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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2001/08/20
by Jesse Jarnow

BRAIN TUBA: Terrible, Terrible

When The Kid walked into the casino and started strumming, he was dressed in
dirty corduroy trousers and a scuffed work shirt. The security tapes showed
him heading with a single purpose to the faux street corner in the dry wall
and plaster reproduction of New York’s East Village. For reasons no one
could immediately explain, no guards tried to prevent him from playing once
it became obvious he was taking out a guitar, nor did they stop him once he
began.
As the story goes, the first song he started playing – Terrible,
Terrible – caught the ear of Larry Doldroch, a music industry jack of
all trades who was gambling that night on the tab of Empirical Records.
Doldroch watched in surprise as The Kid played his song. His nappy hair hung
just below his ears and his harmonica was held by a contraption fashioned
out of a golden clothing hanger. Even then, he aimed for a subtly studied
spectacle.
By the time he was midway through the tune, the guards had decided to stop
him. The fake subway connecting the parking garage to the casino floor
rumbled underfoot. As four guards led him away, one on each side, The Kid
slung his guitar over his back and calmly picked up his guitar case. To
Doldroch, The Kid’s look of tranquillity at the center of the formation made
it appear that the musician was being protected by bodyguards as opposed to
being escorted out by a policing force. Doldroch followed twenty steps
behind.
Walking through the casino, people turned their heads to look at The Kid. He
starred straight ahead with a look of slight bemusement curling across the
edges of his lips. To Doldroch, The Kid was clearly in control of the
situation. In the security office, they sat him down on a bench outside the
holding cells and tried to figure out what to do with him. The Kid calmly
crossed his right leg over his left and turned his head to the side, rubbing
at his chin.
Doldroch swept in a few moments later and began to talk, convincing the
guards to release The Kid. He wasn’t doing any harm and, besides, he wasn’t
really do anything illegal such that they could turn him over to the police.
But it wasn’t a big deal because they could just let The Kid go and he
wouldn’t bother them again. Doldroch gave his word. Within 10 minutes,
Doldroch and The Kid strolled back out onto the casino floor, The Kid now
carrying his guitar in its case.
The Kid produced a single, slightly bent cigarette from the breast pocket of
his shirt and lit it. "Thanks," he said, looking straight-ahead.
"Not a problem," Doldroch replied. The Kid starred at the gray hairs in
Doldroch’s goatee. "All I ask is that we find a spot where we won’t get
busted for singing and you finish that song you started in there."
"Sure."
The two exited the controlled environs of the casino onto the Las Vegas
strip. They walked in the direction of the next casino over looking for a
safe area belonging to neither establishment. As they walked, Doldroch
talked.
"Name’s Larry, by the way," he said, extending his hand.
"I’m Sunf," The Kid said.
Doldroch laughed. "That a first name or a last name?"
The Kid paused. "It’s my name. Sunf Jones, I guess."
"Pleasure to meet you, Sunf."
"Call me ‘Kid’."
"Okay. Where you from, Kid?"
"All over. Texas, mostly."
"Far out," Doldroch laughed. "Brooklyn originally," he said, "but I live in
the wonderful metropolis of Hell-A."
"Hell-A, huh?" The Kid chuckled under quietly under his breath.
"Yep. Try to make it out here whenever I can, whenever I can convince
somebody to give me an open bar tab and unaudited expense account. As far as
I’m concerned, it’s the most rock and roll town in America. What brings you
to Sin City?"
"It’s where the bus dropped me."
Doldroch raised his eyebrows.
The two found themselves in an autonomous zone between casinos standing in a
small plaza surrounded by tacky gift shops, video arcades, and a couple of
chain restaurants. "Right here," Doldroch said. "Play me that song you were
singing."
The Kid methodically unpacked his guitar, affixed a capo, and placed his
harmonica around his neck before launching into a full version of
Terrible, Terrible. Doldroch stood transfixed, silent for a long
moment after the song ended.
"Do you have anymore songs?"
"Few," The Kid shrugged.
"Play ‘em," Doldroch all but commanded. The Kid played for half an hour,
running through a half dozen songs before Doldroch had had enough for the
moment. "Come with me."
Doldroch led The Kid into a gift shop, where he purchased a pack of gilded
Las Vegas stationary and a tippy pen with a floating slot machine in it. He
sat on the stoop, using the back of the stationary box as a makeshift desk,
and wrote up a simple contract placing The Kid in his paid employ for no
less than a month, after which The Kid would be free to do anything he
wanted, with Doldroch or without.
The Kid signed and the two went looking for a liquor shop. They purchased a
bottle of cheap whiskey, the smell calling them like a siren. ***
Doldroch offered to let The Kid sleep in the extra bed in his room that
night. Kira, Doldroch’s girlfriend, silently protested. As soon as the two
could hear the sound of The Kid’s bony body under the shower, Kira moved to
complain.
"Don’t," Doldroch said. "You didn’t hear what I heard."
"Guess not," Kira sighed and paused. "If he’s so great, why don’t you get
him his own room?"
"‘cause it’s… Jesus, what time is it?" He looked around for the alarm
clock that wasn’t there and pulled out his cell-phone. "Because it is
presently four o’clock in the morning. When we check out of here in six
hours, I will drive him back to Los Angeles with us. And there, he will
become a star."
"I suppose he will." Kira slumped on the bed, defeated. ***
The convertible cut straight down the highway en route back to Los Angeles.
Wind rushed over the car and the three passengers floated in an island in
the middle of a rushing current. Doldroch sat behind the wheel, baggy eyes
behind tinted sunglasses pointed straight-ahead at the road. Kira sat beside
him, sunglasses too, starring off into the desert distance. The Kid sat in
the back seat, his long hair whipping around his face, his eyes squinting in
the sun and piercing breeze. His guitar sat on his lap.
"Hey, Larry," he shouted.
It took Doldroch a moment to respond. "Yeah, what?"

"I wrote a song for you last night."
"You did what?"
"I wrote a song for you last night," The Kid repeated.
"When the hell did you do that?" Larry shouted back.
"In the shower. Wanna hear it?"
"Sure. I… I guess."
"It’s called The Hell-A Minding Disaster. Here goes…’
The Kid began to strum again, picking out sharp, diamond-edged chords.
Doldroch and Kira strained the ears to listen through the static of the
road. When The Kid began to sing, his voice sliced through, as if they’d
suddenly gotten within hearing range of the station.
When he had finished, Kira turned to him and smiled, removing her sunglasses
for a moment and looking at The Kid. The Kid cocked his head to the side and
peered back through squinted eyes. He balanced his guitar on his knee and
pulled his hair back with a spread thumb and pointer finger. "Whadja think?"
he asked somewhat nervously.
Kira laughed. "It burned," she said.
Jesse Jarnow would someday like to
visit the Forest Lawn Memorial
Park.

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