by Bruce Memblatt
|part 1 of 3|
Dikon played a mean sax. The streets were good to him. Some days were better than others. The winters were hard. Summer nights were the best. Folks hanging out in t-shirts and jeans, sipping cool beer, catching the breeze in their hair were freer with their spare change on a warm summer night.
Same corner every night, right by the subway station down by Union Square, Dikon would blast out high notes, low notes and every note in between. He’d take requests, he’d improvise, he’d reprise. Some nights he could pull in a hundred bucks and get a room somewhere, but most nights Dikon stayed out on the streets.
Like so many nights at sundown he slid into his pose and hit a high E. He’d blow that note like a mating call seducing everyone’s ear, calling the streets to order. He held onto the sound real long and hard, and then he’d slide into the songs.
He spotted a little girl, she couldn’t have been more than six, standing on the edge of the sidewalk, next to her mom, just hanging on to that high E, as if she was hanging on to the note with him. The world could come to end; she wouldn’t move, he wouldn’t move, they’d just hold onto that note and somehow everything would be okay.
Suddenly a tear came to the girl’s eye as if she heard something in the music and saw something in the sky that crushed her inside. Dikon could feel it too, and he leaned harder into the note. He hung onto it as if it was the last note he would ever play.
He could feel the crowd going insane. The sound of coins filling his case grew so intense he didn’t think he could stand the high. The fusion of music and the sunlight hitting the edge of his sax, and the falling change overwhelmed his senses. For an instant he thought the sensation was so strong it could blot out the light, blot out everything, but Dikon had to keep playing, because deep down in that place where there’s nowhere to hide he knew he had no choice. He was hopelessly and forever lost in the music and the clouds that blocked the harsh sun.
Then Virgil arrived.
Dikon spotted Virgil one night hanging on the corner where he always played, the corner of Sixteenth and Broadway, the corner he’d come to call his corner. There wasn’t anything all very unusual about Virgil, it was just that he kept coming back. Now Dikon knew he played a good sax, and some people loved the sax, but there were other corners and other street players.
Virgil was tall, always wore a hat. He must have been in his late forties, Dikon surmised. There was something dark about Virgil that he couldn’t define, like a sadness; but there was more. It was as if Virgil knew something, something about the way things were going to go down, not just for him but for the world. And Dikon guessed they weren’t going to go down good from the way Virgil carried himself and by the intensity in his eyes. The eggs would fall, the eggs would fall everywhere and break like cheap glass.
When Dikon learned Virgil’s name, it must have been the tenth time Virgil had sauntered down to his corner. The red setting sun bleached through the buildings surrounding the intersection like cracked ice under a bed of bourbon.
The first thing Dikon saw was the shadow of Virgil’s hat falling over the saxophone case that stretched over the sidewalk by his shoes. The second thing he saw was a twenty-dollar bill haphazardly fall and land on top of the change that lined the case.
The third thing: he heard Virgil’s voice. “I like the way you play all sad like.”
Dikon couldn’t help but spit out. “It’s all the loose ends, you know. I can’t figure them out. They turn my head, and I cry through the notes.”
“You need a job,” Virgil said. That’s all he said, nothing poetic, or complex like Dikon expected, the SOB just said, “You need a job.”
Was he all wrong about Virgil? Maybe Virgil wasn’t a mysterious dark soul; maybe he was just another asshole. Dikon knew Virgil was right in the grand scheme of things, but at that time, in that spot, he thought the fool was just shooting off his mouth with an easy answer. But the guy didn’t look like anybody’s fool.
Dikon just shot back, “Yeah, I suppose you’ve got a job for me?”
Without missing a beat, without curling a hair, Virgil said, “As a matter of fact I do. My name is Virgil. I own a little club just down on Avenue A called, as you might guess, Virgil’s. I want you to play there. I’ll pay you, maybe even give you a room.”
Dikon stared into Virgil’s eyes. They were squinting as if the sun was hitting them too hard, but the sun was behind him. Dikon thought it added something to his already strange pose. It was like the dude was caught between something, maybe between a rock and a hard place, maybe between good and evil, maybe somewhere between sane and crazy like him.
Dikon simply said, “So that’s what you’ve been doing, coming down here every night? You’ve been scoping me out, trying to see if I was good enough to play in your club.”
Virgil cracked a half-smile. “I’ve been looking for someone special, someone who didn’t pose, someone who played real. You play real.”
“Everyone who plays, plays real.”
“Look, do you want the job or not?”
Did he want the job or not? He didn’t care about any kind of job, but Dikon was going to take it because there was an intensity that emanated from Virgil that grabbed him under his skin and wouldn’t let go. It was as if Virgil was holding the key to a door they were all going to fall through and if he followed him maybe the blow wouldn’t be so bad.
In some way, Virgil was going to protect him from the splatter and chaos that was coming. He could see it in the edges of the buildings and in the way the sunlight peered around corners as if it was crying.
“I’ll take it,” Dikon said, staring at the red sun setting behind Virgil as if it was calling him, “I’ll take it. When do I start?”
“Tonight. Follow me.”
“So you just want me to leave my corner right now and go with who, you? Some stranger who claims he has a gig for me? You might be some kind of lunatic.”
“Yeah, why not now, Dikon? Have you got something better to do?”
“Nope,” was all Dikon said while he slowly bent over and placed his sax in the case, carefully removing the change from the cheap velvet lining, and stuffing the coins into his pockets. The dust made him sneeze as he turned to Virgil. “You’re not the devil are you?”
Virgil half-smiled at the question. “I’m worse.”
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Bruce Memblatt