I think I may have mentioned, my one sports passion is college basketball. Seeing as I don’t have a TV, when there’s a game on I’d like to see, I stop in at a sports bar, nurse a glass of wine for two hours and watch the game. When I’m in downtown Providence, I’ll stop by a little club just off Edwards Avenue.
This is a place run by Jimmy, who before he became a celebrated drunk, was a well-thought-of, up and coming entrepreneur and music promoter. In the past, his club was known for bringing in really exceptional jazz acts. Not so much now of course. Jimmy drank up most of the club’s profits, his wife now makes him come home at 5 pm and his son takes over the bar in the evening. If the truth be known, the son didn’t drop very far from the father’s tree, but mom doesn’t realize this yet. The place is pretty grim and not very well patronized anymore. I really don’t know quite how they survive.
Anyway, some of the old jazz guys still drop in from time to time and occasionally play a set or two for grins. One of these guys is named Robert. He’s a bass player. He’s pretty good, liquid and inventive and more or less completely out of his mind. To get an idea of Robert, just imagine someone brilliant with ADD and a serious methamphetamine habit. He really can sail on the double bass though.
On the night I’m there, he’s in a tight trio, playing mostly standards and a few originals. I’m nursing my glass of wine, waiting for the game to start and doing my best to give off a really clear “I’m not interested in talking to you” vibe. Most people get this and leave me alone. Robert doesn’t. After his set, he comes over to my table and starts talking to me. I’m civil, thinking maybe we can have an interesting conversation about Charles Mingus or maybe Stanley Clarke. But instead, he wants to talk about his addiction to methamphetamine. You know, I don’t have a lot of personal resources with which to contribute to this conversation, but I try to be polite.
For obvious reasons, he has a methhead’s presumption that he can speak to me, someone he’s never spoken to before in his life, frankly and forthrightly about his problem, as though we had been buddies for the last couple decades. He drapes his big clammy hand over my shoulder, pulls his face right into mine and asks me if it’s fair that I can drink a glass of wine legally while he has to break the law in pursuit of his own particular form of release. I nod and laugh uncomfortably. His mobile phone rings. He says: “I gotta go. That’s my man. He’s gotta a score for me out in the parking lot.” He drifts off. I slip out the back door. I’m thinking, “what a loser.”
The next day, I look him up on the internet. He’s a big fucking deal. He has a jazz album climbing up the charts. He’s played with everybody who’s anybody on the jazz scene. According to the critics, he’s one of the best bass players in the world. Who knew?
So I’m thinking real hard about this - about my life and about Robert: talented, successful and renowned, but also a complete waste of oxygen. I’m trying real hard to make sense of this, but I haven’t yet. Maybe tomorrow.