I went back to the bar on Bleeker Street. No sign of Robert or Ramona.
The MC introduced the next performer, with good natured ridicule, as “Funer Al.”
The performer wore face paint: black, with silver tears running in rivulets down his cheeks. He played an electric guitar and wailed into the microphone. The music and the lyrics were intense: I couldn’t pick out much, but I heard “the ghostwriter is dead / I’m going out of my head” and “I said my vows / I washed my hands.” He sang with real anguish.
He got off the stage and stood next to me. “Good set, dude,” I whispered.
“Thanks, man,” he said.
“I liked the song about the banshee.”
“Yeah, that’s a new one.”
He turned around and tried to get the bartender’s attention, unsuccessfully. He turned back to me.
“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any bud on you, would you?” he asked.
He sighed. “I’m not going to be able to get a drink here, am I?”
He left to go outside. I watched another group play, which was mostly forgettable. The most memorable thing about the duo was their matching blue and red outfits. They wore shoes that lit up along the soles, like the ones that little kids wear. They were filled with energy and bluster, signifying nothing.
Al left for a while. I wondered what he was doing. When he came back he had a cold breath of outside around him, and trailed a smell of marijuana.
“Hey, Leif,” said Al.
“Yeah?”“I think I’m too high to find my way home. Could you… could you come with me?”
“Come hang out,” he said. “I’ve got whiskey. We can jam.”
“I can’t really play…”
“Of course you can.”
So we took the rickety old train out into the darkness.
Another train passed us from the other direction, headlines blazing. For a moment, I thought we were going to go off the rails. I pictured the crash, louder than sound, the glass, the black. But nothing like that happened, of course.
We went to his place and listened to records. It was messy and smelled like cat litter. A cat watched us from its perch on the sofa. Al poured us glasses of whiskey.
He convinced me to play with his synthesizer while I played guitar. I plinked around on the keys and turned the knobs. The more whiskey we had, the better it sounded.
“Where do your lyrics come from?” I asked.
“From my life, dude. Every day.”
I was starting to fall asleep on the couch.
“There’s this girl I like.”
“Who is it?”
“Her name’s Ramona.”
“Oh, the black and color girl? Nice.”
“I think about her a lot.”
“Why don’t you tell her?”
I was really falling asleep now.
“I guess I’m scared,” I said.
I woke up in the morning with a fuzzy mouth and a headache. I took the train home and spent the day in bed.