John pressed the pedestrian cross walk button to halt traffic in four directions at once and stood and waited for his opportunity, guitar case in hand. When prompted, he crossed Main Street slowly, slow enough to run out of time, slow enough to hold up anxious commuters. Casually, insolently, he looked through the windshields at angry, impatient people intent on getting home to that first precious drink.
He felt their contempt. A forty plus year old man with a thin, grey ponytail and a banged up guitar case is no one. No one at all.
He created death scenarios in his head on really black days.
Pictured the first guy in line slumping over behind the wheel after suffering a massive and fatal heart attack. Imagined those in line behind him honking their horns furiously as the light changes to green, growing insanely impatient, gesturing and banging on dashboards, each second feeling more like an hour. Until commuter number two loses it completely, furiously stomping the gas and cutting to the right, only to smash into the drivers side door of an innocent passing him by.
Traffic is snarled; eventually horror sets in as drivers realize the guy in car number one is dead. Guilt crushes some of those involved as they slowly relate the superficiality of their impatience to the finality of the sudden and vicious ending of a life.
Some, however, remain impatient as the cops show up to the scene.
This scenario never fails to bring a smile to John's face.
It was seven o'clock and John was headed to one of the few dive bars remaining in the city for a Friday night gig. Looking forward to his free meal and a free drink or two, generously poured.
He thought of it as a dive bar. It really wasn't; it was clean enough, comfortable enough and the clientele were not assholes. It could only be considered a dive bar compared to today's soulless, antiseptic cookie cutter bars that legitimized drinking, disguising it as socializing.
John was more comfortable in bars that let drinking just be, places where drinkers killed pain, turned away from life and arrived at laughter, however insincere and fleeting.
The bartender nodded as John walked in.
He liked the staff in here, they were good people. No bullshit, hard working, harder partying people whose opinion of humanity was very much shaped by the people they waited on.
He liked them because they had an attitude. They waited on customers from a position of strength. Humility had no place in this bar, with this staff, and it keep things edgy.
John himself had been feeling edgy lately.
At a bitter point in his life, painfully and reluctantly, he realized he would never make it in the music industry.
Decades of rejection had worn him down. That and a million false promises and dead ends.
He was reduced to playing in bars and restaurants. For decades he took comfort in the fact that he was not an every day working stooge. Not a hypocritical asshole who looked through a windshield with disdain at a man who refused to follow the blueprint.
He took greater comfort in slipping a couple of his originals into his sets just to prove he had the chops. They wanted covers, everybody had a goddamn request, but when he played his own music he felt like he was offering something to the universe. That he was making a difference.
Lately though, these things provided little comfort.
And John felt edgy.
Three songs into the first set a guy a couple of tables over got a little loud. John knew this guy would be a problem when he noticed the rocks glass in front of the man, three quarters full with evil whiskey.
"Free Bird. Play Free Bird." He thought he was being funny; he thought he was being original.
John tensed up but made it through the song; one of his own.
As he eased his way into "I Am A Rock" the guy shouted "play something we can dance to."
John stumbled a bit, stopped, pretended to be tuning his guitar and then began the song again.
"This fucking guy thinks he's James Taylor, for Christ sake."
John stopped playing and looked up. He seemed to be considering a response.
Ten awkward seconds later he picked up a solid glass ashtray, walked over to the table and smashed the ashtray into the guys face. Then he calmly downed the whiskey in one gulp and walked back to his stool.
He grabbed his guitar, leaving the case behind, and walked out the door. The guy was face down on the table in a pool of blood, surrounded by people drinking in shocked silence.
John lit a cigarette in the cold night air then smashed his guitar against the side of the building. He walked two blocks to a liquor store, bought himself a bottle of bourbon and thought to himself "It's gonna be a good night."