All winter long we took westbound busses downtown to play folk songs on freezing street corners. We were The Messengers: Austin, Peter, Ezra and I. It started when they showed up in front of the office building I worked in at the time. They were wearing matching dark glasses, harp racks, guitars. They stood on the sidewalk outside my window singing “Gloria” until my boss told me to make them stop. Running to the door, I bumped into a table of merchandise and a large bruise spread instantly across my thigh. When I reached the sidewalk, I lifted my hand to silence them, but Peter instead handed me a tambourine. It was a sunny November afternoon, and the whirring cars on
I hit the tambourine against my leg and started dancing. They asked me if I wanted to go out and play with them that night. The bruise from the merchandise table grew and deepened. It happened to lie in the exact spot where the tambourine hit for the next few months, and thus never fully healed.
We played for quarters and dollar bills until midnight, picked up transient back-up singers, saw players, Coke-bottle tubas. We gathered crowds, crud, displaced street kids who told us we were taking their spanging spot. It was freezing all winter. We’d play until we couldn’t feel our fingers: “Sister Ray,” “House of the Rising Sun,” everything by Brian Jonestown Massacre. At midnight we’d stop by Voodoo Doughnuts under the
We were The Messengers. Ezra’s family was Jewish. Every second Friday that winter his mother would serve a Sabbath meal after we got home from busking. She would wait for us, sometimes until eleven. We’d come through the door clanging, a case full of cash, and then join them in the dining room: The Messengers and Ezra’s family. His mother cooked four-course meals: stuffed grape leaves, homemade yogurt, empanadas, winter greens, challah, olive tapanade, vegan white cake with black coffee. The meal would last two, three hours, and we, The Messengers, would make doe eyes at each other from our seats wondering if we’d ever been so happy.
At a later date, on the couch in the coffee shop, I said to
You have a few great nights with a group of people, and the following few months you spend together are in pursuit of those nights. Often, and thankfully, they are usually the only ones you remember. Sometimes you stay together just because of those two or three nights, waiting for a new event to deliver the old feeling. New isn't always bad, but we often miss it being so fixated on one previous moment. We miss it, possibly forgoing a great thing that could have been. Or maybe that was it, and it never happens again.
The last time we played together, it was just beginning to get warm. All winter long, we had thought, if winter can be so sweet, just wait until summertime! It turned out that the prospect of sun was deceptive. As winter receded, so did our attention spans, and so did the buckets of doughnuts and The Sabbath and the holiness and the homemade challah. It was late May. I was seventeen-years-old. We played for a couple of sleepy hours on the bank of a vintage clothing store in a nice neighborhood. We made three dollars, and then wandered around a chain supermarket and spent the money on pink-frosted sugar cookies, hot jojos, deep-fried jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese from the deli counter. After eating all of it around a picnic table at a neighboring park, we felt sick.