July 29, 2005

The Fifth And Final Day of the Random Biggie Lyric Short Story Challenge

Today's random lyric:

At last, I'm literally loungin' black
Sittin back, countin double digit thousand stacks

When the Billy Joel song "Piano Man" comes on everybody gets a little misty about the romantic ideal of the piano man, the underappreciated entertainer and friend disappearing quickly as supper clubs and nightspots with neon martini glasses shut their doors one by one.

So I've started playing it at the end of the night. It makes people tip more. Misty drunks will drop twenties, or just-broken twenties, into the oversized brandy glass that serves as a tipjar, if they have any money left.

The chorus goes "Sing us a song you're the piano man," but I don't sing. I play behind Tony Palomino and the Twins at 9:30, then again at midnight. In between their sets, I back up Rebecca. Rebecca's stagename is just Rebecca, and the Tony Palomino's twins aren't really twins. A lot of deceit goes on at the Albanian Oak Lounge.

In between the acts, I play filler. I try to take requests but everybody who comes in here is twenty years older than me and I don't know any of the songs they want to hear, really.

I shake my head. "I don't know that one." The woman's botox-ed face wrinkles in places faces aren't supposed to. She walks away: "Who ever heard of a piano player that didn't know..."

The sign in the front window, underneath big black-and-white glamour shots of Tony and his twins, and Rebecca, both of them clearly taken in happier times, announces AND GRADY TWO MOONS ON THE PIANO!

I'm not Grady Two Moons. He died six weeks ago and I'm an emergency replacement drafted from an advertisment in the newspaper of the college where I'm a graduate music student. I am told if you pulled down that sign, you would see another that read, AND ON PIANO, GRADY THE IVORY-TICKLIN' INJUN! The Albanian Oak Lounge has been around long enough to span many ideas about what is and isn't an appropriate advertising hook.

One night on my break I sat at the bar and wrote possible slogans advertising me, assuming I planned to stick around long enough to make that worthwhile. Among the ones I came up with.

AND ON PIANO, JEFF THE JEW!

A Grady-style trade on my race.

AND ON PIANO, JEFF THE IVORY-TICKLIN' INCURRER OF MASSIVE STUDENT LOANS!

A sympathy play, pure and simple. Just whispering to some kindhearted old barfly whose song I might actually know, "Oh, me? I'm a student!" is usually good for a couple bucks and a "stay in school, kid, don't end up like me."

AND ON PIANO, JEFF THE IVORY-TICKLIN' GIRLFRIEND IMPREGNATOR!

Needless to say, I didn't show this list to Laura.




I never stick around past last call, never accept the bartender's offer of "one for the road," never do anything but respectfully and hastily decline the bloody-Marys-and-tranquilizer-induced come ons from either of The Twins.

I hit the big padded doors running some nights.

"Oh, where's he going!"

"Oh but you're so cute in your little coat!"

"Tony beats us!"

I'm in the Geo by this time. I have to admit, the free booze from Stan the bartender is occasionally tempting, but once you become the sort of person who hangs out at your bad make-ends-meet job after you are no longer required to be there, it's like becoming a werewolf. You either have to be killed or sprinkled in holy water, and like I said, Jeff the Jew, so that one's out.

Laura hates how I come home smelling like smoke.




A fortysomething guy with a lose tie comes up one night to request "Oh, Mandy." I tell him I don't know it.

He starts to walk away. "What kinda piano player...Wait." He turns back around. "I know you from my kid's school."

Three weeks earlier, I'm doing parent-teacher night at the school where I student teach music classes. This guy's in the front row, maybe the same tie. His wife has her big red talons in his arm like if she lets go the slightest bit he'll float away.

"Oh, right! Heh, weird to see each other here."

"Yea. My kid's teacher's a lounge lizard."

"It's just, uh...it's just extra cash."

"Right. I can't blame ya. They don't pay you guys shit. I can sympathize. How's my boy? Honestly."

Four weeks earlier, my eyes are still almost stuck together from not leaving the goddamn Albanian Oak 'till three thirty, pissed off from only pulling down twenty-seven bucks the whole night, and in my first class Terry, this guy's son, is using his recorder as an exaggerated phallus.

"Okay, Terry, that's your first warning. Now everybody, let's open our books to an old classic I like to call-- TERRY!"

"He's great," I say. "Really enthusiastic."

The father looks at me, incredulous. "You say so. You and his mother agree. You guys oughta meet."

"I think we did meet at--"

"No, I mean-" he pantomimes taking his wedding ring off. Then he laughs a barrel laugh. "Nah, I couldn't do that to another young guy. Look what she did to me! Ha!"

"Yea, anyway, I'm going to be married myself," I say. There is no stated agreement between Laura and I on this point but it's just sort of the orbit we're both in.

"I give you twenty bucks ya don't do it," he says. "It'll be the best twenty bucks anybody ever spent on you."

"I couldn't take-"

He points to his glass. Scotch. "I used to be a beer drinker, kid. Think about it. Anyway, here's five bucks for your bravery in the face of doom. Learn some songs, huh?"

"Yea," I say. "I will."

I don't suggest that maybe he should be home because then I would sound like Laura. That night after "Piano Man" has netted me an extra seven bucks and all the chairs are finally on all the tables and Tony and one twin have carried the other catatonic twin to their Caravan, I sit at the bar and tell Stan I'll take that drink. I bum a smoke from Carla, the late night waitress, and when I've smoked it all the way down Stan pours me another one, and pours Carla one, and we all toast to Grady Two Moons.

Posted by DC at July 29, 2005 08:32 PM
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