Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Pembrook's Guitar (For Flannery, my guitar hero)
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...