The three globes of a pawn shop caught my eye from across the street. This burg has a hock shop? I wondered what they wanted for the guitar in the window. I ran back downstairs, throwing a smile Mei Li’s way. “Nice day!”
“Yie. Ten yiu, hehe.” She placed a delicate hand to her mouth, her eyes smiling the way one only sees on Chinese silk screens. She was the authentic item.
I stepped out and crossed the pavement to the other side.
Inside the store, the pawnbroker pulled the guitar from the display. “Now this here’s a nice number,” he spieled, eyeing my clothes, sizing me.
“Solid maple back, spruce top, I’d say it’s at least, hmm.” He took another look at me. “It’s going for seventy-five dollars!” He said it in a hurry. Maybe he thought the market might drop before he finished.
It was a time when everything was on a downturn, money tight. They called it the Seventies. And back then seventy-five dollars meant mucho moola.
I ignored his pitch and lifted the acoustic in my hands. It was an old Gibson jumbo with a natural finish. I hefted it and noticed it had a good solid feel. Strummed, and a nice, smooth deep tone rose from the soundboard. Tested it with my idea of country-western, a bouncing blues with complicated changes and a rock-and-roll beat.
The storekeeper asked, “Where do you play?” He looked impressed.
“In New York,” I lied. But, I did play in New York, in my room that is. Before coming West I lived in a hamlet in the Catskills. The economy there bottomed long before the rest of the U.S. During the OPEC pinch we lost everything.
“Sure! And I win a thousand bucks every time I’m in Las Vegas.” He turned his back. He thumbed through a receipt drawer, making busy.
I calculated my meager budget and figured what I could spend. “Will you take fifty?” I was serious.
“I thought you New Yerkers were rolling in cash?” He sneered. “Sorry, no less than sixty-five.”
“All I’ve got is fifty.”
“OK. Give me fifty now and when you get a job playing at the Red Dog, pay me the other fifteen and it’s a deal!”
The Red Dog was a rowdy saloon that kept a regular clientele of railroad men drinking away their weekly earnings. I’d never thought of using my guitar-playing to make a living, but the thought stuck.
In no time, I was making a few dollars a night with my fingers flying like bees around the fingerboard. I used every trick I ever learned, and licks I didn’t know I had in me.
It was a sweet trap. Several months passed before I even realized I’d forgotten my goal to reach California.