After the gig last night, our lead vocalist sat at the bar, sipped at her glass of red wine, turned to me seated on the stool to her right, and said, “You really need to get laid.”
The guitarist, sitting at her left flank, nodded. I, pulling at my Guinness in the process of drinking myself straight, hadn’t thought that anything of the sort showed in my demeanor. “Just a night of meaningless sex,” she continued.
It wasn’t a come-hither. She knows, and I know, that we have a professional relationship and that I’m not about to get in the way of her LTR with the band’s drummer. But over the course of playing with this band for a few months now, without my having had to pay much attention to the fact, we’ve all become comfortable enough with one another that we can say things like that.
I mumbled something along the lines that I’d had a bellyful of meaningless sex and wasn’t really in the market for more. I thought I heard someone say that it could lead to more if I’d just get back in the game, but I was still lit up and wasn’t sure whether that came from either the singer or the guitarist, or from someone in the ether. But as I’ve mentioned in the past, the cost of entry back into the game is something I just haven’t felt I’ve had for the last several years of other-imposed, and now self-imposed, celibacy.
Both the vocalist and the guitarist noticed me flirting before, during, and after the show with a doe-eyed single mother of three in the audience, laying Reiki hands on an ailing shoulder, placing my quartz dagger on her crown (it felt blocked) without bothering to remove it from my neck. She kept telling me how good it felt. If she was flirting with me, it escaped my notice—not because she’s not good at it, in all likelihood she is, but because I’ve never been able to tell when I’m being flirted with unless it’s been a truly overt gesture and I’ve been beaten over the head with it. Either way, she had work the next day and kids to pack off to school, and was off home by the time I motivated myself to begin packing my rig up.
Now, in a display of cameraderie and quite possibly alcohol lubrication, the guitarist asked, “Hey, who’s got your back?”
“You guys do.” I smiled.
Calling the vocalist by name, he asked, “What do we want for this guy?”
Her response was immediate. “A woman—someone we don’t have to pay…”
I came close to a spit take all over the freshly-sanitized bar, and along with the others, choked with laughter. After a moment it was hard to catch my breath from laughing and hacking.
The giving-up-cigarettes thing has not been going well for me. For every day I feel like I’m making progress, I have days like yesterday when I lapse back to what has become for me a normal level of nicotine intake. With every drag now, I feel like the demons are winning, and I can feel my will power and my ego shrink just a little more. That flashed through my mind as I caught my breath.
Later, the regular folk and the rest of the band had gone home, and it was just me and the guitarist sitting at the bar with our drinks—I may have been nursing the same pint from earlier, but I can’t be sure—while the bartender, a long-standing friend of the guitarist’s, scrubbed the place down and reconciled the registers. I remember (vaguely) responding to the guitarist complimenting my musicality and my keyboard work by extending my hands and showing my lack of reach, moaning all the while that Brubeck and Peterson could walk tenths with their left hand while I was lucky to be able to walk an octave on a good night. My keyboard technique is the result of working around physical limitations that most other pianists didn’t have to work around. Yes, Art Tatum, George Shearing, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Mats Öberg—all blind. But all have, or had, longer reaches than I do. It hasn’t prevented me from speaking my truth at the keyboard—but it has made it more difficult to get the phrases out.
Something similar happened to me while I was trying to bond with a comely young waitresses at the coffeehouse I’d played the week before. While the Old Men had played there numerous times in the past, she hadn’t seen the band previously, and was raving to me about how good and how energetic we were, and I felt a psychic wall going up around me as I mumbled some form of thanks. She wound up attaching herself to the bassist later that evening, and I guess I had expected that that would happen.
Remembering our vocalist’s pronouncement from earlier that I was in dire need of a good, meaningless fuck, we talked a little about the doe-eyed woman bopping to the music. He’d seen me giving Reiki, had seen her peacefully relaxing and enjoying it, had heard her say on her way out she needed a man to do that for her on a daily basis, had heard me blurt out that I was available, hadn’t noticed whether she’d reacted to that or even heard me say so.
I mentioned that I could sure use someone to work on me for my neck and shoulders. In the course of a Reiki share, which I enjoy weekly, some people will lay hands on you and some won’t, but it isn’t like massage therapy wherein muscles actually get manipulated. I recalled, but didn’t verbalize, someone from my past who was always quick to ask for a deep body massage, and was quick to get one from me, but whose efforts when I asked her to return the favor were perfunctory at best or else nonexistent: “Maybe later when I feel like it.”
He put his hand on my shoulder in that way a guy might do for his wingman, and gave it a squeeze—and found significant resistance. He called to the bartender. She looked up from her work quizzically as he motioned her over. “I need you over on this side for a sec.”
As she rounded the bar, he said, “You take that side, I’ll take this one—” and I found myself getting sandwiched between them as they worked on my shoulders and neck. I felt myself trying like hell to relax at the guitarist’s behest, and I remember my head bouncing softly off the bar once or twice as they worked for a few minutes.
As the two of them finished up and went back to their drinks and the registers, I fell quiet. As they took time away from that to horse around with one another as friends will, I sat and watched and didn’t join them; in fact once or twice headed to the washroom in part because I needed to relieve myself and in part because I just didn’t want to be around right then. And I had no idea why.
The bartender noticed before I did. “Are you OK? You seem a little lost,” she said as I was about to leave for the night (around 3 AM), and reached around to cradle me for a moment.
I told her I felt fine—I thought I did, anyway—and privately attributed my state to the alcohol working its way through and out of my body. Alcohol is another of the things keeping my vibration down, and I had intended not to drink quite as much as I did. As I said, I’m not addicted—I don’t go out every night looking for a drink—and I do like to be social, or what passes for social for me: small groups only, one-on-one better.
A couple of recent articles shed some light on my own self-understanding in the last week. One was a Time magazine article about what it’s like to be an introvert. It pretty much described me to a tee, and helped me understand why I wasn’t comfortable at a crowded nightclub the night after the Old Men played: flashing lights, plenty of hot women dancing, and me in a corner safe in the knowledge that if I didn’t ask one to dance, I couldn’t be rejected. I was overstimulated and out of my comfort zone just in being there. So there I was in the corner, waiting on a friend to show up from another nightclub, so that at least I’d be comfortable having someone to talk to. Eventually I got up onstage and sang a couple of numbers with the band, and that seemed to set me a little straighter, although on climbing down from the stage I went right back to my trusted friends.
The dichotomy here is that much of what I do involves playing for large groups of people. I guess I take some advantage of that wall Roger Waters wrote an album about, the one between the band and its audience.
But on the drive home from the bar, I realized that despite what I’d told the bartender, I wasn’t OK. For all the healing I bring to people, there is a part of me nestled securely in my core that doesn’t feel deserving of receiving healing in return, such as that which she and our guitarist were bringing me.
It’s strange that every week I take part in a Reiki share, wherein at some point during the proceedings I’m the one in the chair receiving the attention and the healing from the others. Some nights I’m tuned in and have visions; some nights I feel and see nothing.
It’s just weird and I can’t make sense of it. I ask for something, the universe brings it to me, and I slam the door in its face and tell it that it must have brought the gift to the wrong address. In response to this latest rebuke, this song has been in my head all day long as not so much a punishment as a koan to ponder.
And it doesn’t help me that lurking on the fringes of my spiritual orbit are people whom I excised from my physical presence, or I from theirs, a long time ago, whom I feel would agree with my sometime self-assessment: that I’m not deserving. I intuit that these people would love to see me fail once and for all, would love to see me without a friend strong enough to penetrate these walls showing up, or showing up and giving up on me as many have done in the past; would love to see me at rock bottom with no way up; would jump at the chance to remind me how well they had used me and to remind me that that is the only purpose I serve: to be used and then discarded. Their hold on my psyche is something I cannot explain except for the reinforcement they bring to my darker moments. I called them into my life to begin with, and now I can’t seem to get them out again. Lady Macbeth had a hard time with the blood on her hands, too.
And I wonder if part of the reason I don’t recognize it when I’m being flirted with, apart from the notion that I don’t think people flirt with me all that often, might be that I’m telling myself “She cannot possibly be flirting. How desperate, how broken must she be if she’s stooping to the likes of me? Do I necessarily want another broken woman in my life?” I had thought that it wasn’t something I wanted any more, but it’s all I’ve gotten so far, at least until they were fixed and could safely return me to the wasteland where they found me.
Some of my friends worry that the cost of entry I spoke of might well be a figment of my own imagination. My spirit guides and animal totems constantly, constantly admonish me that I only tend to call upon them to assist me in the midst of a Reiki session in the service of someone else’s greater good, but that I tend never to ask them along to work for my own. And I keep meaning to, and the notion just as quickly falls by the wayside as life goes on.
This is something I’m going to have to address before I can even consider telling my Reiki Teacher that I’m ready for the Master attunement. I’m just going to have to add it to the list of demons to conquer, along with the nicotine and the alcohol.