Ah, but let us return to a fresher time. When classes first started, the air grew cooler, green leaves turned golden brown. Every morning I would hop down from my bunk (landing as cat-like as possible lest I crack my ankle upon hitting the floor), slip on my shower shoes and go next door to the bathroom for a quick cold shower. I’d have preferred a hot one but could never get the water any warmer than the deep end of a pool.
Back in our room, I’d towel off and dress to the sound of Steve’s alarm clock and him snoring through it, so unconscious that even his ears were closed. I’d smack his snooze and be on my way.
Outside, the sidewalks were crowded with students being pulled down by backpacks and burdened by books (the cost of which appalled me) — forty bucks a pound for what amounted to paper and ink. All told, I’d blown half a thousand dollars on these texts, which left me approximately half a buck for spending money.
I attended every lecture, that first semester, to listen to the learned ones profess their truths. This part was easy, not much different than watching TV. But outside of class I was expected to read, hundreds, of, pages, filled, with, thousands, of, words, by the time class met again. These demands seemed to me a bit excessive. What’s the point of having a professor if I have to do all the reading myself? Shouldn’t his job be to read that shit and then summarize it for me?
On most weeknights, instead of studying, I’d sit at my desk on my computer playing Snood, a game so addictive they may as well have called it Crack. Everyone in the dorm was hooked. It was a simple, silly game that involved shooting colored balls at walls and such — a frivolous way to spend one’s time so preferable to the seriousness of academia.
One of these nights, I was roused from my stupor when music came wafting right into my room. Somewhere someone was playing guitar. My own acoustic (a high school graduation present from my father) was out of its case and resting on my bunk. I had a few songs memorized but no clue how to improvise.
I finally paused my game of Crack and went out to investigate. Some kid I’d never seen before was seated cross-legged on the floor halfway down the hall, wearing a shell necklace, hooded sweatshirt and khaki shorts (the standard attire, apparently, for guys who play guitars in college dorms). Beside him sat Lauren and Shelly, in slippers and matching pajama bottoms. They looked utterly enthralled.
I watched from where I was as he began to sing: “And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with ya honey, and everything will bring a chain of love…”
Jeez, I thought, who is this guy and why is he singing such a corny song? And so earnestly too? What a dork. But he didn’t appear to possess even a trace of self-consciousness. He wasn’t embarrassed by himself at all. Didn’t he know how I was judging him?
Though his eyes were closed, his fingers traversed the fret board with ease which convinced me he’d had years of lessons. I hated to think that anyone could be naturally so much better than me.
He seemed to know exactly which tunes to play to make the ladies swoon: “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Yesterday,” “Wonderful Tonight.” Curious others peeked their heads out and emerged to partake of the impromptu show. Before long this guy had everyone in the hall seated in a semi-circle around him.
As he finished each song, there would be a rush of requests from the peanut gallery. “Do you know how to play any Dave?” And of course he did. He knew every lyric too. “You’ve got your ball you’ve got your chain, tied to me tight tie me up again…” No one had stumped him yet.
I watched Lauren watching him. Her blinding blue eyes lit from within as she bit her bottom lip in awe. What a mysterious power this guy had over her and all because of that stupid guitar. But this is how it worked. I had always known this. It was the reason I’d picked up the instrument to begin with.
The ability to play one seemed to be about as valuable a talent as a guy could have. Doctors, for example, do not have groupies — lawyers are rarely lusted after. But if you can play guitar and sing, women will scream and beg you to pick them. “Oh my God! You’re incredible! Please do me!”
As Mr. Sensitive finished up a touchingly tender rendition of “Wonderwall,” one of my hallmates turned to me and said, “Luke, don’t you play?”
“You got a guitar?” the guy asked and I nodded. “Well go get it already. We’ll jam.”
Lauren looked up in my direction for the first time all night. Her irises like Arctic ice. I wanted them to melt. This was my chance to woo her, to hypnotize her with my song.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” it pained me to say. “This guy’s a lot better than me.”
I would only have embarrassed myself.
Someday I’d be good though. Someday I’d know how to play. But not yet — I needed more practice.