The Nod

MariachiThere’s a great spot for all-you-can-eat sushi on Strand called Active Sushi where J-Rab, Jennyjen and I went on Saturday night to eat sushi until we were drunk on it.

We sat at the best table in the place, a quiet alcove of couches where we could sprawl out and watch the escalator below us turning endlessly as it brought people upstairs to eat and back down again into the howling wind outside.

From where we sat we also had a killer view of everyone in the restaurant. The table closest to us had pink helium balloons floating above it and was set for about 20 people, all of them unremarkable in every way. Except one man.

When it came time for the birthday girl’s speeches, this man got up and came back with a guitar case. He looked different, maybe Brazilian, maybe Argentinian. He unfolded a music stand slowly, deliberately, adjusting it so it stood just high enough for him to read from it comfortably.

I remembered going through the same routine back when I first learned to play. I remembered how my hands, nervous in front of the parents and school kids gathered on soiree nights, used to shake while I propped my sheet music file up on the stand, took a breath and started playing.

If his hands were shaking, I didn’t notice it. He unlatched his guitar case, unholstered his guitar, fixed a strap on it and took a seat, waiting for the speeches to finish.

I was itching to hear what this guy was going to play. It takes a special kind of nerve to pull a guitar out in a restaurant packed full of people. In my experience only two kinds of people do this – complete douchebags or guys who can play the guitar like a motherfucking riot.

When the speeches finally wound down this man stood up, wished the birthday girl happy birthday and started to play.

He sounded like Antonio Banderas in Desperado – a one-man Mariachi band, his right hand strumming chords in rapid-fire succession while his left switched chords deftly, hammering notes on and pulling them back off like it was nothing, like he’d been doing it all his life, a natural born player.

His vocals were pitch perfect, rising above the howling wind outside while the melodies he strummed reverberated through the restaurant and the people gathered there ignored them completely.

The birthday table hardly watched him at all. God forbid he should interrupt their conversation. Their voices rose as he played louder, almost drowning him out completely and when he finished playing it was us, not them, who clapped for him.

He played three songs before packing up and sitting down again. I could feel his frustration – a man that talented knows better than to pull a guitar out in a busy restaurant. Someone had convinced him to do it and I could see from his body language as he sat back down that he regretted playing.

Not long after that he got up to leave, guitar in hand, sheepishly doing the rounds while people congratulated him on his playing as a polite afterthought.

I gave him the nod as he was riding the escalator back down into the merciless night. An almost imperceptible gesture but one that I felt he needed to see.

The ghost of a smile passed his face when I did that, one guitarist to another paying respect where respect was due.

I like to think that simple gesture made up for a restaurant full of people ignoring him, but I’m not sure that it did. I should have stood on a table and told everyone to show the man some fucking respect but I doubt it would have made a difference.

In a world of apathetic, unaffected people, you can’t force anyone to give a shit. You can only fight on and hope that somehow, somewhere someone will understand.


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