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June 24, 2024

Me and Steve

By Ralph Bland

I'm not so sure it was exactly what David had in mind when he brought up how he remembered me and Steve playing at Paulette Hart's wedding those twenty years ago, him mentioning that particular event at the reunion and it leading to me standing there in a circle with a bunch of other old bullshitters with drinks in our hands recalling a slew of ancient chapters from the past, weddings and receptions and birthday parties and such, and how it was back then and down through the years that me and Steve used to make extra money on the side for ourselves pretty regularly, and how it is now that when there's a wedding or a party of some kind and somebody gets up and sings or strums a guitar or blows a horn or tinkles a piano it just doesn't seem to be near the same or quite as good or as up to snuff as it once used to be when it was me and Steve who were the ones doing the singing and the strumming and the blowing and the tinkling at whatever event that was going down, me and Steve who were the ones up there doing our best to make certain everybody was getting entertained and not just having to sit there in a pew or a chair or stand around bored as hell looking for a good excuse to leave, because me and Steve were up there in front of them playing and living out our dream and having a fine time while we were doing it.

Me and Steve first got started playing together, I let those bullshitters know, back when we were sixth graders and our teacher passed out a booklet for us to take home to our parents that night to see if they might be interested in buying an instrument and giving their children the chance to become members of the school band. There were pictures of trumpets and saxophones and drums and flutes and clarinets and trombones, all with prices and a little box that could be checked beside each item if that was in fact the instrument they might want their kid to become proficient at. Neither me or Steve were either one right then too worked up over having to blow into a mouthpiece or lick on a wooden reed and keep our chins and embouchures stiff and rigid, and as far as tapping on a drum both me and Steve between us didn't possess much of the wherewithal to keep a steady beat or stay within the boundaries of any sort of cadence or rhythm, so we couldn't really see why we'd need to buy or rent any of those instruments in the brochure with the boxes and the pictures and the prices beside them just so we could maybe one day or night sit in an auditorium on holidays and such and play Christmas songs and semi-classical selections and medleys of Broadway tunes for whoever was out there in the audience listening to us, parents and aunts and grandmothers and such, who all had to be there and sit and endure it because they were unlucky enough to be our kin. We weren't either of us looking to be a part of anything much like that. We'd looked around and talked about it in hushed and private tones between ourselves how most of the music we intended to offer to our listeners was going to be of the vocal romantic genre. We'd seen some stars on TV and listened to singers on the radio for a time and figured stardom was a likely path for us to follow, so we concluded how what we really needed were the kind of instruments to accompany those lyrics oozing out of our mouths that would likely make girls smile and moan and quake and cause their bodies to sway and wiggle, and guitars seemed to be the best bet to get us propelled into our future meteoric musical ascent.

We persuaded, then, our parents that the best present either of us could receive for Christmas that year was a Harmony guitar from Sears-Roebuck with a book from Les Paul we could learn from as to where to place our fingers and when to strum our strings so as to make a melodic background for our voices to skirt along with while channeling Elvis and Ricky Nelson and every now and then Pat Boone. Since our folks were shelling out so much money as an investment in our musical evolvement, my dad got inspired and went so far as to find a fellow down at the Robert Hall store who fitted boys up in seersucker suits and on the side also gave lessons in beginning guitar and who seemed like a good bet to be the catalyst who'd springboard me and Steve into our future careers in show business.

But it didn't take long for me and Steve to figure out how our new guitar teacher, who lived about a mile away and who we both had our lessons scheduled with at the same time on Saturday afternoons, was not going to be the kind of instructor who was going to teach us any songs that would endear us to girls and make us special or get us on TV but was instead going to try and instruct us how to chord "Home On The Range" and "My Darling Clementine" and various and sundry yokel cowboy songs that weren't much in the realm of crowd-pleasing by the day's standards, so after about three lessons where we learned how to hold the guitars and stretch our fingers to play three chords we proceeded to stop showing up and let our daddies keep the money they'd been shelling out, and me and Steve went on our separate way together to learn how to get famous on our own.

Actually, leaving our mentor and dispensing with formal lessons turned out to be a good move for me and Steve, seeing as we were now freed up enough from structural restraints and appointed times and able instead to sit in my upstairs bedroom in front of a Norge window air conditioner that blew out slightly cooler air than was present already there at the top of the house and made a whooshing muted airy noise in its quest to keep us unsweaty while we improvised with our guitars and learned to play the Peter Gunn theme on one string and harmonized our voices together to where with the whooshing muted airy noise escaping from the Norge it sounded to us both like we were fairly close to the Everly Brothers in harmony or if not them then at least Chad and Jeremy.

My guess it was three years or so, up until the time we had to choose between either going out for football or taking the other path toward fame and fortune and adulation and the overt attention of females who possibly could come to adore us, when we finally came to the belief we were advanced enough in our joint musical enterprises together to turn down the allure of athletic achievements and glory and all the broken and fractured appendages that seemed to accompany them and went on and thrust ourselves into the school talent show on a spring Saturday night in our sophomore years, me and Steve and our two Harmony guitars that were on the cusp by then of seeing better days, along with a tambourine we'd run across in the Reduced bin at the music store downtown.

Maybe we weren't the Everly Brothers, and we didn't get a trophy at that first talent show, and nobody much paid us any attention during or immediately after that, but we weren't nearly as bad as I'd previously figured we had a good chance of being and we didn't get booed or laughed off the stage. After that night, then, it was almost like me and Steve were playing together as a duo all the time. It wasn't that we'd become instant stars and hit the bigtime playing in massive auditoriums or venues with a lot of people applauding their asses off and calling our names; we didn't to my recollection ever have people holding Bic lighters up in the air like we were the apex of some holy moment in musical spiritual enhancement, and if we'd had dressing rooms we wouldn't have had groupies clamoring to visit us or anything like that. No, we toted around our guitars and our single tambourine and a keyboard we'd found in a dumpster out by Vanderbilt at the end of the semester where some rich kid must have stuck it when it was time to move out and didn't want to take with him to whatever glorious new entitled existence he was traveling to next, and we played sock hops and birthday parties and co-ed dances sponsored by the YMCA on Saturday nights, and every talent show at every high school in the radius of the city and record shops on Saturday afternoons with the local deejays, and anywhere else where we could get listened to and maybe even get paid cash money for our efforts while we were at it so we wouldn't have to stoop and take jobs bagging groceries at the Bi-Rite and then have to work on Friday and Saturday nights where there wasn't music or girls anywhere to be seen and a guy would just as soon be dead than be there bagging groceries and getting the paycheck that he didn't have anything to blow it on because it was like he was always at work and never anywhere else, which tended to make a fellow wonder what was the use of working if there was never any chance to spend it.

Me and Steve did our best during those years to try and stay current and somewhat with-it as far as music went, but it seemed like times were moving a little fast for us back then, and when we'd try to learn something modern like "The Sound of Silence," we'd find our audience had already moved on to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Doors, and every song, it seemed, for a while had some sort of drug connotation to it, and since me and Steve were living in a neighborhood where everybody was pretty much a cracker and you seldom saw pushers and revolutionists and dealers two-stepping to "Jumping Jack Flash" down the sidewalks of the sub-division and you also weren't very likely to spot Superfly or Timothy Leary or Stokely Carmichael traipsing through your front yard, it was hard for me and Steve to keep up with the pace the modern world kept evolving into just by hearing something new on the radio or spotting a hot trend on "Shindig" or "American Bandstand," because by the time we'd gotten around to hearing or seeing any new trends and learning how to play and sing them they were practically ancient history already with the accelerated way the world was in those days spinning.

So it never became a case of me and Steve becoming instant celebrities and being in demand on the concert circuit or having hordes of available females wanting to bestow their bodies upon us; it was more like we always seemed to be a step or two behind the cresting wave of music and singing and playing something that had already peaked a good while back, so nobody regarded us much as cutting edge or trendsetters but chiefly thought of us if they thought of us at all as safe and vanilla figures who were good to have around to play nostalgic songs that everybody knew the words and the melody to and could sing along with and not just hear us but themselves too and their partners as well, and everything was familiar and cozy and brought a smile to faces and never did cause collective stomachs to churn or illicit smoke to come out of anybody's ears in little plumes like a pope was being elected or make anyone have to grind their teeth trying to hold their tongues to keep angry words in and keep declarations of revolution from escaping like steam from their lips and just instead tried to let it, as the Beatles told them to do, be. We'd sing something that was popular in the Summer of Love and it wouldn't come out with any kind of sharp socially-relevant side to it hardly, but would just emerge being about sunshine and stars and smiles and never going anywhere near war or what it was good for or touching on hell no we won't go or how it felt to be on one's own like a rolling stone, but me and Steve were on our own anyway at least then and at peace and happy to be where we were doing what we were doing, and nobody worried about our careers or us becoming famous whatsoever but just considered us as part of the background scenery and saw us when they saw us and heard us when they wanted to.

We never were all that popular with our own age group at school, who thought we were corny and flakey and nerdy before there was a term for it and therefore didn't much want to be associated with the likes of us on a regular basis, but somehow me and Steve still found a way to play at church socials and get hired for retirement parties and anniversaries and safe un-dangerous venues like that, so we made a little money doing what we liked and we didn't have to stop doing it because there was no audience, because, surprise as it was, there were actually some people out in the world who were so consumed with living nowhere near the edge of the rocky and perilous cliffs of life that they actually were toned-down enough to tolerate listening to the likes of us.

It wasn't much of a majority mandate, but it was enough to keep us going.

We got hired for a fortieth birthday party the summer before we started college, and it went so good I guess we conditioned ourselves into thinking we'd be doing gigs together for the rest of our lives, we were just such natural partners, and maybe it didn't end up lasting the rest of our lives, but we did go on for quite a while and had ourselves one heck of a trip. We didn't become anything like a rage on campus when we were roommates at college, but we were still able to play at a few local bars and join in with a few groups around town who were needing sidemen for their own bands. We weren't getting rich or famous, but we were living the life in our heads.

We even managed to graduate in four years and go get settled in our natural lives; I got my real job working as a P.E. instructor with the public schools, while Steve for a good time bounced and jitterbugged from one place to another looking for what he called a comfortable fit. He sold furniture for a few months at the Furniture Mart and did a week-long stint as a teller at the First Union Bank until it came to them how Steve truly had no concept of money and how to count it out and take it in or how to come back from his lunch break in a timely fashion or what being on time in the morning actually meant, so that job came to an end, and then there was his two week stint as a manager-trainee at the Foodtown, where he accidentally locked customers inside the store at closing time one night and drove off to a bar to get blasted with them all left behind inside the store pounding on the doors and windows, so he moved on from there by executive decision until he finally hooked on with a vending company and drove a truck around town stocking candy machines and keeping doughnuts in the racks so long past their date they started turning different colors of the rainbow.

No, Steve was never the kind of guy who worried much about a job or appearances or making certain things got done right. He didn't really worry about money much either, at least not in the sense of having anything in the bank to pay bills with or some manner of cash tucked away for a rainy day in case his car broke down or he got sick or the dog ate his only pair of shoes. About the only time Steve ever had need of having money in his pocket for ready availability were those times when -- and there were a lot of them, more so than what anybody would think -- there was a woman somewhere in the equation that old Steve was itching to court and woo and spark and damn near take up permanent residence in the sack with until he later spotted some other female to pique his interest and court and woo and spark instead and so started in on his usual road of fibbing and being unreliable and unfaithful and not worth shooting, and the first woman would leave him high and dry while he went after the second, and after a while he'd find himself all alone with neither of them within reach and having to sleep by himself and not being able to understand how he came to be in such a pitiful state, and how it had to be because God hated him and he couldn't for the life of him ever understand why, but after a spell he'd recover and re-bolster his finances by going to work someplace else and persevering for a few weeks until he got paid so he could start in doing his courting and wooing and sparking and being unfaithful and not worth shooting routine all over again.

It was one of these women who Steve got himself involved with who decided Steve and his accordion and ukulele and banjo and guitar and keyboard and tambourine and my lone Harmony six-string along with our vocal renditions were just the things needed to provide entertainment and some eclecticism to her best friend's wedding, which was on a Saturday afternoon just after the Fourth of July that proved to be not as hot of a Fourth of July as previously speculated but a whole damn sight toastier. We were supposed to stand out in the center of this rented field in the middle of a farm that the family obviously couldn't make a profit off of because of the demise of rural America and so had been forced to rent out the barn and the house and the pastures to folks wanting to tie the knots of holy matrimony out in a pastoral setting with cows and chickens and pigs present watching over the ritual, and so we did and played stuff like "Secret Love" and "Over the Rainbow" and "Close To You" until we couldn't stand too much more saccharine and veered off into fairly edgy tunes like "Norwegian Wood" and "Rocky Mountain High", which had nothing whatsoever to do with two people getting married but which most people sitting there dehydrating in the sun didn't mind listening to and halfway sung along with us to keep from falling out of their chairs from the heat. There were ice chests set up at the entrance to all the seating and people were free to have soft drinks or bottled water while they perspired, but Steve, being like he always was and preferring the act of departure from saneness and sobriety any time he could, had by then made several trips over to the nearby barn where the reception was going to be held later and sampled a Miller Lite or two and a little something from the champagne fountain and a jigger or two of the Jack Daniel's and the Johnny Walker and the Ancient Age and told me not to worry because this was all a part of our payment for providing music and entertainment for the bride and groom on their big day. Thank of it as a little bonus, he told me.

There are a few things I'd learned hanging out with Steve over the decades. I guess at the very forefront of them is the fact that once Steve gets even the tiniest hint that alcohol might be somewhere in the vicinity it's pretty much a given that he's going to be attracted to it like it's Elizabeth Taylor and he's Richard Burton. Same thing goes for pot. When we first got to that stage in college where it was almost a requirement to go to classes buzzed and hung over from the night before old Steve was right there at the head of the line, smiling and grinning and acutely enthusiastic for whatever mind-altering experience he could sniff out in the area so he could get promptly and unequivocally elevated from anything too real and mundane the world had to offer beforehand. It was like one of those scientific experiments they used to do on porpoises and chimps and dogs. A bell would ring and the porpoise would come to the surface of the pool to get a minnow or the chimp would start shrieking and jumping up and down for a banana or the dog would begin salivating for a treat like he was akin to a nimbus cloud on a hot summer afternoon, they'd all been conditioned so much that way, and Steve was like that almost to a tee, even though he didn't need a bell to prod or remind him. All he needed was the cue that alcohol or some kind of brain-wiggling element was around somewhere and he was drawn to it like a magnet. He could find such stuff on a desert island or buried out in the middle of a field. He could find it and get his hands on it and it could be fairly much of a lock that he wasn't going to let go of it without one hell of a struggle. I got to where I tried to sniff out danger before it reared its head; I spent a lot of time trying to keep Steve clear of temptation and away from any of those illicit things he loved so much he wanted to completely embrace them and wrap himself up in them and hold on for dear life to keep them from going anywhere without him attached to them like a leech. He had this will, Steve did, that was strong and steadfast and almost obsessive in the way he would latch on to those things that had a way of transporting him, and he would fight anybody, including me, who tried in the least little way to separate him from them. This wedding ceremony out in the middle of a rural field was the same way. Once he caught wind there was alcohol readily available out in the barn there was simply not much of a way I or even with the 101st Airborne helping me out was going to be able to keep Steve and his bosom vices from joining each other in brotherhood and fraternity. One minute I found myself strumming and vocalizing, closing my eyes and lifting my head up to the heavens for emphasis, and when I let my head come back down and opened my eyes I found I wasn't really doing a duet with Steve anymore but was mainly just going solo, because Steve had already ambled off in the direction of the barn in search of something else to drink so as to keep himself happy and lubricated for what entertaining still lay ahead of him later.

He came back with that look on his face right when I was in the middle of "Sunshine On My Shoulders," singing those lyrics because it was one of those saccharine songs which I could present to the audience at hand without the need for accompaniment, since I had no idea then when exactly Steve planned on returning from his alcohol expedition and couldn't bring myself to just stroll off in search of him while folks we were supposed to be entertaining before the vows got exchanged just sat there in silence toasting away in the afternoon sun with nothing much to distract them while they became burnt and crinkly. Steve had that smile on his face that he got when he figured out some illicit way to be happy, and his eyes were covered with Ray-Bans so I couldn't make out whether they were wide-open with sobriety in a small way or all squinty the way they always got when he'd begun elevating his blood alcohol content to his own personal danger zone. He took another swig from whatever form of liquid he had in his plastic cup and made his way past me to where his array of instruments were propped up against his keyboard, and I didn't know if he was suddenly going to interrupt my John Denver trilogy with a bluegrass banjo riff or pound on the keyboard like he was Booker T. or strum his ukulele like he was Tiny Tim and there was some tip-toeing to be done, but before he could make his instrumental choice his shoe caught hold of the bottom rung of one of the folding chairs on the front row and he tripped and commenced to drag the chair with the toe of his shoe intertwined with the rung, which was tough sledding for Steve because one of the groom's aunts was sitting in that entangled chair and this aunt was not truly a lightweight and was not really much of an aid either in making the chair light and mobile and easy to drag on off to another place out of the way of Steve like Steve intended with his shoe to do.

So Steve gave his foot a jerk to untangle it from the chair, and his shoe further embedded itself with the rung to wiggle the chair and cause it to become unbalanced, and the next thing I knew, just as I was fixing to intone how sunshine almost always got me high, Steve had stumbled and was falling headlong into his instruments while the groom's aunt tottered briefly in her chair and began tipping over sideways, and before I could finish any more lyrics I saw Steve and I saw the groom's aunt both sprawled on the ground before me and before the rest of the audience and Steve was laughing like this just might be the highlight of his life so far and the groom's aunt was moaning like she was having a cow and I just stood there wondering if I should start in on my solo version of "Annie's Song" or not.

About half the audience was out of their seats like pronto and on the way up front to help the groom's husky ancient aunt up from the grass, and when I looked back I saw the bride with her dad on her arm and her two bridesmaids holding flowers with looks of anguish and shock on their faces, while off to the side the groom and his two groomsmen and a preacher who looked like George Carlin stood there staring at Steve sprawled out longwise on the ground and at the corpulent aunt wallowing in the grass and at me standing holding my Harmony, and I thought there probably wasn't going to be a better time than right then to reach down and hoist Steve to his feet and gather up our equipment in a hurry and vamoose before the ceremony went entirely and completely to shit.

Steve kept asking me why we didn't wait and get paid before leaving in my pickup truck, which would have been better if it was a jet plane like the one old Mary Travers once sang about, but getting out of there as fast as possible was the only thing etched in my mind then, so I never answered and just kept on moving. I wonder if the rubber I screeched from the truck's tires as we left muffled out the vows that were spoken once order had at last got restored and the bride ambled down the aisle to enter into wedded bliss.

Well, we were always pretty good with children's songs and acting silly, so we got some jobs by word of mouth after that doing birthday parties. We wore cowboy hats and football helmets and had arrows sticking out of our heads while we sang stuff like "Puff, The Magic Dragon" and "Purple People-Eater". We squirted each other with water guns and made balloon animals and organized games where kids got cupcakes smashed in their faces and punch poured in their laps, which soon had to be scrapped from our routine once the kiddos started crying and were in danger of getting emotionally scarred because we'd not paid attention to how sensitive short people could be and therefore had to tone our routine down a few notches from then on so there'd be no widespread trauma in our wake. It took a little more effort and thought doing these gigs, but the money parents shelled out for their kids was generally better than anything else we got offered.

We polished our act and did fine in the birthday scene and were getting booked regularly all over town and hauling in decent dough for our part-time ventures when it all came skittering to an end.

Once again, it came down to Steve and that community penis thing he had going.

I can't remember if this party was actually for the woman in question's own son or not, but the way it ended up it didn't really matter whose kid was whose, because, once more, Steve got his eyes fixed on one of the women at the party and found he couldn't be bothered with singing or joking or blowing up balloons or flinging any food, but mostly came to the belief that he'd be better served making the world a better place that afternoon by locking lips with some woman in shorts and a loose-fitting let-it-all-hang-out blouse back in the kitchen where there was cake and ice cream and two-liter Pepsis on the table and the countertops, all of which started hitting the floor when Steve and somebody's hot-to-trot mother started gyrating and falling over each other even before the candles got lit and "Happy Birthday" got sung. I was all set to start playing the Batman theme on my guitar and have Steve come out in a mask like he was a clumsy Caped Crusader falling all over the place and slipping and sliding and not being able to stand up which was one of our more popular routines, when I heard a bunch of noise coming from the kitchen and had to stop while everybody poked their head in to see Steve and the hormonal mother acting like they were in a motel without a bed, which would have been enough in itself if it hadn't been that since it was Saturday the fathers were all present for the party too because they weren't working and had no excuse not to be there, so when the husband of Steve's latest object of affection saw Steve tangled up with his wife he didn't have much of a belief this was part of the entertainment he'd been forced to come and observe, so he rushed into the kitchen and started slugging Steve and started slugging his wife and would have slugged me too if I hadn't took off out the front door and threw my guitar in the backseat of the Taurus and began backing out the driveway, which was when Steve came running with his guitar and his keyboard and his banjo and his bugle and his tambourine and his knapsack full of balloons and rubber chickens and whoopie cushions and climbed in while the car was moving and said hurry up, man, we gotta get the hell out of Dodge.

The word got around and we were all but banned from the kids' birthday party circuit, so we had to make do with retirement home appearances and anniversaries and birthdays for the older set for a time. We had already for a good while ceased being relevant with our own age group, since not too many of our peers by then chose to remain in middle-age harbingers of peace and love or rebel against the government or burn draft cards and brassieres down at the public square but instead got married and had children and went to work on a regular basis and vacationed in Florida a week or two a year and were all about as unconventional as Steve and Eydie, so there wasn't much further need of us embracing the counter culture or trying to convince anyone we'd once been up there on the big stage at Woodstock, which we liked for people to think we had even if we hadn't. We had to look to nursing homes and store openings in strip malls to fill out our social engagements. It wasn't like we had all this time been holding our breaths waiting for our big break in the realm of show business to come along, but it was still a little disheartening when we got right down to it and thought about how measly and insignificant our entertaining skills had brought us on our journey to be stars after all these years. I sort of took the status of our limited stardom as a fact of life and attempted to deal with it, but Steve never seemed to have the brutal reality of it soak into his comprehension whatsoever, but just kept plugging along in his quest for celebrity by doing those storied things he'd seen others do on television and in the magazines and the newspapers -- he drank and drugged and figured sex with anyone was better than no sex at all, because being in his right mind and not having sex and not being a star meant he might as well go on and begin being dead.

After so many bad experiences, finally the phone stopped ringing and we weren't getting any offers at all.

"Where are we playing next?" Steve would always ask. It was like the only thing in the world he had any kind of concern about besides sex and perpetually being in orbit.

I wanted to tell him there was a whole lot more he needed to worry over. He'd managed to marry twice, both ending badly because of infidelity, both leaving him with alimony and child support. He'd chalked up three DUIs in a decade, and since he couldn't legally drive anymore, he lost his route delivery job because he couldn't be trusted driving a truck. There were also any number of jealous husbands constantly looking for him around every corner and down every avenue. For a while I let him live in my upstairs bedroom, thinking how I was going to have trouble about it sooner or later because my wife wouldn't like someone so shiftless and irresponsible sharing the same address with us, but then I got a big surprise myself when she one day came to me and said how it had become very clear to her that it wasn't working out between the two of us and we were going to have to call it a day there in our fifteenth month of wedded union, and then I got a bigger surprise when Steve moved out and she left right after him and they both ended up in a car headed to another city to share the same address.

So, you'd think that would have been the last of me and Steve, now wouldn't you? You'd think there would be something mixed in that sort of equation that might come out as the definition of the last straw.

No, if I want to be honest, then I'd have to confess that me and Linda (my now ex-wife) weren't really getting along swimmingly by that time anyway. To be totally frank, we'd gotten to where we couldn't stand the sight of each other and were both looking for a way out. And maybe, now that the truth is being told, I can confess that it was me who first started straying and playing around, and probably what happened between Linda and Steve was brought on by her trying to get even with me for all the creepy things I'd done, which she managed to accomplish by playing my best friend for a fool, which I guess old Steve found out about at some time or another, even if he was probably the last one in the world to know it.

But that's Steve to a tee. That was nothing new.

I don't know if Steve had it in him to ever truly be ashamed of himself for any of the stupid and uncouth things he somehow allowed himself to do in those days of yore, but I do think there was enough positive good etched into his being that he was not at all pleased with himself for the outright betrayal of his best friend, me, with my wife, whether she actually still wanted that title at the time or not, so I think he was ashamed of himself for that act in particular, and it was a long time before me and Steve got back in touch again. I played a few weddings and birthdays and retirements by myself, but something was always missing without Steve being there with me, and pretty soon I just stopped accepting the few offers I got and found myself instead on the weekends alone with my dog and my cat and my big screen television in my two-bedroom apartment where I watched Turner Classics and college football and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon until I passed out on the couch. And it was only ever so often and once in a blue moon when I turned off the TV and picked up my old Harmony and sang a familiar song and strummed a while, and that's when I'd think about Steve and not be mad at him one bit anymore but wonder instead what he was doing and if someday we'd ever get back together as a duo again.

One April afternoon I was in my portable trying to get my grade records prepared for report cards, which wasn't too much of a task since there were no exams to give for P.E. but only a box to check if the kids showed up every day for recreation and if they were able to run around a field without puking or going into spasms, so all I really had to do was make sure everybody was in the system and not flagged with some problem like cholera or plague so the city could pass them off as healthy and promote them and get rid of them for good. I looked up from my computer and there was Steve standing in the doorway. He had on a red tee shirt that said Nebraska Cornhuskers on the front and sunglasses covering his eyes even though it was raining outside.

"I was in town and I thought I'd drop by and say howdy," he said.

"Howdy to you," I said. "God, what's it been -- five years? Ten?"

"A long time," he admitted. "A lot of stuff has happened. Been living different places. Got married again. It didn't last. I guess I should have called you, but ..."

He let the sentence trail off.

"Yeah," I said, "you should have called. All that stuff with us was water under the bridge a long time back."

"Well," he said, "it was my bad."

He looked around the room at the chairs and desks and bins of basketballs and footballs and softball bats.

"So, they've got you out here in a portable?" he said. "What, are you not civilized enough to get to be inside the main building?"

"Not yet," I said. "They don't think I fit in with normal people."

"Me neither," he smiled. "I guess me and you ain't changed all that much."

That was when I stopped my rambling about me and Steve. I'd been talking to the fellows around me non-stop for about fifteen minutes about me and Steve and all we'd done together and what we'd got into over the years and how long ago it had all started and how even when it ended how it wasn't really over. I didn't want to go on and tell how Steve asked me that day if I still played and sang and how I told him not much, or how he'd said he'd had to pawn or leave behind all those instruments he collected over the years and used to carry around with him, his guitar and banjo and ukulele and bongos and tambourine and keyboard, and how we both just looked at each other and thought about how good it had been when all those things used to be his and used to be mine and we were into it together all the way down the line.

"Me and Steve," I told them, "used to have us some damn good times," but I didn't go on anymore after that.

Article © Ralph Bland. All rights reserved.
Published on 2019-06-03
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
08:25:02 PM
Brilliant. Your writing always allows me to be the fly on the wall of your characters' lives. When the narrator says "They don't think I fit in with normal people," I know exactly why "they" wouldn't and why I am so very proud of him for being that way.
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