By tomorrow I should have my Profile done. I mean, who really cares, but I suppose I should do it and see if anyone does. I hope you have been having a good weekend! Except for THIS, I have also. And now, on to practice and then on into evening.
Working on getting a blues band together! Hope that gains traction this week. Oh well, just found out the Mercury Retrograde ends today! I can't help but wonder - if I'd started tomorrow, would I have had less trouble? Those darn stars.
So here's another story. Until the morrow! C
MY FIRST TRIP TO HARLEM
© Charlie Messing 2009
Toward the end of 1968, when my wife and I and our baby son were living in a nice apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City, I was looking for a job. We were still living on our wedding money.
I played music, and wanted to be a musician, so I tried to meet musicians. Two young black guys I'd met but never played with were a bass player named Jesse and a drummer named John. One day, when we met on the street, they told me they had a gig that night in Harlem, and asked if I wanted to play. It would pay us each thirty dollars. It was all simple stuff. They'd come by for me in a taxi; it'd be a piece of cake. I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to play, but was uneasy about going to Harlem. I asked them, "Isn't it dangerous up there?"
They looked at each other, turned back and said together, "Noooo." I told them I'd play. We made arrangements, and shook hands.
They picked me up at six o'clock in a taxi, the drums already packed in the trunk. I brought ten dollars with me, hoping to find some supper before the show, not having eaten lunch. I brought my thirty-five dollar Japanese Zim-Gar electric guitar, which I rarely played because I didn't own an amplifier. Jesse had said there was an amplifier at the club I could use.
We rode uptown, and got out in front of the club, which was in the basement of One 125th Street. We paid the cabbie and he drove away with all the drums still in the trunk. We went inside, John remembered his drums, we had a period of hysteria, and then the cab showed up with the drums. The cabbie had discovered them in the trunk and remembered where they belonged.
We set up on stage for the gig, in which we were the backup band for a singing group called the Sophisticates. The Sophisticates were four guys and a girl who had decided at the last minute to see if they could get a band for their debut at their local social club. The club was low budget
and low ceilinged. With a lot of greetings all around, small groups came in the door until a few dozen people filled the dozen round tables in the room.
The show started. The singers gracefully stepped in file into the spotlight, snapping their fingers together. We all meant well, but the five singers weren't any too good, and they were great compared to the band. I didn't know what I was doing, and I wasn't alone. We were all faking it, and the drummer couldn't even keep a beat. It went on for hours.
During a break, hanging around with the guys I'd been introduced to by Jesse and John, I mentioned someone I knew, using the word "spade." They got tense when they heard that, and one of them gave me a hard look and said, "Ain't 'colored' good enough?" I apologized, and shrank. I had never known it was an offensive word. Whoops.
When the gig was finally over at 3:30, we wearily packed up our instruments. We got paid and then we got ready to leave. John and Jesse were busy saying goodnight to all their friends, and so I said, "See ya, guys, I'm gonna go." They turned and waved and I headed up the stairs to the street alone, with my guitar. I hadn't seen a white face all night, except in the men's-room mirror.
I stood at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue, in the middle of the first snowstorm of the year. Snowing like crazy, it was. I hadn't found supper; I was tired and hungry. I tried to wave down a taxi, but it didn't stop. I didn't know that taxis never stopped in Harlem late at night. Too risky.
Another taxi passed. As I stood out there by the curb wondering what to do, a wide blurry shape came toward me through the blinding snow. It was two guys in long coats. One of them put a gun in my stomach and said, "Let's take a walk."
"Where?" said I.
"Right around the corner into the park," he said.
"Yeah," said his partner.
We walked one short block, gun in ribs, to the edge of Mount Morris Park. We crossed the street and went in, to the first intersection of the wide concrete paths, and there we stopped. The one without the gun went through my pockets, finding the forty dollars in my wallet, and put the empty wallet back in my pocket. He put the change he found in my other pocket back, saying, "We'll leave you enough to get home." He stepped back and stood with his partner.
The man with the gun said, "My friend here sure would like it if you'd give him that guitar." They looked at me through the heavily-falling snow.
"This?" I said, looking down at the guitar and back to them. "It's not a good one, it's not worth anything..." They waited. Then quickly, "Sure, you want it? You can have
it, here." I handed it over.
The gunman nodded and said, "Now, you walk right down the middle of that path there, real slow." He jerked his head to point in its direction. "Don't turn around till you get to the end, or I'll blow your head off." I did as he said, worrying the whole time that he might blow my head off anyway. At the far end, I slowly turned around and saw they were gone. I walked off into the snow, my heart sizzling with catastrophe.
Around the corner, I found the subway station and waited for an hour on the underground downtown platform. Everybody else was black. Conversations and arguments flew back and forth across the tracks as I leaned against an I-beam, trying to be inconspicuous. At last the train came.
The train wasn't going anywhere near my neighborhood, so I left it at Columbus Circle and got a taxi the rest of the way. As we sped down Broadway, I mentioned Harlem to the driver. He showed me his gun. I waited until we were close to my street before telling him he'd have to wait while I ran upstairs for money. He arched his eyebrows at me in his rear-view mirror.
We got there, he waited skeptically, I ran upstairs and back down to pay him, and wearily trudged upstairs again. I collapsed in relief. I asked for food and drink, and over it told my wife the sad story of my adventures. She comforted me.
After that, I suspected that Harlem deserved its bad reputation. I didn't want to return there, ever, but one day about ten years later I took the wrong subway. When I got up to the street and saw where I was, at the corner of 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, I expected the worst. I had ten blocks to walk, wearing a motorcycle jacket and carrying a guitar. I looked down and said, "Feets, do your stuff."