It all started last April. It was the end of the month and I was busy coordinating the last in a string of public block parties and festivals, Cinco in the Gaslamp. The office had packed up and headed South of the Border to Rosarito Mexico, in search of Mexican novelties for media packets, décor for the event and of course, a short jaunt down to Puerto Nuevo for langosta, cerveza, and Lapiz. That's lobster, beer and premium tequila, straight up, no salt - no lime, for you gringos.
We were on our way back when it happened, the border traffic was pretty heavy that day and the sweet nectar of the Agave was whirling around in my head when one of the border crossing peddlers caught my eye. He was waving it above his head and yelling Quality Mexican Guitar!
I have no idea why I did it; I suppose I was just drunk and in love. In love with the way it was shaped, in love with the glistening strings, in love with the crazy red and blue tassels hanging out of the peg holes. I pictured myself sitting on the porch in the summer sun, strumming Bob Dylan tunes; I imagined camping trips where I would effortlessly lead a group of friends around a roaring campfire in sing along after sing along. I fantasized about drinking red wine in hotel rooms with Todd Snider and Will Kimbrough while we howled with laughter and drunkenly played Jerry Jeff Walker, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine songs. I rolled down my window and yelled out, how much?
Two miles and two crisp twenties later, I was the proud owner of that quality Mexican guitar. I was a genius. For only forty bucks I could now live out my wildest fantasies. I would be great. I would quit my job and start a band, better yet; I would just sling the thing on my back and travel from town to town playing for strangers, earning my keep, by leading townsfolk in rousting renditions of classic bar songs and haunting originals. They would cheer and throw money and the tavern owners would love me and tell me stop by anytime I was in town. Oh, the adventures I would have! I slept soundly that night, my faithful dog and my trusty guitar by my side.
The next day, I headed out to the holy temple for great guitar players, the local Guitar Center. I would need a tuner, a pick and a manual on how to be great in only 5 minutes. That is after all my patience threshold, about 5 minutes exactly.
I approached a long haired guy in a Black Sabbath T-shirt behind the counter and told him what I needed. He looked at me, laughed in my face and said cheerfully, I see that someone got drunk in Mexico. How did you know? I stammered back. Honey, he said, that's what we call the Tijuana Special, and you're going to need a whole lot more than a tuner, a pick and a manual to play that thing.
It would not be the last time that a long haired guy in a band t-shirt behind the counter of a guitar store would laugh at me. There was the day I first tried to change the strings on that guitar. I rushed in with miles of metal spaghetti hanging from the tuning pegs, only to face snickers from both patrons and employees. There was the day when the quality Mexican guitar died which was just about three days from the day I bought it. Oh, those humiliating I told you so's. There was the first time I tried to change the strings on the new guitar that they sold me when the Mexican one died. I rushed in bleeding and breathlessly explaining how two of the little "thingies" that hold in the strings at the bottom of the guitar were stuck in my ceiling, one was jammed solidly into my front door and the remaining three were snapped off in place. As he wiped away his tears of laughter, he told me that I should always release the tension on the strings before I pop out the pegs.
As the weeks passed, I began to realize that my golden guitar dreams were a lot further away than I had originally anticipated. For starters, no-one ever told me about the mutilated fingertips thing. I had no idea that in order to become a great traveling guitarist that I had to trade in all feeling in my left hand. There have been bloody blisters, followed by calluses, followed by bloody blisters, followed by more calluses. Oh, and God forbid that I not play for a few days, because when I go back to it, the pain just seeps right back like little blue flames are burning on each string. Speaking of God, I wonder if Robert Johnson added a clause in his deal with the devil that magically released him from that portion of the contract. I can tell you right now that if ol' Lucifer and I were at the crossroads that would be Section 1, Item 1.
Then of course there was the realization of just exactly how Caucasian I am. That was a shocker! I mean, I am from Texas after all, just a short hop, skip and jump from the deep south. You'd think that at least one of my ancestors got busy with the Cheese Whiz with some hot chocolate honey. But no, my bloodline is apparently as vanilla as a plain cone from the Tasty Freeze, because to my utter amazement, I have absolutely no rhythm whatsoever. I tell you honestly, with the exception of that one Snoop Dog concert, I have never felt as white and awkward in my life as when I am holding that damn guitar.
Yes, awkward is the perfect word. When I play the guitar, I am like a 15 year old girl giving her first blow job. I clink and clank up and down the shaft of that fret board, teeth scraping, grip all wrong, gagging and choking, no idea what to do with my tongue. It's not a pretty sight. And just like the shrieks of that poor boy who gave over his manhood to the inexperienced child woman; my neighbors scream and my dog cries, covers his ears and begs to be let outside.
Sure I get better, but there are always new and more frustrating obstacles, like those goddamned Barre Chords. Oh, I can land 'em, but in the time it takes me to get from a simple E to B, I could do my nails, walk the dog and watch some paint dry, just for fun. It just infuriates me! Some nights I get so pissed off that I just scream out; fuck you Slash, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend and Eddie Van Halen. Fuck you Dimebag Darrell, Stevie Ray Vaughn, BB King, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana. Fuck you Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Johnson, David Gilmore, Richie Blackmore, Jimmy Page and especially fuck you Robert Johnson, you soul sellin' mother fucker!
Of course, then I throw on Aftermath by the Stones and two measures into Paint it Black and my traveling troubadour dreams come rushing back and all is forgiven. I pick up my hour glass shaped love and the whole process starts over again.
I know that I am, without a doubt, the worst guitar player ever. But I keep thinking, if I just practice, practice, practice; one day I'll get it right. Someday that jump from E to B will come as effortlessly as my now perfected blow job; easy with the teeth, use your tongue, the secret spot is just under the head, remember to breathe and always swallow.
Jones is currently working in San Diego as a photographer & promotions director.
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