there’s a scene in Monster, as i find myself caught in the grip of a particular yellow ducati: I was standing on a precipice in a high wind, preparing to leap, when a quiet voice cut through the vertigo: ‘In three months you will be 50,’ my wife said, appearing like an angel, leaning lightly on my left shoulder. ‘Why don’t you just… buy it?’
why? self-loathing, plain and simple. a loathing of self which bubbles just beneath the surface, preparing to sabotage every relationship, piece of good luck, accidental act of kindness, self-indulgence; loathing is what it is, no more no less.
which is why i learned years ago it’s dangerous to take donna guitar hunting, or bike hunting or probably especially actual hunting.
rocking, swaying, swooning, sweating: i have never stood over the writhing carcass of any prospective purchase, flapping in a gale of self-loathing, bubbling cauldron of lack-of-deserving, a great seething vat of hatred, remorse, without donna quietly suggesting that i ‘just buy it.’ and always accompanied by some insight i know she knows better than me. ‘it’s beautiful,’ she said of the ducati and, of course, i knew it was true.
this morning, at westwood music just off wilshire boulevard, it was tone. she was behind me, during a lull in the quiet of my strumming softly, plugged through a mellow tube amp of limpid orange tweed-tolex, an actual, living collings I35 in my lap. i had previously plugged in my beloved 335.
‘can you hear that tone?’ she said helpfully. ’cause I can.’
well yes, i could, and i also knew the ducati was beautiful. and i knew the ducati cost ten thousand clams and probably a few shattered tibs and collarbones and i knew this collings was worth a small fortune and yes, much as my loathing tried to deny it to myself, i could definitely hear that tone.
what donna couldn’t feel was the featherweight balance of the thing, tiny compared to the hulking 335. she couldn’t see how the scale placed all the working parts in a precise and natural position, couldn’t feel the arch of the carving, curving back hanging in the hollow of my gut, the frets just so, the slightest pressure on the amber tone knobs dialing in the whorling contours of my fingerprints, the soft directness of the tuners. everything felt wide and instantaneous and open, a sudden breathing expansiveness, like a solid hit of really great pot in the middle of the afternoon.
the salesman was breathless over the 335. ‘you take good care of your guitars,’ he noted, though it was true and it was also true that he was paid to say such things. i wanted to play them side by side before tuesday, before THE AXE arrived by camel train and steamship around the horn to fall with a thunk and a chorus of barking dogs upon my doorstep.
and my collings would be better. mine was a one-off, made to the specifications of ny-based CR guitars that works extensively with collings. nothing fancy, just a few tasty flourishes to gild the lilly: neck binding and reshaping, a warmer burst, repositioned strap button. of such details are the crucial distinctions of aging guyland made whole.
but, jeez, donna. don’t get this poor dude’s hopes up. i mean the salesman, dutifully calculating up a price on the 335 as a trade-in. i knew he could never beat my deal. i knew i’d done the right thing.
the collings was everything they said it was: stunning. while the 335 was a workhorse, this was a thoroughbred.
the gibson was a tasty salad and a sandwich, a professional’s instrument with which a man may make his livelihood. but the collings was like this restaurant just opened up the street where I took donna for her birthday dinner.
inside the cloistered depths of gwen, everything was hushed and still. you could feel the money being siphoned off. so this is how some people live. eight waiters hovered over every table. fifteen tiny courses of arcane delectables: cheeze from far-off rangoon, salt from the caucuses, strange flowering broccolini drizzled in pirate’s grog and ox blood.
when the main course finally arrived we were presented with a rack of glinting meat knives, from which i selected a harrowing switchblade with a great scything sword flinging out at the touch of a brass button in the bone handle.
‘excellent choice,’ whispered one of the hovering waiters.
when the bill came – $525 – i initialled the glowing device with the sweep of a finger.
loathing. i could feel it closing in. ‘don’t be a churl,’ i told myself. though we worked and sweated side by side, it was in truth her money i was spending, and tonight she looked so happy. forsooth, it had been a memorable repast.
here’s hoping this will be so.