The Piano Man

Jo Beach

Used to be simple. Uppers for breakfast. Coors and a joint for lunch. For dinner, beans, the white cross-top kind, just to keep the buzz on. I’d settle down after the waterbed man closed the late night movie, with reds. My nightcap. Those were the meds necessary for me to fit my clothes, my friends, my attitude. Nightly, I chased the high; daily I’d quit. The constant was that the getting was never enough and the quittin’ never happened. Drugs, booze, sex, and rock, amen. I was dying and knew it. Dead if I quit, dead if I didn’t. Here I was.

Drifting through the streets of Old Sacramento, the passage of youth had germinated the seeds of a deadly disease; beginning as curiosity, mutating through compulsion, and culminating seventeen missing years later. I now looked at the face of insanity.

The place drew me forth with intrigue. Ghostly witness to its romantically nasty gold rush beginnings were the makings of nightmares by drunks in their DT’s and hookers collecting come and coins. Those are the times that spirits invade the weak minded. The old adventures that vibrated from the board walks sucked me in.

Depression and self-loathing ruled me. I was here to consult the spirits. The question was life or death? A Buck knife, 100 downers, and Christian Brothers would escorts me out. With each step, I tried to keep the insanity at bay. The crowd in my head wouldn’t shut-up. They were not as easily manipulated as others in my life. They seduced me to have a warm brandy and plunge into liquid peace. A couple of downers would help me relax. I was tense, no doubt of that. Anesthesia had its merits. It had worked for years. Why weren’t the old tricks, concoctions, and formulas working anymore? Why did I feel?

Surrounded by river fog, hidden from probing eyes, lamp posts cast eerie shadows. A devilish melody played over and over. There, again. Then the stillness of a crypt; then, again, coming and going like a Delta wind. The tune was familiar though I couldn’t name it. The voices were screaming. Reality, a word that was nonsense when repeated, like slouch, slouch, slouch, don’t slouch, slouch, slipped. It became a string of letters; nothing more. The sound of the sad dirge rolled around my face, a hot breath in the fog. It felt like loneliness.

I knew the piano man. He had played for me before; in my dreams, in my stupors, sometimes in my lucid moments. He was constant, peaceful, calm. Non-judging, he asked nothing from me. I thought he was an angel.

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© June 1989

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