Jimi and His All-Star Band
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Bubble"
Originally featured on 01-12-2009
As part of our series "Bursting Into '09"

This man across from me loves Jimi Hendrix. I mean loves him the way that some people love Elvis and some people love J.R.R. Tolkien. He has visited Jimi’s grave. Over his shoulder on the wall, is a picture of him with Jimi’s brother taken on Jimi’s birthday. Jimi’s birthday is an important holiday: looked forward to, planned for, celebrated, and remembered by this man across from me.

This man across from me is forty—seven years old.  He’s old enough to have played guitar for fifteen years—the amount of time that he was told it takes to become any good, in the hopes of reaching the heights of players like, well guess who. He’s old enough to have grown up in Croatia when it was called Yugoslavia and ruled by Soviets. He’s traveled in Europe, played in bars in Holland for up to two or three hundred Euros. He can make money playing his guitar on the street, enough money to live on. Between the bars and the street performances by day, he could travel the world and it would be very cool, so he tells me. But he won’t play anymore.  Not publicly, not seriously. Not until he finds a girl to travel with him. To watch his back, his guitars, to make life not so lonely for this man, sitting across from me, who is still alone despite my presence.

He hasn’t had any contact with his mother in twenty seven years, he tells me. If he finds this girl, the one that he will travel with; he will also seek out his mother who remained in Dubrovnik after he left. How long she remained, I don’t know and neither does he. But he is afraid to face her alone, this man knows that.

After an offhanded comment I make, he points twice to the table between us, which is also a map of the world, first at Croatia then Portland and explains that he has done as well as anyone could moving from one to the other, even me. I don’t argue, though I’m tempted to point to New York and then to Portland.

His studio apartment is small, is without a bathroom or kitchen, has a small sink, has an unmade bed, has a coffee table, and has two adjacent closets built into the wall. The floor supports two guitar stands supporting two guitars, an electric and an acoustic with Jimi’s autograph written by this man. He points to an authentic autograph on a Jimi poster on the wall and explains that he copied it. Hanging on the walls are posters of, Jimi, as well as of Frank Zappa, colorful boas, scarves and beads.

In front of me on the table is a Croatian magazine, Dubrovnik’s version of Us Weekly, and in it there is a picture of this man, much tanner, but definitely him, standing next to a twenty-four-year-old girl.  The girl was his girlfriend, so he tells me. The caption is in Croatian, but I recognize the word ‘rocker’ preceding this man’s name.  Inside the magazine is a newspaper clipping, also from Croatia, with a photo of him playing his guitar. He tells me that he is somewhat of a celebrity there, and could go back and be famous again, but what is the point if he must do it alone.

He tells me that he has found her already. That a year ago, he went out with her on Jimi’s birthday. He took her out to see a Jimi show celebrating it. He draws on a piece of paper two hearts.  Then he diagrams for me, a gift he gave her. On one heart he writes, THINK OF ME, and beneath it he draws a little star. On the other heart is a two linked eighth notes. Then he tells me about the little star.

This girl is cool, he says, and she is smart. She is a star. He can see it. She is ready to become much more than she is now, at twenty-two. She could be cool and a star and he could do it with her, if she wanted him as her boyfriend. There is a little star in her, just as he is a little star. He points. This little star, he says, is him.

He tells me that he loves her. He told her that, at a party at which her twenty something co-workers were present. One of her twenty-something co-workers, her best friend, told him that he needs to stop saying things like that to her. The girl, the one he loves, cried a bit while the co-worker told him this.

This man believes that she is interested, but cannot admit it to herself. He wonders why she accepted his invitation to the show, for which he offered to pay for everything because he felt that it was important for her to see it; only to act as if she wasn’t interested in him later.

There are reasons why she might not be interested.

This man is an alcoholic and next to the spot on his table where Croatia sits, sits the first tall boy of many he plans to consume this afternoon. He does this whenever he has money, he tells me. However, this probably isn’t the main reason. This girl, in a socially accepted age-appropriate way, is also an alcoholic.

This man is twice her age. When this point is brought up by me, he is ready with his rebuttal. If he is willing to love a twenty two year old, he says, and to deal with the way people will look at that, then isn’t he making the same sacrifice? I don’t argue, because unexpectedly he’s right.

This man can be annoying, crude, lacking in social awareness and skills, is generally disliked and only tolerated by most. He also has small chipped and yellow teeth. I don’t bring up these points because next to where South America sits on the table, sits a small bag of pot, which he plans to share more of, which is the only reason I’m here. He enthusiastically offered smoke at the end of our shift, and I’m enthusiastically listening. Mild enthusiasm is what I actually muster.

However, part of me cannot leave yet. His mother in Dubrovnik, not spoken to in twenty seven years, isn’t so different from my mother in New York, who I’ve not spoken to in months. His unrequited love of a twenty two year old girl, and the smirks it causes others who find it ridiculous doesn’t seem so ridiculous to me. He’s a romantic, an extreme romantic. He is entirely unfazed by any arbitrary circumstance, any detail of reality that stands between him and his imagined love affair. And I have lived this way.

So why do I smirk? Maybe it’s because his believing in this romance doesn’t make me believe in it and so, to me it is still ridiculous. It is as if he keeps emphatically pointing to a blackboard where he has written 2 + 2 = 5!.

Maybe I stay because I know I could be this man across the table from me. I am like this man across the table from me: disconnected, hanging my hopes on romantic fantasy, jovial in the face of a lonely and depressing horizon drawing nearer everyday.

But this man is not me. He is no longer young. He is no longer full of ideas. He no longer has all options. Or perhaps he does, perhaps it is me that doesn’t. Am I sitting here because of proffered pot, because this man across from me makes me feel better momentarily about myself, because I’m amused by him and his plight, or is it because he’s right, and this is the best I can do. The best we can do.

The answer comes to me as a series of questions: are we all just little stars? Do we burn continuously until our beliefs run out?  What is left after that? Is it a black hole whose saddening gravity sucks other things into it and crushes even the light generated by stars or even, eventually the stars themselves. Does this happen despite the wishes of this man across from me? This man across from me, who would probably like to hold onto some of that light.

I’ve told him I’m leaving. Time to catch the bus home. As I descend the stairs of this man’s apartment building, he descends them with me wearing his bright blue boa.

Then more answers come to me as a series of answers: Yes, we are all little stars. Yes, I believe some find more things (or themselves) to believe in and burn on, and others don’t. Probably it is a type of hole that remains. So is this man descending with me one of those holes?

Does desire count as something to believe in—to burn for someone, is that burning on? Does this man descending with me, now telling me more about how he might call her today and asking my opinion—does his desire count? Has his saddening gravity crushed the light coming from me, or is it—am I crushing his light? This man claims to be a little star.

And how could somebody say that, if it wasn’t true?

 

  

We reach the door at the bottom of the stairs and I, still a little stoned, pat the man next to me on the back and attempt to give him a fist pound, but I miss and then we both smile and I head off on my jolly way.

The man formerly across from me heads off to walk around a bit before returning to his apartment to possibly call the girl he loves, his little star.

 I walk halfway down the block before going into a vintage clothing store. I poke around. A man in his thirties is at the counter enthusiastically discussing vintage boots. I remember caring about clothes like that, while pretending to look at whatever’s on the rack in front of me.

Maybe we’re born little stars with no gravity at all, just light. Then, as we age, we begin have beliefs and our light gets bigger.  But when the stuff we believe in fails, we begin to carry some mass around with us, which creates a type of gravity. This gravity, and I feel gravity is a good word for it. This gravity is part of what attracts all us little stars to all us other little stars. We gravitate towards other bodies that have the right combination of mass, gravity and light. If we’re a little heavy on gravity, we might gravitate towards a star that has more light. Some of us little stars might go for somebody that has more gravity so we can rest our mass for a bit. The metaphor could go on and on ceaselessly, just like the universe.

I slide hangers along a steel dowel, the sound of a knife sharpening. I look through the vintage shirts for sale, then the jackets, looking for something bright—something that Jimi might wear.

Read More By Doug Dean

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