Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Guitar

Yesterday, Ken Newman, the big-hearted guy who did the fundraiser for me, posted the following status on Facebook. I shared it on my radio show, and I felt it needed to be shared more widely so I am posting it here, with his permission.

It is a lengthy read. But well worth it.

Manny’s Music is no more. The NY institution, on 48th and 8th; the place where my Sister, Fran and I saw Cat Stevens in 1973 is gone. Gone is that hallowed place where Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles bought guitars … the place where Pete Townsend would buy 30 or more Gibson SG’s at a time just so he could smash them to bits on stage.

The place where 35 years ago, I ALMOST bought a Martin. I had it at the counter, in its case and handed the clerk my credit card … an American Express. I didn’t realize at the time that I couldn’t ‘charge’ it the way I’d hoped … I was new to the whole Credit Card thing. Turns out, I’d actually have to pay the balance when I got the bill.

And at the time, there was no way I could afford to do THAT.

So … sad and more than a little embarrassed, I said,

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that. I uh … thought it was… uh …”

And I hurried out the door …

And Manny’s? Gone. Gone. Gone.

Manny’s was sold to Sam Ash in 1999, and then became Sam Ash ten years later. Then they closed the doors and moved to 34th St.

And that’s where I made my pilgrimage today.

I walked in about an hour before closing and strolled … and drooled …. And strolled and drooled … saw some guitars that cost more than I’ll make … well … in a long while.

Went into the acoustic room and saw this guitar that I “ABSOLUTELY HAD TO HAVE” Wasn’t terribly expensive. But WAS terribly cool.

“Good evening. Sam Ash will be closing in 30 minutes. If you’re having trouble making up your mind, we will open tomorrow at 10am.”

I thought about it.

“Good evening, Sam Ash will be closing in 15 minutes. Please make your selection and come to the …”

I thought some more.

“Good evening. Sam Ash is now closed. We’ll see you tomorrow. “

And I hurried out the door.

Without the guitar. But I did get a very cool, “Manny’s” t-shirt.

At 34th and 8th I stopped to get a Sabrett’s hot dog. Another pilgrimage. And I saw Carson. I didn’t know his name at the time. I found that out a little later.

What I did see was a young guy sitting on the sidewalk with his hands around his knees. His greasy hair pulled back in a pony tail. A t-shirt and jeans. Dirty, but not too … a look on his face sad and wise, but more sad. The kids had taken the ball and gone home. And they weren’t coming back this time.

The hat in front of him had a few crumpled bills inside and the sign propped against his knees said,

“I’m homeless. I’m hungry. And I could really use your help. Thanks and God Bless.”

Nothing out of the ordinary. Just another guy on the street. Strung out. Begging for a handout. Probably looking for his next fix …

I’m never sure why I walk past some people and ignore them. Or pretend I don’t see them. Or flutter my fingers as I walk away and say,

“I’m sorry, I just don’t have any money.”

In fact, I’d already done that about seven or eight times in as many hours that I’ve been in New York City.

But this time … I didn’t.

I walked up to him and said,

“Hey, do you mind if I sit with you for a minute?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Do you mind me asking, how you got here?”

He took a second. Not much longer. And said,

“I made some bad choices. Just bad choices, I guess. I got into drugs. And just, I dunno. Things just … fell apart.”

And over the next two hours I got to know an incredibly bright and talented young guy who got into Berklee College of Music, ran out of money, dropped out, and started his slide to the streets.

We talked about gay marriage. Which he believes in. Talked about God. Who he doesn’t believe in. Talked about Quantum Mechanics. Which he REALLY believes in. Talked about his Dad, a surgeon who won’t talk to him. Talked about his Mom who he adored and who died four years ago. Talked about a brother who he’s not very close to. Talked about the Methadone Center that is saving his life …

And talked about music. Talked a LOT about music. About an old Gibson Guitar he used to have. About Jazz and how much he digs it.

And about Neil Young whom he adores.

(OK, I’ll admit that’s a big part of what endeared him to me.)

I asked him if he still plays.

“Yeah. I go into Guitar Center or Sam Ash whenever I can and go to the Acoustic Guitar room and play for as long as they’ll let me. Just to keep my chops up.”

“I get freaked out if I don’t have callouses on my fingers.”

And then I remember this old Martin Backpacker guitar that sits behind a closet in my office. A guitar I got for free from someone who was about forty bucks short on some money he owed me.

Yeah, it’s a Martin. But it’s not like … a MARTIN.

“Carson, let me ask you something. If you had a guitar … not like a super expensive one. But a guitar that you could play on the street … would you be able to keep it safe?”

“Yeah, I could. I’m living in a squat with a bunch of guys and it’s an OK place. I have a friend I trust who’d watch it for me.”

“And if it was shipped to you, you’d be able to sign for it?”

“Yeah. Sure. Why?”

Because I’m going to send you a guitar. And I want to see a picture of you playing it at the corner of 34th and 8th. Can you do that?

He didn’t answer.

Instead, he asked me a question. Well, two questions. Separated by about ten minutes.

“Can I walk with you for awhile?”

“Sure, I’m heading back to my Hotel. It’s across town.”

Then after a bit …

“How does this happen?”

And I didn’t have an easy answer for THAT one. What he was asking was what I would have asked.

How does it happen? How does it happen that two people out of the mad crush of people strolling around Manhattan on a beautiful Spring day, manage to talk to EXACTLY the person they need to talk to.

How does it happen that on a day I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself for no good reason, do I run into a guy who felt himself disappearing, and who, far more than a handout, just wanted more than anything to be SEEN and TALKED TO.

After our walk to my hotel, and after sharing a couple of Sabrett Hot Dogs … OK, I had two of them …. he shook my hand, looked at me for a long while and said,

“Thanks. You know … you really just …”

“That’s OK. You made mine, too.”

And so next week, a Martin Backpacker Guitar will be surrounded in bubble wrap, put in a cardboard box, and sent on its way to a kid I think is gonna play the hell out of it.

Play it like his life depended on it.

And even though I really don’t need another guitar …

… I might just have to go back to Sam Ash tomorrow and look at it one more time ...

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