that was defending IBM from some antitrust violation.  Jeremiah was wetting his reed, a procedure that reminded me of lubing a fresh rolled doobie. Mark was busy under the hood of his Steinway with his tuning kit. They paid no attention when I came in with the pies.

Jeremiah had played solo here for us before and was outstanding with his baritone sax. He made the rounds of small clubs.  He had a dream. Told us a story about the time he played and got into his vibe and when he opened his eyes to all the white people in the audience seemingly mesmerized, he goes, “Man, I went through some serious changes.” We all laughed, the risibility reinforced by a jay we passed around. It felt laced with something.

We all had quick slices. Eager to get to it. Or munchies, more like it. I washed my hands and went over to the couch and took out my cheap Suzuki violin from its case.  I’d begun taking lessons and had been doing my Three Blind Mice progressions down in the basement  laundry room to avoid annoying, with my scratchy work, Mark and Syd, the third roomer, in the apartment.  I knew chords and ventured off into riffs, but I had a long way to go before I’d be receiving an invite to audition for a trio position opening up. Lesley, an attractive brunette, and single mom, sometimes chatted me up while she soaked her dainties (I guessed) and stuffed her children’s clothes into the machines. She asked about the violin and after I explained, she said, good-naturedly, “You really suck.” And we’d talk shit and share a doobie. I’d say, “It’s just the Suzuki method — you have to do these routines.”  I gave her a sampling of my private riff stash and she seemed more ameliorated. But I wasn’t gonna give her any more kids, if that’s what she was after. And I don’t think she was.

Jeremiah and Mark set up.  They were ready to jam.  I thought about Jerry Goodman, the violinist for Mahavishnu. Channeled “A Lotus on Irish Streams.” Right? Good way to kindle the mind. Honks. Pursed lips. Keyboard rolls. Finding chords.  And me, trying to avoid Suzuki like plague. I would be spontaneous. I was already high.

Jeremiah led us with a little riff to give our fingers something to think about. Then Mark came in with a complementary spray of notes. Wow. They were already symbiotic. I was afraid. Fuck, I was terrified of interrupting that ride. What if I channeled Suzuki instead of the dirge that came to mind as I listened and grooved on the vibe?  I lifted my bow and offered up my hoarse drawn-out carriage to the mix.  Jeremiah gave me some lovin with his eyes. Yeah, that was gonna work. We were jammin. We went on for about 20 minutes that way, all touchy feely with the vibe, the promise of a good evening of righteousness ahead. When we felt we had something to build on and briefly discuss before we got really into it, we took a short break, talked some diminished, passed around a doobie. Wow, this one was loaded.

I felt the need to sit down on the couch to play. My mind seemed to expand and the room was the inside of my cranium. I mean, there was no longer a separation between me and my environment. I hung there for a moment, in the balance, as it were. Then I must have fallen asleep. I can’t remember my hallucinations, but my dreams were vivid and wild.

I told Lesley about my dream the next day. We had coffee and made love. Suzuki.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.