Friday, September 01, 2006

Rooskie Guitar

I liked the downtown foot beat when I was a cop; once I did it for a whole year straight. It reminded me of old-time cops, and also felt like a better way to get to talk with people and actually interact with the community.

I had fun with it too. On Halloween, I borrowed an Old Time parade uniform from one of the guys and did the whole shift wearing that, (Long coat, tall hat, no gun showing, just night stick). I also walked with my hands behind my back and did the Monty Python cop accent all day: “Right, what’s all this then?” and “Right! Piss off you lot… You ‘eard me, piss off!”

I also walked past the cafĂ©’s with outside tables all the time, and I liked to walk up to a full table out of the blue and say, “How’s everything here? Ready for a desert tray or some coffee?” And if they said yes, testing the whacky cop, I’d go inside, where a grinning Martha would say, “Desert tray and coffee pot, right?” I did a great feature presentation on the various goodies, too – Sold a bunch of Death By Chocolate, and even had my own recipe made there, Doctor Atwater’s Magic Bars, (Shortbread topped with crunchy peanut butter and dark chocolate – You could feel your blood getting sludgy when you ate one – Very popular on graveyard shifts…)

I got to know all the shop owners, and among them, of course, were the pawnshop owners. They soon came to know that I liked guitars, and they’d let me know if something particularly sexy came in. So one day I walk into one of the shops and the owner grins and points at me and say, I got something you’re gonna like!” It was a ’59 Reissue Strat, black, perfect, looked like it had never been played. He said the guy who turned it in was a doper, would buy great axes and then pawn ‘em, and often didn’t come back for ‘em. He said he’d only told about four or five people about it. I asked him not to tell anybody else, and he promised he wouldn’t. I got the date that thing was coming available and marked my calendar. Oh, and the guy only had $300 into it - A stone cold bargain, that.

So the day approaches and I realize I’m signed up to work Acting Sergeant that day shift. Luckily, (And no, I’m not making this up), the Shift Lieutenant is Vince Gill’s first cousin, and a player in his own right. I tell him, vaguely, about the deal, and he says “I don’t care, as long as you respond when you’re needed,” I think he was a bit put out I wouldn’t tell him what axe and where, but, well, you gotta be discrete…

So the morning in questions dawns cold and clear, and the shop opens at nine a.m. I am camped out at 8:30, right in front, in a prowl car, in uniform, and runnin’ the Day Shift right from there. Nobody else in sight. Would you screw with me at that point? Didn’t think so…

Anyway, about five minutes after I arrived, some skinny, long-greasy-haired wasteoid comes shuffling up the block. He's wearing torn jeans, an Alice in Chains t shirt, those funky boots with the big strap and buckle over the instep, and a silver Bud Light tavern jacket. He sees me and stops, looks around, looks at where I’m parked, visibly swallows, and turns back around. Then he changes his mind, and comes back my way, stopping about three feet short of the pawn shop and leaning against the wall, pretending I’m not there. I am drilling cop eye laser beams into him through my Ray Bans. I am not smiling, even remotely. I am looking directly at him, car idling menacingly, with the patented Sergeant Atwater’s Get Your Sorry Ass The Hell Away From That Store You Wasted Prick look. He’s withering, but he’s holding up.

Finally he sighs and approaches the car. I’ve got target acquisition and lock for his entire long, long walk to the car. I let him wait for an eternal ten or fifteen seconds at the window before I lower it slowly, staring at him with pure I Am The Pigs, Go Away intensity. “Can I… Help you?” I ask.

In heavily accented English he says, “You are here for Strat?”

He rolls the r of strat nicely; he sounds Russian.

I nod slowly, “Yep, since 0h eight thirty, son.”

“Ya,” he nods, “You get then…” and turns to go

“Wait,” I nod, “Where you from, Partner, Russia?”

“Da,” he nods, “I am born outside Moscow.”

We start talking about guitars. We are about the same age. I tell him about my first, a busted up Strat with a screw holding the peghead together, and then, at his repeated urging, go through all the axes I’ve owned, played, sold, traded, lost, and the few I’ve kept.

He tells me that growing up in the USSR in the 60s, there was no way he could even see many pictures of “Real guitar – All we had was Russian shit, don’t play good, don’t sound good, real crap – All along, I dream of Strat, like Jimmy Hendrix and Clapton play!” His name was Vladimir. He had emigrated at his first opportunity in the late eighties. He had gone to school in Russia for art, and was trying to make it here doing that, and playing music. He loved it; he had “Real Levi Jeans, no secret police, I live where I want, can eat well, sell when I can, I am completely happy here.” We talked for twenty, twenty five minutes about bands, amps, artists, guitars, clothes, girls, and good local beer.

Then the sound of the lock turning on the pawn shop's front door catches our attention. We are both leaning on the front of the prowl car, side by side, bullshitting when the smiling owner steps out and nodded at us.

“Eben, Vlad, good morning; I shoulda known it'd be between you two... So, who gets the axe?”

Vladimir turns to me, smiling gently and says, “My friend was here first,” and reaches out to shake my hand.

I take his hand in mind, cover it with my other, and say, “My friend, you were in line for this guitar for way longer than I can even imagine – Enjoy.”

And I got in the car and drove away, smiling.