About Me •
by Pat McDonald
© Pat McDonald 1997
all rights reserved
"Jesus," he thought, "that's an eternity; six more songs!"
Mark always counted his time in "songs left to sing." Somehow, it was easier for him to gauge it that way. It was 12:25 AM, and they wouldn't let him go home until one.
"Captain Tom's Restaurant and Lounge" was empty except for the bartender talking with one of his regulars, and an older couple making out in one of the booths. Despite the emptiness of the lounge, the smell of smoke and liquor was always thick.
Mark sat on a stool on a little platform in the corner of the lounge. His "stage" was barely big enough for the stool and his equipment. He rested his twelve-string guitar on his leg while he fiddled with the tarnished brass knobs pretending to tune it. He was stalling. It wasn't because he had a shortage of songs to sing. He had an impressive repertoire; over 200 songs. He just was having trouble deciding the "right" one to play. That was always the problem.
Mark had already played thirty-two songs that night. He mentally ran through his list. Playing a bright, happy song in an empty bar with no one listening, just made him feel stupid. Playing a sad song, on the other hand, would only depress him further. Besides, it would make him look even more pathetic than he felt. He looked at his watch. 12:26; thirty-four more minutes. Taking a sip of luke-warm beer, he swallowed hard. Warm beer is just something you have to get used to when you're a musician. You take a sip, play a song, take another sip, play another song. Lately he'd been drinking tequila shots on his breaks. That is, when the customers would buy him one.
Mark glanced at the tip jar. "Four bucks," he scoffed to himself. "Great. Just great." He made pretty good money for the amount of work he actually did. He figured it out once, and it came to $33.33 an hour! Unfortunately, he only worked about six hours a week, when he had work. Allison would be bummed. Paychecks were rent, but tips were groceries.
Playing in bars was easy when they were crowded and people were listening. He even put folded paper "song lists" on all the tables so that people could make requests. Sometimes that backfired, of course. He remembered with a smirk, playing the entire nine minutes of American Pie four times in one evening, once each set. The next day he removed the number from his list. On nights like this one though, any song was a lifetime.
Dave, the bartender, let out a laugh in response to something the regular said. The kissing couple didn't look up. Mark took another sip. "OK," he thought, "here goes." He set his little drum machine for Please Come to Boston and then clamped the capo on the second fret of his twelve-string. Boston was a nice, quiet love song, easy to sing and play. He'd already played it once, early in the evening, but he didn't think anyone would remember. Hell, no one was listening anyway.
He began to strum the opening chord when the regular, Gus, called out from the bar.
"Hey Mark!" he slurred, "do Piano Man again, will ya!"
"Oh crap," thought Mark. He said, "Sure thing, Gus!"
Piano Man on a guitar! Mark shook his head at the bizarre request. For some reason, everybody loved it when he played that song. He'd grown to hate it. "How many great songs have I lost to these bars and restaurants?" he thought. "How many songs have I come to hate because I've played them so much?"
He readjusted the "drums" and removed the capo from the guitar's neck. Another piece of the varnish flaked off. He'd had this guitar since he first began playing for money, ten years ago. He loved it, but it was looking a little worse for wear. One more sip of beer, and he started to play.
Gus got up from the bar and staggered over to Mark's "stage" with a shot of tequila and a lime in his hand. He set it down on a paper napkin by the tip jar at Mark's feet and dropped a few coins in the jar. "There ya go, Mark." Mark smiled and nodded; he had already begun singing. Gus made his way back to the bar.
"Now, Dave at the bar is a friend of mine... and he gets me my drinks for free..."
Mark changed the names in the song depending on who was in the bar. The bartenders and customers liked that, and usually did give him free drinks. He decided to skip one of the verses; no one would notice. Even though it would have used up another minute, he couldn't bear to sing any more of the song than he had to.
As always, in the silence at the end of a tune, Mark hoped that people would clap, if they were listening at all. Now that he'd finished though, the lounge was quiet. The only sounds were the soft murmur of conversation and the whir of the overhead fan. He reached down and grabbed the tequila shot. "Bastards," he thought as he drank it in one harsh gulp. He thought of Allison, in bed at home. He wondered yet again why he wasn't there with her.
It took about a minute for Gus and Dave to realize the song was over. Gus turned in his seat. "Yeah! Good job!" he clapped. Dave turned around and grabbed the tequila bottle and a shot glass. "Thanks guys," Mark said with forced enthusiasm. He took another sip of warm beer and looked down at his watch.
12:33 AM: five songs to go.