American Portraits: Jazz Hands

American Portraits
April 27, 2013
American Portraits: A Gentleman Host
April 30, 2013

Too wiry, too wrinkled, two notes shy of a swingin’ standard. His warped, angular jaw looked like the canvas for God’s first case of pointillism, and his lips stuck out in perpetual pout. He was twenty-two once, and his eyes dulled as though remembering what that must have been like: to handle a saxophone like a supple-breasted broad.

It was an any-old Tuesday when I saw him, his back to the rain-splattered glass of a supper club. Around him huddled a near-apoplectic fit of miserly once-weres—musicians with hands on notes because their hands had always been on notes. And they plucked and plunked and strummed. What came out was a tinny dirge, lurching in fits to the bobble-head tilts of their torsos. And when the jumble of messy chords fell to the floor in pieces, they picked their hands up and grabbed their arthritic knees, aching.

“Let’s break, fellas,” one of them grunted, his rough tenor grating against air. They nodded defeatedly.

Mr. Sax was left standing—the sexy one, the one you could imagine beaming with pride twenty years ago in the cafés of Nawlins, relishing the sweat, the high-octane lights, and the gin. But even the curves of his instrument were rough now, dark and spoiled. His cheek bones—those lusciously handsome features over which married lasses swooned—were only bony outcroppings of an old man’s face. His spirit had retired ages since, and his fingers danced only out of habit.

In his navy blue sweater vest, he sat down and rolled his eyes over the noisy crowd. Drinks were slurped. Fried chicken fingered. Cackles carried through the din. No one paid the man heed, no one ogled his great and mighty veins, pumping with the fire of a fresh song. So he sat, back upright, and listened to the sound of the relentless rain. He wondered how better a tune they made than his own rusty digits, and how rain is somehow the same everywhere you go.


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