Always Bring a Guitar

It was time to go, but I stood still, eyes glued to my travel guitar. I was frozen by indecision.

Melissa and I were headed to Nashville, Tennessee for two days, two nights of kid-free vacation to celebrate six years of marriage. Listen: I love my kids, but kid-free vacations are amazing. They’re laid back affairs during which Melissa and I can reconnect, catch up, re-sync our brains to one another after months of children dancing with cleats upon our psyches enough for them to be in bad need of a repair. A weekend away is the remedy.

Still staring at the guitar. Shouldn’t my guitar come, too? It could be the wax treatment after the refinish that really puts that new-floor shine back on my psyche!

Playing guitar is soothing. Playing guitar beats back the beasts emerging from the depths of the sea of life - beasts that threaten to swallow me whole on any given day: the Aboleth of work stress, all teeth and tentacles; the family organization Beholder, magically zapping away one’s sanity ten different ways; the silent Roper of personal organization, hiding out as an innocent stalactite so I don’t pay close attention to it, then next thing I know I’m held fast by its rope like appendages, and I’m being guided into its gaping maw. The act of playing guitar delivers blows to these bastards that would otherwise lay me low.

So, like I said, I stood still, eyes glued to my guitar.

Why not pile comfort upon comfort, right? I’ll just throw the Martin Backpacker in the car, bust it out whenever. But, is it soothing to Melissa for me to be sitting in the hotel room, playing guitar? I could ask her, but she’d just say, “Sure. Whatever you want to do.” The Handicapper Generals have a gig coming up, so practicing would be good. How often will I have time to play it, though? It’s not very big, so it’ll fit in the car just fine, but it is another thing to worry about. What should I do?

I walked away. We started on the road to Nashville that day, and the guitar remained in its place at home.

Our last night in Nashville, we returned to the hotel a bit early. I poured a few fingers of gin over some ice, and we went down to the hotel’s courtyard to read next to the fountain and fire pit. (We’re some hard-partying mother fuckers.) After finishing my gin, I popped back into the lobby to get some water. An old man was playing guitar right there in the hotel lobby, his guitar case on a table in front him. That’s Nashville for ya, I thought.

I filled my glass, went back outside, and asked Melissa if we could sit in the lobby to listen for a bit. He played The Allman Brothers’ Melissa when we sat down, a coincidence I found simultaneously delightful and discomfiting. I thought there was a chance someone was playing an elaborate trick on us, but I saw no such suspects. So, I kept listening, and I clapped for him when he finished, which he took with a sheepish nod in an effort to hide his delight.

“Well done,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s a good song. I play a much simplified version… but good song,” he said.

He went into another. When he finished I clapped again.

“Thank you. You know, it’s been a rough day. My 4th and 5th children, they were headed to Florida. Sibling road trip thing. Drunk driver this morning crossed onto their side and took ‘em out. Number 4 is over here at Vanderbilt Medical Center. He’ll be okay, though. Number 5 is just really sore. You know what, though? The other guy? The drunk guy? Just fine.”

“Figures, but I’m glad everyone is okay.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s good. Hey, ya know this one?”

We went on like this for a while, discussing guitar, songs, artists, life, all interspersed with a strum and a song from this old trucker. He sat then but a few feet from me, having moved closer during our conversation. I saw each song beat away another malicious shadow. I saw a weight lift from his brow, and saw a missing sparkle return to his eyes. strum Beasts banished! strum Dragons slain! strum A sense of peace returned. His son (the sore one) came and sat next to us for a while. I think he had begun to take some comfort in his father finding some comfort.

The guy finished a song, handed me his guitar, asked if I wanted to play a couple. Oh, I did. I itched to. It was an effort to keep my fingers from mimicking guitar motions in the air this whole time. I wanted to play some Neil Young, some Tom Petty. I wanted to play a blues tune to bring some Mississippi into this country western town. I took the guitar with reverence, babying it. I strummed a couple chords to warm up, played a lick or two. I licked my lips. I stared at my fingers hovering above the strings. Then I handed it back.

He needed his weapon against the beasts of a life being lived much more than I did. He took it back with a smile and said, “Hey, ya know this one?”

Next time, I’ll have mine strapped on my back. Like a mercenary and their sword, I’ll not leave on a trip without my guitar, if I can help it.

Hey, you sass that hoopy Miles Sterrett? There’s a frood who really knows where his guitar is.