In the following weeks J. gradually adjusted to the new location in this world in which he was transplanted. Soon after arriving in the city, Aunt Lisa enrolled him in school, which was culturally shocking to him at first, but he quickly demonstrated he could fit in. Within the first week he had already made several friends, who were fascinated with “the new kid with the cowboy accent”. J. repeatedly was inclined to remind them that he hailed from Virginia, not from Texas, but they were already locked in on the false stereotype of any southern accent as being “cowboy”. He quickly ceded them their mischaracterization so long as they didn’t latch onto the alternative “hillbilly”. He’d sooner be a cowboy than a hillbilly.
The first friend he made at Washington Middle School was Tony, a raucous boy in his English class who promised to show him the ropes in the school and point out the kids to stay away from. The two quickly became sidekicks. Tony was middle-class, Italian, and liked to curse. It was just his character to find any excuse to throw in a “shit”, or a “fuck” in his conversations. This, his only serious flaw, earned him more than one tour of duty in detention hall. J. didn’t see his experimentation in gutter talk as a flaw, but as a humorous side note of his essence, which only fed Tony’s desire to curse more often.
Serge, a chubby Russian boy who lived in J.’s building also went to Washington M.S., but he wasn’t in any of J.’s classes. He was a year behind. Serge was new to America and New York so J. felt a kinship as an outsider with him. It was hard for J. to understand Serge at times due to his heavy Russian accent but he eventually learned how to read his facial expressions and body language to glean the meaning from his “pronoun-less” speech. Serge and J. spent many afternoons in Central Park hanging out. It was Serge who first suggested to J. that he should play his guitar in the park for money (also known as “busking”), “You open case, pick up instrument. Start to play. People give money to hear.” So after school, J. would make a little spending money playing music in the park.
School was out for the summer, and the park was in full swing with lean and stringy joggers who appeared to J. like they were starved and needed fattening, and lovers needing to get a room somewhere. In addition there were dog walkers, mimes, sunbathers, many talented artists painting and drawing in oils, acrylics, and chalk.
Also, there were musicians playing every conceivable instrument from bagpipes, to five gallon buckets. Among these latter was J. with his old, beat up guitar bought at a pawnshop in Summer Hills for fifty dollars just a year before by his grandfather. It wasn’t in particularly good shape with its scratches and sun bleached top. It had a missing tuning key and J. kept a small pair of needle-nosed pliers to use on it when needed. He did keep new strings on it and the action was remarkably low for an old acoustic guitar such as this, and in J’s hands it just as easily could have been a high dollar Martin.
He was well adjusted to the feel of the old thing. He had already played it so much at his young age to have worn even more finish from the top just under the sound hole and there were several areas on the fret board that were scalloped between the frets where one could see his favorite positions. The size was perfect for him and when he played it, it rang loud and clear. J. always thought back to the day Pappy brought it home for him and how he remembered thinking at the time that Pappy had enough money to have bought a nicer guitar. He never voiced the thought because he was taught growing up that you take what is given to you in this life and be thankful for it. After he played it the first time he realized never to question Pappy’s taste. It was immediate love at first strum.
As if reading J’s mind, Pappy explained the choice he made. He told J, “I got you this old thing here as a test run. I know how young’ns have a way of not takin care their stuff and how they lose int’rest in hobbies and such, so next year ‘bout this time we’ll see how you do. We’ll see then about pickin up a guitar that’s a might better than this one. You’ll do fine though, I ‘magine. Came with this here canvas bag instead of a case. Man said it was something called a ‘gig bag’. Just looks like a guitar shaped gunny sack to me.” To J. it was perfect. It had straps on the side so he could wear it like a backpack.
Jay was just thinking about that day, and how Pappy never got a chance to keep his promise of a new guitar, while he was settling down to play at a Central Park bench near his apartment. “It’s okay, Pappy, I’ll cherish this old guitar as if it were a brand new Taylor”, J. thought to himself. He had just pulled it out of the old “gunny sack” when he looked up and saw Tony and Serge coming down the sidewalk toward him. They were about fifty yards away and had not noticed J. yet. He had an idea.
He gathered up his bag and guitar and ducked behind the bush next to the bench, reached in his pocket, got out his favorite metal guitar pick and waited. After the pair passed, and he was out of their peripheral vision, J. crept out from behind the bush, snuck up behind them and held the guitar up about chest level for maximum volume. Suddenly he ran his copper pick edgewise along the strings creating a loud screeching noise. At the same time, he hissed a loud “ssssss!” for an extra eerie effect.
About twenty small finches from the bush opposite immediately scattered and Tony, in a loud whisper said ”Shit!”and simultaneously ducked and protectively raised his arms up and over behind his head. At the same time Serge actually ran away about five steps before looking back to see it was only J. Tony, in a crouch, looked up and said, “Dammit J! I just ate a gyro! I almost shit my pants man!”
Serge was walking back, chuckling, “Wow! That was trip!” (Only ‘trip’ came out ‘treep’) “You made tingle go up spine!”
Tony took a deep breath and straightened back up, “Fuck.” A little calmer now, “That did sound pretty evil though.” Chuckling a little himself.