Nick was in the bedroom, occupied with a musical question. He held a red, Guild Sunburst acoustic guitar. Nick was a musician, and contributed to the support of the small family, along with Donna, the wife. She worked mornings as a kindergarten teacher in a private school. The school was one block east, on Utica Avenue. They were on East 49th, the block over, on the first floor of the two-family house.
“The chord changes follow the same pattern all the time,” he thought, “except for the song’s bridge, with a little variation there. The singer, though, he’s got to memorize a different set of lyrics each time, and then another for the bridge.”
Nick was considering singing, along with the guitar. He strummed through Fogerty’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.” He even sang along:
Just got home from Illinois,
Locked the front door, oh, boy.
Got to sit down, take a rest on the porch.
Imagination sets in …
“Oh, listen, Mama, Daddy’s singing,” said the older child, 4. “He sounds funny.”
“Shh!” said Mama.
“Fogerty did have a good sense of lyric,” Nick thought. And he went through the rest of the tune. Something about ‘giants doing cartwheels’ in the lyric.
“That’s it,” he thought. “I’m going to try it.”
Nick put the Guild into the metal floorstand with the rubber around the section that held the neck, stood up, walked out of the room into the hall. The two boys were in the alcove looking through story books now. The younger was one. The older had started reading.
Donna was in the living room reading a Hemingway novel. For Whom the Bell Tolls, an old, brown, hard-covered book purchased at a used bookstore at Flatbush and Fulton, that had 15-foot high, dark brown shelves and a huge ceiling. The book was a first edition classic. The store, Ed’s, had since gone out of business.
It was a spring night.
Nick said to her, “We can cut this without Johnny. We’ll give them two singers anyway.”
Donna placed the hardcover to her left on the hunter green couch. She looked up, listened carefully to her husband. “We’re through with him.”
“He was cutting you guys out on the work.”
“Yeah, paying himself extra, not telling us. I told him on the phone earlier, ‘No more!'”
“That’s why you wanted that little time for yourself in the kitchen corner there, where you took the phone by extension into the yard.”
“Yeah,” he laughed.
Nick thought over the singing business as he drove. He was sure he could do it.
The problem was he didn’t know where he was going exactly. He drove the dark-blue Rambler south on Utica, west on Flatlands, wandered aimlessly and by some homing instinct, pulled up in front of a beautiful white-walled restaurant with a blazing red sign. MICHAEL’S. He opened a medium-lightwood door with deep streaks. The door had a polished, deep-gold brass handle. He had put on a dark blue sports jacket before he left, white shirt, clean black chino pants, shined his shoes.
“What’s up?” a very slick looking Italian asked. The man was standing right at the entrance inside.
The man had silver-gray hair, combed back, immaculately. He looked about 15 years older than Nick. Nick was 30. The man wore sunglasses, dark red tie, white shirt, black suit. The room was comfortable, air-cooled. It smelled sweet, refined.
“Do you play live music?”
Nick noticed a small, empty stage at the far end of the bar from the entrance.
“Come to the bar, here,” the man said. He was Michael, the owner, inviting Nick to the bar.
They sat at comfortable red stools.
“What’ll you have to drink?”
“I’ll just have a beer?” Nick said, politely.
Michael had an easy manner.
“Sharon,” Michael said, “bring the man a beer, and bring me mine.” Sharon complied. Sharon was a thin blonde with a turned-up nose.
They talked over the deal. Michael liked the idea of the two singers. Along with that went a sleek Fender Rhodes electric piano, a custom-made Lobue guitar, and up-to-date automatic drum machine from Peavy.
“So,” Michael said, in his baritone, soothing voice, “I get two singers, two instruments, drums for the upbeat numbers, and only pay a duo. Is that the deal?”
“That is correct,” said Nick.
“Don’t play too loud during the cocktail time.”
“No, sir,” said Nick before sailed out the door and flew along the street, although he looked like he was walking to normal people. Nick didn’t go home right away. He drove along King’s Highway and looked at the highway night lights. It felt like a king’s highway and he felt like a king.
Then he went home. He parked the car, moved up the front steps. Donna was still reading Hemingway. She had gotten into it. The book was a great love story between Robert Jordan and a young woman, Maria. “This is a wonderful, beautiful love story in here,” she said.
He was greeted with these words when he walked through the foyer. Nick was more into the music.
And I’ve got some beautiful news, he thought. But then just jumped up and down, twice, and said, “We don’t need ‘Screwball’ any more.”
“No! You found something?”
She ran over and kissed him, hard.
The kids ran out yelling from the alcove, “Daddy, daddy!”
He was thinking, right then, it would just be a matter of a lot of words. The kids put on the TV. The changes were always the same, he thought, verse after verse, with variation of course on the bridge.