Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pembrook's Guitar (For Flannery, my guitar hero)

Now I've heard a lot of hard luck stories since I bought this pawn shop from old Mr. Spencer near twenty years ago. Hard luck is what keeps the doors open and keeps people coming back. It is the one thing that every customer has in common and if they know it or not, it hovers over them like a black cloud, at least to some degree. Like the new father who is selling his football equipment to help pay for the birth of his new child and is hocking his dreams of youth, or the middle aged woman who peddles Great Grandma's broach to help pay for the lawyer in her divorce. Even the buyers who come to rifle through the broken dreams of others in the hope of finding a bargain have a tinge of the black cloud about them, like vultures hovering over the still warm dead. You have to have something of a hard heart to do this business.

Like Wednesday for example. I open at nine but business doesn't really roll in until lunchtime. About ten-thirty a couple of teenage boys come in and it's obvious that they are skipping school. They pour over the video games for twenty minutes, buy sixty bucks worth and hurry off to rot their brains. Then in comes this old black man. He's got to be eighty if he is a day. Snow white hair, natty black suit worn at the elbows, and he walks hunched over with a cane. He doesn't pause to look over the racks but comes right straight to the counter. I figure he's come looking for a TV or a pistol.

"I'm lookin' fer a guitar," he says in this hoarse, whiskey-and-cigarettes voice.

"I got a nice Fender here," I offered.

"Naw, I don't want any of that shit. I'm lookin' for an acoustic. A Gerhardt-Brecht."

Now anybody who knows anything about guitars knows that Gerhardt-Brecht is no ordinary six string. These are top of the line, hand made, custom order from old world craftsmen kind of thing. It is what Stradivarius is to violins, and this guy wanted one. "I don't think I've got anything like that..." I said.

"Sure you do. I got the ticket right here," and he plunked down a pink claim ticket. I check the ticket and it's genuine. I check the lot number and it's way in the back. I find the lot and it's wrapped in brown paper with a date on it of 1976 and it's in Mr. Spencer's handwriting. I bring it out and he unwraps it there on the counter and damn if it isn't a Gerhardt-Brecht, with gold and pearl inlays, and it's in mint condition. If I sold this guitar for what it was worth, I could retire. He hands me sixty bucks and it's his. I have to honor the ticket.

"Let me ask you something, why did you ever hock this guitar?"

"Well, I promised my wife I wouldn't play no more. Ya see, I used to play the blues in the clubs and she didn't like that. All the drinkin' an womanizin'. She didn't like that see, so I quit playin'. Went ta church, sobered up, got a job at da mill."

"And now you are going to start playing again after all these years?"

"Yes sir, cause she up and died yesterday. I'm going to the funeral now. I'm gonna play her one last song afore she go." He choked up a little and covered it by lighting a Lucky Strike and cradling that beautiful guitar like an old friend in his gnarled hands. "Is there a liquor store between here an' the graveyard? I'd hate to do this without a lil drink of something."

"Yeah, two blocks down." I could have shared my Johnny Walker with him but sometimes you need to have something of a hard heart to do this business.


**Author's Note** I honestly don't know spit about guitars, so forgive my poetic license. I just thought that Gerhardt-Brecht sounded like a good name. Let me leave you with another one of my guitar heroes, Mr. John Lee Hooker...


  1. Nice! I liked this a lot. It's funny and sad and truthful.

  2. Dude, honestly this was an awesome story! Filled with of human spirit but a little sad. This was simply professional class stuff.

    ...buyers who come to rifle through the broken dreams of others...

    Whoa! This hit me hard because I was walking through a pawn shop with an army buddy once and thought the same thing.

  3. What a smashing story, Doc! I loved this little snap-shot of life and I'm glad the guitar and owner were reunited at last!

    I think Gerhardt-Brecht has a nice ring to it - but not one of the five guitars in my spare room has that name - darn it!!

  4. Doc, This story was so many things all at the same time. Charming, touching, sad, and the words ring so true. I've never thought about pawn shops in those terms, but I'll tell you, I will never look at them the same way again. I've used them and never once thought of the story behind my purchases, or of myself as one of the 'vultures hovering over the still warm dead'. So happy he and his guitar were reunited and what a wondrous tribute to his wife. Loved this.


Write your beer-fueled ravings here...