BODY SNATCHERS, ZOMBIES, SPACE ALIENS & BREAKFAST

60 cadillacFred slammed the door of his baby blue 1960 Coupe De Ville with a thud and crossed the street.  He was a larger than life character, forty-five years of age, with a full head of Vitalis, slicked back, salt-and-pepper hair.  Aroma of liberally applied Old Spice closely followed.  His six-foot five-inch frame carried close to three hundred pounds.  The Village Inn buzzed with morning activity.  Fred’s gray fedora hat brim was pulled down to block the sun.  Gray suit and dark red tie spoke volumes about his perceived status in the community.  The smell of pancakes and bacon was overpowering.

Fred made a usual ceremonious entrance, hung his hat on the rack by the cigarette machine.  Thirty-five cents a pack–that’s highway robbery.  One of his vices, daily packs of Chesterfield kings, were suddenly more expensive.  He opened his rumpled white shirt collar, loosened the red silk tie, sat on a green vinyl and chrome stool near the register.  “Good Mornin’ Darlin,'” He greeted Sarah with his sickening, syrupy sweet voice.  His voice grated like fingernails on a chalkboard.  Sarah finished her last ticket, counted tips, adjusted bobby pins in her upswept brown hair, struggled to maintain civility.  “So, you’re gonna’ be nice to me today?”  “Why Sarah, I’m shocked you could think such a thing.”  “I try to be nice to you every day.”  “Uh huh,” Sarah answered skeptically, rolling her brown eyes.  “I’m gonna’ move so I don’t get struck by lightning.”  Ain’t that just like a man, always sweet when they want something.  Sarah half-muttered to herself.  “What can I get for ya’ Fred?”  “…Just some coffee and a sweet roll.” 

The boarded-up, broken right-front window of the Phillips-Stone Mortuary gave it an odd asymmetrical appearance.  The gray stone facade caused it to be rechristened, “the stone cold funeral home,” by local wags.  “Was there a robbery at the funeral home?”  Fred’s inquiry was met with dead silence.  Most of the locals intentionally ignored him.  This time, a few shook their heads in disbelief.  …Too many predictions and pontifications.  Maybe, he’d just go away?  Fred wasn’t about to be ignored.  He got louder and more opinionated.  “That doesn’t make any dad gum sense.”  “Wouldn’t be anything in there to steal.” “Sometimes there’s dead bodies in the back.”  “Good thing nobody was laid out there.”  “Last one, was old man Crenshaw, three weeks ago.”  “I was watching a movie on TV the other night about body snatchers.”  “What if it was body snatchers?”  Fred rambled.  “Did you say body snatchers?” Sarah asked, dumbfounded.  Fred nodded, the spring-loaded holder rattled as he pulled out more napkins.  “I think you’ve been watchin’ too many late night monster movies.”  Sarah refilled his coffee, made a hasty exit–adjusted her starched white apron.

Elmer Willis, a thirty-six year old respected local contractor, was dressed for work.  His twill dark green slacks and khaki shirt were neatly starched and pressed.  Brown work boots were cleaned and polished.  He was a picture of professionalism.  Above the right breast pocket was a white stitched-on patch with his business logo in black lettering–Village Painters & Contracting.  His small spiral notebook lay, at the ready, on the table with his Eversharp mechanical pencil.  Head cradled in his hands, ran fingers through a rapidly thinning fringe of brown hair.  An important county contract was up for bids.  It was move ahead or get left behind.  The numbers looked right.  All serious business planning came to an abrupt halt.

Fred was a runaway train that had to be stopped.  The temple’s order and quietness had been defiled.  Elmer put down his newspaper and cup of coffee.  He no longer had an appetite.  Coffee didn’t taste good.  His fingers traced the wood grain on the lacquered tabletop.  Why was Fred always such an obnoxious loudmouth?  Didn’t he get enough attention as a child?  Damn, how could one person be so annoying?  Russian spies, Sputniks, cows with three teats, it was always something.  He stared blankly out the window.  His temper simmered, until it reached the boiling point.

“It was a car accident!”  “Not body snatchers, space aliens, zombies, or any other ridiculous thing!” “You’re always sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong!”  “I woulda’ thought you’d already known about it!”  “Well, pardon me for expressing simple intellectual curiosity.”  Fred bristled defensively.  Elmer scowled in amazement.  “Intellectual? That was intellectual?”  “It sounded like rantings from a candidate for the state Looney Bin.”  Fred left in a huff, gray seersucker jacket slung over his shoulder.  “Well, maybe I’ll go where people appreciate me.”  “It’s obviously not here.”  Applause broke out after Fred slammed the door.  Elmer made an awkward bow–embarrassed by the attention.  The Village Inn, with its knotty pine interior walls, returned to what was considered a normal Tuesday morning.

STRINGS, DREAMS, MEMORIES

One Montgomery Ward acoustic guitar, circa 1963…Slightly bent tuner…Missing pick guard screw…Chipped neck bridge…Various nicks and scratches…Less than gently broken in…Value as an antique?…Not much…Wrong pedigree.  Why hadn’t I thrown it away?  Its former lustre was replaced with a patina of dust.  Two broken strings lay to the side.  Squeezed out by my three newer guitars, it was relegated to the attic along with other surplus items.

This old guitar was purchased with money earned during summer vacation.  …Mowing lawns, farm work, doing odd jobs.  My half, split with my brother, was seventy dollars.  That was a lot of money in those days.  Everyone else in my family played an instrument.  My father played baritone saxophone in high school dance band.  My mother sang and played piano.  In elementary school I was tested for musical aptitude.  Marginal ability–was what the man said.  How could he tell from my “squawks” and “screeches” on various band instruments?  What were music lessons for?

My dream was to someday be a competent musician.  There it was in the latest Montgomery Ward catalog–a western flat top acoustic guitar.  It would soon be mine.  Two weeks seemed like a long time to wait.  It finally came.  I held it and admired the beautiful satiny sunburst finish.  Just holding it was gonna’ make me look good.  Many of my friends broke their first guitars.  They twanged and banged away until there was nothing left.  How could they do that?  This could be the only guitar I would ever own.  I vowed to make the best of what I had.

I couldn’t play much at first–sat for hours picked notes, played a few simple chords.  It was mostly fantasy.  Maybe I’d become a rock star or folk artist?  My next door neighbor, Eleanor, played guitar.  She gave me lessons, taught me how to break in new strings.  Her Gibson “F-Hole” arch top guitar was beautiful.  I had a short attention span and found it more fun to play chords than read music.  Friends taught me how to play “odds and ends” of popular songs.  My friend David, from church, taught me the “Peter Gunn” TV show theme, the lead from “Wipeout,” and Ray Charles’s “Wha’d I Say.” David was killed in a tragic accident before the Christmas of ’64.  It put a damper on my holiday spirit.

I learned basic major and minor chords.  …Simple songs with typical three-chord pattern.  Songs I really wanted to play were beyond my grasp.  For example, “Rescue Me,” by Fontella Bass.  Tuning my guitar and keeping it in tune was basic, but important.  I tuned my guitar using the piano.  Later I purchased a simple pitch-pipe.  My guitar went along to social events:  hayrides, church socials, and parties.  On a hayride, I fell out of the wagon, along with my guitar.  I wasn’t injured.  One of the tuners got bent.  A screw from the pick guard got lost.

My younger brother, Jerry, shared my guitar.  Jerry turned out to be the most talented musician in the family.  Along with nicks and scratches, the guitar neck warped.  The strings were too far away from the fretboard.  This was one of the reasons why my fingertips got sore.  My brother adjusted the neck several times.  Later, I put on nylon strings.  My guitar sounded good to me back then, because I didn’t know anything different.

Owning a guitar, was my attempt as a shy kid, to be more popular.  It gave me something to talk about.  Musicians had commonality with other musicians.  After my Mother’s passing, I inherited some of her music books.  The songs were also arranged for guitar–over the years, I’ve mastered most of them.  Playing these old songs reminds me of her.  I recalled her singing “Mairzy Dotes” and “Swinging on a Star.”  Mom always liked “Deep Purple.”  April Stevens and Nino Temple covered the song in the sixties.  I know it brought back memories for her.  I still tend to like romantic ballads.  Where did those days of innocent romance go?

I’ve gone on to my fourth generation guitar.  I still can’t forget guitar number one.  It’s part of my heritage.  There are many memories of family and friends represented.  The only appropriate way to let it go, would be passing it down to someone in the family.  I was inspired to go further.  My reasons for playing have changed.  Now, it’s for enjoyment and relaxation.  I’ve played in small informal ensembles.  I like feeling the emotion expressed in a written piece of music.  There are now two, not yet published, songs I’ve written.  I aspire to someday write a romantic ballad.