Thursday, May 8, 2014

Painting Tacoma, Chapter Twenty-Six: Stuck in Idle

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Three months later, he was back at the fishtank, watching the farmer’s market across the street. There was only one farmer, really. The rest were antiques, homey knick-knacks and art too bent on customer service to be art. But it was mostly his mood speaking (he smelled of lemongrass soap purchased there the week before).
            The morning was so bright it was piercing. But Shawn was depressed, and determined to stay that way. It was a miracle he had managed to drag himself out of bed.
            They had never realized how important Ivy was, not just as a singer but as a motivating force. Shawn proposed they sign up Autumn, assuming this was what Ivy had in mind with her little “guest vocalist” trick. But the band had no interested in jazz – in fact, seemed to be headed in the opposite direction, toward the metal blues of Zeppelin, AC/DC and Cream.
            They tried out a few vocalists, but afterward would systematically eliminate them with a battery of nit-picks. Their main crime was that they were Not Ivy. They hadn’t practiced for a month now. Shawn could feel the rhythm building up in his hands, calcifying.
            He thought of offering his services to Autumn. He went up to see her at Jazzbones and found that her piano-bass combo now included a drummer – Claude, skinny black guy with many more chops than Shawn. Afterward, Shawn was paying the usual compliments to Autumn when she introduced her husband. Married at 19? What the hell was the deal with that?
            And then there was poor Pancho. Jesus.
            Second item: money.
            The painting gigs went on for quite a while, but his car had a nose for cash. He and Pancho went to see Primus at the Tacoma Dome, and were stranded three hours before the tow truck arrived. Transmission. One thousand dollars. After that, the painting began to dwindle, and he could sense that old scratching feeling. He thought fondly of a month ago, when he could enter a restaurant without first doing the math in his head.
            The obvious thing was to get what musicians called a J-O-B, but he hated the very idea. He came here to play drums – had, in fact, done just that – and the painting had allowed him to do it. Hard to give up on a dream you’ve already lived.
            Wendy was pregnant. When Shawn went to visit, he could see the film of dust on Pancho’s guitar. They hadn’t yet decided on marriage, but Pancho being Pancho, he immediately took two jobs, one at a construction site, the other as a dishwasher. It was a natural inclination to want to be joyous at pregnancies, but Shawn had his doubts. He only hoped that Wendy would rise to the occasion, and stop living life only to shock her parents.
            God, he couldn’t even stay on a subject. Money? Time? Too much time to sit around fretting about money? Shawn eyed his half-gone latte. He should’ve gotten a coffee.
            There was a rapping on the glass. Angie stood at the blunted tip of the triangle, wearing a clownish grin. Shawn managed to raise a hand from the table. Angie skipped through the door and gave him the embrace that had salvaged many a day.
            “Hi. How are you?”
            “I’m okay,” said Angie, not meaning it. She sat and spread out a pile of small bags. “Little show and tell?”
            “Okay. Lovely red sarong, or perhaps large scarf, small tablecloth, with gorgeous Celtic designs.”
            “Nifty little wall vase. See? You hang it by this wire, stick the flowers in this little pocket. And then some vanilla-scented lip balm made from hemp. Don’t ask, I have no idea. Lastly, some handmade lemongrass soap.”
            “That’s funny,” said Shawn. “I...”
            “I know. It’s for you.”
            “Really? That’s very nice of you.”
            “When I saw you over here, I thought God! I better buy that boy some sweet-smelling thing before he turns into an Edward Hopper painting.”
            “Gee,” said Shawn. “And here I thought I was doing such a good job of hiding it.” He lifted the citrus tang to his nose.
            “You’re a wallower, aren’t you? Wallower! How come so blue?”
            There are times when the right question, asked by the right person, can trigger more strategizing than a chess tournament. Angie was back on the market. Turns out Jason was into free love, was planning on using Angie’s apartment as a way station between conquests. Was out faster than a politician who tells the truth.
            If Shawn answered the question honestly, he would give up yet another chance with Angie. If he could hedge around it... But holding the two women in his head at the same time was his fatal mistake.
            “Tacoma,” he said.
            “Oh, Shawn,” Angie cooed. “You still miss her, don’t you?”
            There was nothing women found more attractive than a man who yearns for a lost love. For a guy like Jason, it would be a great way to get laid.
            “It’s not supposed to last this long,” said Shawn. “She’s a stubborn virus.”
            Angie responded with a sigh.
            “Oh, stop that!” said Shawn. “You women and your goddamn romance novels.”
            “Hey, cut me a break. Mine was more like the Jerry Springer show.”
            “Yeah, sorry. But we’ve tried this Tacoma/Shawn thing twice now, and I think I need to find a nice atheist girl. It would also be nice to have a band.” He dumped his chin on his hand for effect.
            Angie caught a glance at the clock. “Oh, God. I gotta get back to work. Can I ask you a favor, though?”
            “I have to go to a wedding in Port Orchard in September. I do not want to go by myself. Would you be my date?”
            “Yeah, sure,” said Shawn. “Maybe spending a day with a hot babe on my arm will do me good.”
            “Well!” said Angie. “I see your blarney is still intact.”
            “Blarney nothing. You’re a beautiful woman, Ang.”
            Shawn’s sincerity caught her off-guard. She looked like she was about to cry. She gathered up her bags and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
            “Thank you,” she whispered.
            He watched as she looped around the fishtank, then back up St. Helens with a parting smile. The recorded bells of Old City Hall rang out one o’clock. One more hour, done away with.

Photo by MJV

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