by D.B. Rouse
It’s not every day that a busker finds himself headlining a theater. It’s not every day that you find a theater headliner busking. After playing a couple rural theaters in northern New Mexico and the panhandle of Oklahoma (where I sold my weight in kazoos and got drunk off the power of conducting an entire theater full of kazoo players), we were back on the highway and out of money. It’s amazing how quickly money goes when you’re on the road. The rent goes in the gas tank, and the rest into our food tanks.
Listen to the song while reading the story.
It was late afternoon when we pulled into Columbus Park on the outskirts of Tucson.
“What’s the plan?” my fiancee, Maggie, asked.
“Well … it’s not happy hour yet, so the busking hour is not upon us. Let’s just relax here until the time is right, then head into town and find a place to play.”
“You want me to cook up some beans?”
“That would be lovely.”
Maggie started rummaging through the giant Rubbermaid container that we had designated as the ‘van kitchen’. She pulled out a dirty old pan and camp stove. I grabbed the party guitar from the rear of the van, and a can of beans out of our wooden food cache box.
Columbus Park wasn’t much to speak of. Just a handful of picnic tables in covered pavilions scattered along the shore of what appeared to be a concrete drainage ditch parading itself around as a pond. There were a lot of people milling about, some playing soccer on a brown dirt field nearby, some having picnics. There was a whole armada of ducks swimming in the soupy ditch pond and slow cooking in the Arizona sun.
We plopped down on a picnic table in a pavilion. Maggie lit the camp stove and heated the beans to a bubbling simmer. I sat down on top of the table and watched folks jogging past while strumming the party guitar. Where were these joggers going in such a hurry?
After our hobo feast, Maggie retired to the wilting army cot inside the van to take a nap. I stayed on my picnic table, playing music for ducks and watching the sun slowly collide with the horizon. The sinking orange orb was turning the Arizona sky into a structure fire. Time crawled past, like the snake it is, and the fire in the sky was doused by gallons of dark blue nightfall. Stars started to shine through the blue like leftover sparks from the fire.
Things got quiet. Too quiet. The soccer players had all gone back to their homes on the sidelines. The joggers had jogged off into space. It was just me on a picnic table with the ducks, and Maggie sleeping in the van. I was looking at our lone vehicle parked on the side of the road, when a thought crept into my mind; ‘Should I be concerned about gangs around these parts? Is that why everyone else left?’
Not two minutes later and a shiny new SUV screeched to a stop near the van. ‘Shit. Well whoever they are, they probably won’t hassle us. We’re just traveling musicians,’ I said to myself and continued rehearsing.
The SUV’s engine turned off and I heard two car doors slam like gunshots in the night. A few of the ducks spooked, and took flight into the darkness. I continued to rehearse. If Maggie and I didn’t pay them any mind, I figured they would pay us the same.
Two men were gruffly speaking near the SUV. After strumming through couple more songs, I heard approaching footsteps. As they came toward me in the dim starlight, I could make out that these were two older men. One of them looked to be in the twilight of middle age, and the other looked to be in the prime of his senior discount years. The older man had a trucker hat on with a military emblem of some sort. He had his hand on the shoulder of the younger one, and as they got closer I saw that the younger one looked overwhelmingly sad. I gave them a smile and the older man returned it with a nod. They walked past me and both took a seat at a picnic table that was about five feet directly behind mine.
‘Hmm. Maybe the young one’s dad or mom passed away and the old fellow is consoling him.’ I turned away to give them privacy and continued plunking and picking on the party guitar while a big fat moon started rising. I tried to play a little more accurately; a little more heartfelt in consideration of the vague audience behind me.
The third or fourth song that I played to my passive audience was called ‘Missoula’. It’s a slow pensive tune about traveling far away from loved ones. Midway through it, I heard one of the men say, “Ow!”
I glanced over my shoulder and saw that the old man was standing with his back against one of the pavilion’s support columns, and the younger man was on his knees with a dick in his mouth.
I quickly turned back away. That was about as good a time as any to leave. I didn’t want to make things awkward though, so I went ahead and finished the second half of the song. After it ended, I quickly put the guitar back in the case, and started walking away.
Hearing footsteps following me, I looked over my shoulder to see the older man was walking after me with his fly still down. I quickened my pace, but didn’t run, once again trying to not make things awkward … just pretending that nothing had or was happening.
Maggie had awoke and was just stepping out of the van. She looked up and smiled at me in the moonlight. “I’m going to quick use the outhouse,” she said.
“No time,” I told her abruptly. She stopped in her tracks. “We gotta leave,” I said. “Let’s go. Let’s go. We’ll find a real bathroom somewhere else.”
“O … K …” she said looking at me curiously and reopening the van door.
When we drove past the pavilion to exit the park, the old man was still there, staring longingly at us with the headlights glinting in his eyes.
“Those guys are giving each other blowjobs,” I explained to Maggie as we sped off. “They were right behind me sucking away as I was rehearsing. I didn’t realize until one shouted ‘Ow!’ Then I left, but that guy followed me a little ways.”
Maggie’s reaction was somewhere between concern and laughter.
I don’t know why he followed me. Did he think I was going to join them? That I was just playing hard to get? Did he want to pay me for playing?
I was kind of honored in a weird way, though. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, right? My music was the groove that set the mood. A few months later one of those men found the song I was playing, ‘Missoula’, on spotify and sent me a really nice note. They are two of my biggest fans now. Sometimes you just gotta follow your music. You never know where it might take you.
D.B. Rouse, Category: Artist, Albums: Bad Old Days (Remastered), D.B. Rouse’s Flophouse in the Sky, Learn from Our Mistakes, Dead Cat Piñata, Vaudeville Routines (2011-2013), Singles: Farewell, Whiskey, The Road to Ruin, The Singles, God Is On Your Side, Top Tracks: Cheer the F–K Up, Sylvia Plath, Pirouettes, You Got a Friend in the N.S.A, Skeleton Key, Farewell, Biography: A migrant Americana musician, D.B.