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Nights At The Apollo

Nights At The Apollo

"Sit down, my boy.", he'd say relaxed, contentment and happiness spilling over in his tone like rain from a windowsill.

I'd settle in to a leather chair and watch as the sun disappeared behind a lavender horizon, winking at me brightly in various lively hues before absconding for the evening.

I'd observe him like a student before his master as he'd carefully select a CD from his well worn plastic attache case. It was a veritable armory of ageless music; Swing, Blues, both American Southern and Chicano, Jazz and Big Band.

My Grandfather played rhythm guitar in a band during his youth, wielding a Gibson ES335, its body ponderous and cherry red as a pin-up girl's lipstick.

He'd perform deftly, his fingers moving with the smooth choreography of a true professional. Eventually, the twin realities of career necessity and a burgeoning family brought an end to his strutting onstage, but he never relinquished his musicality.

That night, nearly half my life ago now, he chose B.B. King, granting us a live, private recording at the Apollo Theatre, neatly squeezed into the patio of my Grandparents' home.

With vigor, the legend caressed Lucille tenderly, coaxing the iconic instrument to howl, wail, hum and sing.

We talked sporadically, about music, women, sports and life. He told me stories of his childhood in Vallejo, CA, evenings spent with my Great-Grandmother making tamales and building bonds.

Of his teenage years, spent rowdy, rebellious and tough, fighting, drinking, and outrunning the police.

"Remember my boy, dont ever say a word!", he'd warn, accentuating his point with a stab in the air from his liquor glass.

I remember the faint aroma rising from that glass, either whiskey or gin, pungent, strong and vivid. That night it was Canadian Mist, carefully hidden in the bottom right drawer of his work desk/bench.

My Grandfather is nicknamed The Wolfman, and rightfully so, and the only thing he feared was the wrath of my Grandmother, hence the intelligent obfuscation of his favored drink. 

He had a small starter guitar composed of sturdy wood and weathered strings. It was the color of fine sand and the fall grasses blanketing the fields lining the highway towards Sacramento.

I sat out there and played with the grace of a falling bowling ball. My hands seemed to be encased in cement, and the instrument seemed to be fighting my every attempt to learn it.

I sought to dance the ballet, waltz or rumba with the thing, to make it my friend. Instead, it wrestled with me, unyielding and spiteful, forcing me to bend it to my will with sheer, unbridled effort.

My Grandfather laughed heartily, and Michael Buble' began to croon, transporting us to the 1950's, though at that point he was scarcely 30 himself.

"Practice my boy. Practice. Then you get the girls.", he'd assure me, characteristic devilish grin spread across his distinguished face.

The girls came later.

Much later, in fact, until I scarcely believed they'd come at all.

But I eventually got the hang of it, and that beloved relic sits in the corner of my room back home to this day.

I love you, Grandad.

November 2015. My first hug after an 8.5 month deployment. I love you Grandad, and I'll see you soon. 

At times, like right now exactly, the urge to return home is nearly unbearable. It burns within me, raging torrential and ferocious, eager to consume any excuse, justification, or reason in its path.

Indeed, they serve as fragile kindlings sacrificed to a horrendous inferno. The underpinnings of the motivation I still have to plod forward at this shithole are on their last legs, more toothpick than lumber.

Often, I'll drive down to Waikiki, sit morosely in Kapiolani Park, shaded by the large tropical trees, and stare out towards the vista.

I'm likely gazing in the wrong direction, and I couldnt care less. I feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway, stranded in paradise, eager to escape, but unable to due to forces beyond my all too feeble control.

All I know for certain is that California lies out there, beyond the divining line where sky meets sea, calling to me with the passion of a lost love, begging for me to reunite with her.

I know some reading this will no doubt judge me as weak, dependent, and pitiful.

All of you can get fucked.

When I was younger I dreamed of setting off on my own. I longed to be a vagabond, to satiate the ravenous thirst for adventure intrinsic to my chronic case of wanderlust.

I set out for the sea because I was drawn to it, cliche and trite as it may sound. It represented, and represents still, freedom, undiluted and unrestricted.

A uniquely welcoming life awaits a Sailor, once he's a couple hundred miles out and the calendar has logged a week without land.

Those that would normally never have tolerated, let alone been receptive, to each others' company fast become brothers and sisters.

The entire ship takes on a communal atmosphere as everyone bands together to make Her feel accomidating.

Sure, there are infights and the occassional flaring temper, especially as time drags on, but these are hardly commonplace.

Poker, spades, craps, and all manner of board games become the order of the day, and clandestine fight clubs form in the dark, damp alleyways deep in the hull of the ship.

An underground economy soon springs forth from the demands of necessity, and small fortunes are made, hard won over the course of a few months.

The trades surreptitiously plied range from impromptu barbershops with the secrecy and chameleonesque adaptability of Depression-era speakeasies, and hard drives filled with all manner of pornography trade hands with the fluidity of cold hard cash.

Cigars, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and now, vape juice, are hot commodities, as are socks, candy, beef jerky and girl scout cookies. I was paid at the rate of 4 boxes of Thin Mints a week for simply fixing a printer repeatedly.

I speak reverently of this world because I miss it. Either send me home, back to San Diego, or ship me back to sea, as a bullet with a target, not a wispy afterthought.

Anything destroys this office bitch purgatory, this death sentence of cubicle crucibles.

345 days left until parole.

I'm eyeing the sunset, and whether I'm barreling towards it atop a roaring, black Harley or sailing in its direction on another vessel matters not at this point.

Just leave me the fuck alone.

Heaven is an open road. 


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