Keeping his day job


POSTED: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A lot of things went through my mind, as I drove toward Eha's bar on open mic night, like, it's not too late to call it off. Say you're sick.

The thought of performing was making me sick. I had flashbacks of a school speech contest, where I was conned by a teacher into reciting a poem about Christopher Columbus. I disliked the poem about the man who thought he was “;discovering”; a country already populated by Native Americans. I skipped a dozen lines during the contest and fell on my sword of conquest—academic seppuku. But this performance at Eha's was different.

I would be singing my own songs, a few of which had already been performed by professional musicians. But these were orphans looking for a home and I thought these waifs deserved to be heard.

Eha's is on a remote side street on Maui, which draws sometimes fewer than 30 people in the early hours of the night. I had scouted the place a couple of nights before to make sure I didn't know anyone there and that it was not the kind of place where a cowboy could ride his horse into the bar. (Yes, there was once a place like that on Maui.)

I looked to my right and saw my girlfriend Melinda, who was escorting me to my debut, lovingly holding a music stand she had bought me for Christmas, and thought how fortunate I was to have a woman who was a poet, who wasn't afraid of seeing her boyfriend make a fool of himself, knowing full well she had seen others who had done just that: drunken poets, poets on lithium, poets who thought they were Jesus, been abducted by aliens, and brawled while preaching peace, dressed as Gandhi.

“;We can go in, have a drink, and if you don't want to sing, we can just leave,”; she assured.

That sounded good.

A bass player left the stage after a song, and I thought this was as good a time as any and asked the emcee if I could go next. I told him I had few songs I wrote and the whole thing would be done in seven minutes. He nodded and helped me plug in my uke.

I set up pages of my lyrics on my music stand and was off playing one of my blues song, trying to read the lyrics in the dim light, thinking I should just sing it from memory, when a wind bigger than 50 horses farting came sweeping through the entrance. Pages of my lyrics lifted off the stand like the sails of Columbus' ships veering toward the rocks, and had me wondering if the ghost of my speech teacher had arisen.

The emcee helped me pick up the pages. I placed them on the stand and began again, when the wind blew once more.

I could hear a gurgle of laughter, and I knew that the thing to do was to play through memory, sing my lyrics my way, and finish fast, so I sang and played and was halfway through, when I heard a loud thump and bounce and looked down. My microphone pickup had dropped from my ukulele and lay like a limp tongue on the floor. I could almost see it quivering, speaking to me, begging, “;Eh bruddah, I don't know about you, but I'm done for the night.”;

The people at the bar were busy talking among themselves and seemed like they were only half listening to me. I had this moment of happy clarity. It was so dark they probably hadn't seen the mic drop and no one quite knew what the thump was about. It was so dark they probably wouldn't recognize me if they saw me on the street tomorrow.

With courage renewed, I lifted my ukulele to the microphone and played on, not to them but to sweet Melinda. I played my “;Trucker's Love Song,”; the one I wrote for her. I thought this might be the last time I had the nerve to sing publicly and I wanted it be about us.

Afterward, there was barely any applause, except from Melinda and my friend Jeff. I closed with “;Hitchhike Highway”; and somewhere along the road of words and chords and strumming and picking and singing the song, I found my voice, and I was happy singing about my experience.

There was a smattering of applause. I wasn't sure if it was because they liked the song or were glad I was gone. But I was happy I was finished and knew I'd be gone very soon from Eha's.

I smiled but didn't look directly at the bar crowd. Better to melt into obscurity again.

As I left the bar, I felt confident I had survived what might have been the worse debut I had ever known and no one knew my name. Sweet.

“;You were great,”; Melinda said. “;I have never seen anyone pick themselves and their music off the floor and keep on playing. It's a hilarious story.”;

“;Sounds good,”; I said. “;Maybe I can write about it.”;