Saturday, May 09, 2009

Play Some Jazz: An exercise in improvisation

"I think I can stick this down my pants..."

It was to be a calm night out to watch a movie, but I should've known better. My friend and I drove up to the
theater in a borrowed vehicle, because my own car has a window that stands permanently lowered and the idea of driving around with a black garbage bag taped to the side didn't seem appealing to me. The movie was really good, seeing as we're both musicians, it appealed to us in specific ways. Walking to the car, we were faced with the common interrogative: What now? When I turned the car on, jazz music was playing on the local college radio station. We were instantly in awe and somehow our evening began to acquire purpose. We decided we'd head into the city, go to a jazz club I'd never been to and drink some wine. And then, we'd take it from there. Improvisation does have its perks, but it can also lead you into a situation that you'd never thought you'd find yourself in - at least not in that particular moment.

I liked the jazz club instantly. On one of the walls was a framed picture of Miles Davis which I also have in my
room. There was live music and an endless supply of red wine. There was even a middle-aged man with a cigar, striking a Lee Marvin pose as he sat in a corner. The place seemed complete but I still felt we should go someplace else, to look for something more. So after finishing our respective glasses of wine, that's exactly what we did. We arrived at a small open-air bar, where patrons are allowed to smoke. Right next to where we parked, we spotted a man sitting down on the ground with his face buried in his hands. "That guy's having a bad time" my friend remarked and I agreed. Once inside, I insisted we order two cups of sangria. "Don't worry" I said, "they know me here. I'll be sure they're easy on the ice." Well, that didn't turn out too well... Our cups had more ice than was reasonable and our alleged "sangria" tasted more like grape juice. I busted out my pipe to smoke a bit of tobacco and as I suspected, it drew some stares. Fuck 'em, I thought, I'm also a paying customer. As we were leaving, we noticed that the same guy we saw when we parked earlier was still next to the car, only this time we was laying down on his back with his hat almost covering his face. Now, how 'bout that? I momentarily considered waking him up abruptly and having a laugh, but I decided to behave with a bit more class... instead we just took a picture.

We headed to some other bar where bohemian-type music is performed live and they always close late - at least that's what I thought. When we got there the place was closed. I was so disappointed by this sudden turn of events that I didn't even notice some poor girl standing behind the car when I began to back up. Good thing she got out of the way. Sorry, honey.

I thought the appropriate course of action would be to purchase a bottle (or bottles) of something and retire to the comfort of my house, where we could talk at length for hours and listen to great music. I parked the car outside a 24 hour Cash 'n Carry. As we walked to the door, we passed by an old man sitting by himself drinking a beer. I'm sure it wasn't his first beer of the night. "Good evening", he said in that lonely tone of voice that one is so used to hearing from those sad-drunk types. "Good evening" I replied "How's the beer?". "Not cold enough" he said staring intently into my eyes. "It never is" I said, "it never is". Once inside, me and my associate began to plot our next move. What should we purchase? Whiskey? Wine? These things are never simple. Seeing as we didn't have a lot of money, we were looking for the smartest way to spend it. I got tired of waiting and decided to open up a bag of pita chips and eat them while we deliberated endlessly over what to buy. The girl behind the counter started giving me the look and I instantly knew she didn't like the fact that I was eating those chips before actually paying for them. She kept looking at me over her shoulder until I felt compelled to flash her my best shit-eating grin. "You're gonna pay for that, right?" she asked. I was a bit surprised by her stupid question. "Aw shit, I thought that if you ate it all inside the store it was free." She didn't laugh at my smart-ass remark, so I thought it was a good time to get the fuck outta there. And yes, I did pay for the chips before leaving.

We decided the best thing to do would be to head to the 24/7 Supermarket and buy some cheap whiskey. Walking through the aisles in the market, my friend came up with the idea that we should drink our whiskey with coconut water. It seemed like a good idea to me, so as we walked around looking for said coconut water, my associate looked me dead in the eyes and said the phrase I would find myself repeating for the rest of the night: "I think I can stick this down my pants". He was, of course, referring to the bottle of whiskey in his hands. And so it was, that we found ourselves looking at the roof, trying to find a good reason not to proceed with what was now being called "The Plan". We split up. As my associate walked towards another aisle where he would in fact "stick it down his pants", I went to the wine section to act cool and hope for the best. And that's when I heard it, a voice over the P.A. System: "Alejandro, please report to the office. Alejandro."

Who the fuck is Alejandro? Is he the head of security? Is he a cop in civilian clothing?

I was trying not to get nervous when my associate showed up. "Well, I guess we'll be paying for that whiskey after all. It's OK, man. We're not 14 anymore" I said.

"Just pay for the coconut water" he said in a low tone of voice, "It's already in my pants."

I was stunned. Nothing seemed to be out of place. He wasn't even walking funny or anything. And just then, I got that rush that you only get every once in a while, that whispers inside your head 'We're about to commit a crime.' We could've pulled back, but it was decided we should proceed with The Plan, for good or ill.

Since it was nearly 3am, there was only one cash register open. The lady in front of us was kind enough to let us pass since we only had a few cans (little did she know). And this is when the moment of truth came before us. As I nervously struggled with my wallet to pay, I saw through the corner of my eye as my associate very calmly walked towards the door. It was a very tense few seconds. I held my breathe, repeating in my mind the words 'Please don't sound off an alarm' over and over again. That instant seemed longer than it really was, but as my associate walked through those doors, I sighed with relief. We made it... but then I saw him walk back in. And this time the only words I was hearing in my mind were 'You dumb motherfucker!'. But he stood beside me, helping me with the bags and then whispered "Relax, it's in the car."

And so we headed west on the freeway with the wind hitting our faces, smiling at the thought that we were somehow outlaws fleeing the scene of the crime. These are the type of nights that can never be planned out. These nights where sex is scarce, but ideas run high among fellow comrades. We were feeling good. We were having fun. It was 3am, but our night was just beginning.

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