At 5:20 PM yesterday, Charlie was lugging an amplifier up the external, metal staircase, and I was tagging along behind him with a guitar in my left hand and music binder in my right arm.
After settling into the 2nd story event room at Avondale Brewery — connecting cables, tuning strings, and testing sound levels — we both ordered drinks at the bar (a red wine for me and some bitter, gross stout thing for Charlie) and began perusing the wares at the event.
For the last two years, I’ve played music for Campfire Alabama’s annual fundraising event, and this year, as well as last year, the organization held a silent auction to help raise funds.
So Charlie and I moseyed down the long line of tables together, murmuring aloud our likes and — a bit more quietly — our dislikes. I considered us to be a pair of passive observers, just killing time until “go time” rolled around.
“THIS would be cool,” I exclaimed, referring to a Red Mountain Zip Line package. “Would you enjoy zip-lining with me?” I asked Charlie.
“Then… I’m BIDDING!” I announced excitedly, realizing that I had the capacity to do so. Auction bidders had always seemed so foreign-ly fancy to me… but now, I was doing what they were; I was one of them.
The number on my “paper” was 102, so – as the first bidder on this particular item – I wrote my number down beside the third lowest bid option — $12. “We’ll see what happens,” I giggled wildly, infatuated with this newly discovered bidding power that I possessed.
As we moved through the rest of the room, I felt like a VERY important lady, placing modest, but decent, bids on a few other items, like a brown, white, and yellow scarf and a case of red wine. “That would take me 6 months to finish,” I thought to myself, feeling skeptical about the decision but deciding to bid anyways, because bidding was exciting!
And then, I spotted it — what I’m going to call the glory item.
“OH MY GOD…… CHARLIE!” I whispered hoarsely. “LOOK! But don’t draw attention… it’s a gift card to Urban Standard. I must win it.”
The gift card, which was for $50, offered a low starting bid… something like $5. But I decided to raise the stakes from the get go.
“I’m bidding $25,” I whispered to no one, eyeing the gift card lovingly and elegantly crafting each of the numbers: 1, 0, 2.
6:00 rolled around quickly, so after one last potty break (I’m famous for peeing thirty times before: playing gigs, getting tattoos, and heading out nerve-wracking meetings at work), I climbed up onto my stool and began playing for the crowd. Every couple of songs, I would garner Charlie’s attention and remind him of his somber mission: to revisit “the Urban Standard table” and ensure that no one else had challenged my bid.
“I don’t really care about the other stuff so much,” I explained, and then I paused. “Holy shit… I bid on a lot of STUFF. What if I win everything I bid on and have to pay for ALL of it?” I calculated; I could afford it, of course, but… shit.
Charlie smiled with amusement.
Silent Auction Rule #1 (The Only Rule): Don’t bid on everything unless you’re okay with the possibility of leaving with (and paying FOR) everything.
Charlie reported back to me several times, but one of those times, he was wearing a very serious expression. “Someone bid $30,” he began. I took a quick inhale of breath. “But DON’T WORRY,” he continued quickly, waving his hands around. “I put you down for $35.”
I was somewhat relieved — the imminent danger was no longer — but I was still vulnerable, up until the very minute the auction closed. “Keep checking,” I commanded.
I won’t leave you all in suspense. I ran into a few friends at the event, chatted with a few strangers about music and – oddly enough – credit unions, and – by the end of the night – I was the lucky winner of (1) glorious item: the Urban Standard gift card.
“Awesomeeeeeeeee!” I cried at the checkout table. “I go there EVERY Saturday!”
“Awwwwwww,” the ladies at the table cooed. “You’re so nice — we’re glad you won it! Thank you for playing music for us again this year!”
I was tickled to be leaving with such a wonderful gift card in my back pocket, but I was equally relieved that the case of wine was in someone else’s arms, the pretty scarf was hugging another person’s neck, and that another individual or couple would be looking forward to zooming past trees.
Today, I played another gig; this one was at Whole Foods where a group of seniors assembled themselves for their monthly outing: this month, it was barbecue and music on the front patio.
Before the event began, I wandered into Whole Foods to locate Charlie, who was going to help me lug the amplifier out of the car. I saw Christopher working in VA, so I averted my eyes and moved away as quickly as possible.
I found Charlie, and he immediately headed out to the car to grab the amp. I hand picked a few cotton candy grapes and then meandered off to the prepared foods section (where one of the coolers contains dozens of different beverages). I chose a Dr. Better-flavored Kombucha drink, turned around, and saw Christopher AGAIN — this time, piling food from the hot bar onto a paper plate. I turned around quickly and headed straight for the checkout line, feeling slightly annoyed. Two people were ahead of me, and less than a minute later, a third person took their place behind me.
“Welllllll… fancy meeting you here,” Chris’s loud and distinguishable voice bellowed.
I turned around. “Hi,” I offered politely. “How are you?”
“Gooooooooood,” he answered without looking at me, staring forward and stroking his beard a little. Just the way I remember him. “Soooooo what are you doing here?” he asked, indicating, with a nod of his head, that it was a strange time of day for me to be in his workplace.
“Ahhh… yeah, I left work early and used vacation time so that I could come play for the seniors today.”
He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion at first and then raised them, recognition dawning on his face. “Oh yeahhhhhh, that. Yeah, that gig wasn’t going to be enough pay for me.”
“Ahhhh — then I guess I was their second choice,” I inferred, laughing. “I’m not really doing it for the pay. I just… enjoy it,” I smiled. “Just played a charity event last night, actually, and it was fun.”
We chatted for another moment and then I broke away, bidding him a good weekend. “You too,” he tossed out casually and then redirected his attention to the girl working the register, instantly taking on a different tone. Always the social chameleon.
I walked away, remembering when we used to play open mics together for free — for the sheer hell of it — and I marveled at how strange it feels to want to look away from someone you used to stare at for hours.
I’d practiced through a good number of oldies in preparation for the event and had just finished setting everything up outside when the elderly crowd began shuffling themselves out onto the patio.
“Good morning!” I called out to each person in greeting, smiling brightly. The seniors smiled back at me, with or without teeth; some of them were wearing ball caps, a few of them were aided by walkers, and others were grasping onto the arm of another younger and stronger person.
They seated themselves at various tables and, as they settled in, I began playing tunes for them — old hits by The Doobie Brothers, America, Steelers Wheel and others. One man (wearing a white name tag that simply read “Ted”) sat down beside his chatty wife; throughout the meal, she was turned to face her girl friend, and he sat there either staring at his food or gazing off into the distance. I caught his eyes a few times and gave him a meaningful smile, which he returned, and I also caught him tapping his feet to the music two different times. That made me extra smile.
Another gentleman named Jerry introduced himself to me immediately upon arriving to the event.
“Hello,” he nodded at me, very proper-like; he was wearing khaki shorts, brown shoes, a brown polo shirt, and a black belt.
“Hi!” I smiled at him.
“Guess how old I am?”
I was taken back by the question. I didn’t want to shoot too low, but was also afraid of offending him with an honest guess. “Uhhhh… 59-61?”
In response, he smirked and held up seven fingers.
“SEVENTY?” I exclaimed.
“Guess how old my twin BROTHER is?” he continued.
“Ha… 70,” I grinned at him.
“Now guess his NAME!” Jerry pressed.
“You’re Jerry and he’s… Larry?” I guessed.
“No. Think of the cartoon,” he said.
I paused. “….Tom?”
“YEP! I used to be a WARBLER,” he volunteered loudly.
I cocked my head at him. “A what?”
He repeated the word and then demonstrated what it was, singing very gutter-ally.
“Ahhhhh… I see. Well then I expect you to sing along with me today, Larry,” I said to him very seriously.
He widened his eyes fearfully and then walked away, his tall socks rising half way up his calves.
At the beginning of the set, a woman – dressed in black and white and with medium length black hair – sat at the table closest to where I was stationed. “You’re going to be my sound person,” I told her. “Please tell me if I’m too loud, okay?”
“Oh, I will,” she assured me. I smiled.
Fifteen minutes into the gig, she turned to look at me and said, “You have a VERY beautiful voice!”
“Awwww… thank you!” I smiled at her. “Let me know if things get too loud!”
Twenty minutes later, she turned around to look at me and said, “You have a VERY beautiful voice!”
I smiled, thanking her again and wondering whether or not she remembered complimenting me a little bit ago.
I let my eyes scan the crowd during songs where I had the song lyrics memorized and the guitar chords on autopilot, and I saw a few cute things.
One of them occurred during the beginning of Ted and his wife’s meal. He was struggling to open his bottle of Milo’s tea. His wife, understanding his predicament, wrapped her hand around the base of the bottom while he tried, with both hands, to pry the cap off the top. I watched them do this for about 45 seconds before he achieved success. It made me a little sad, but the partnership of the event was redeeming.
Another cute moment involved an older gentleman with a baseball hat and a walker. As he rolled past me on his way to the bathroom, he leaned over and asked: “How many bottles of whiskey did you drink before getting those tattoos?” (He was indicating my wrists, forearms and shoulders.) We both laughed.
“None!” I replied. “I don’t think they’ll let you get one if they can tell you’ve been drinking… and I’m actually getting my next one TONIGHT!”
He shook his head good-naturedly.
Another “awwwwww!” sighting (the last one that I’ll share here) happened about fifteen minutes before I ended the set. An adorable man named Jim seemed to be “moved” by one of the songs I had just started playing, because he rose out of his seat, stepped forward, folded his hands together (in a prayer pose) and smiled right at me from the middle of the patio for the entirety of the song.
Near the end of the set, my sound person rose out of her chair and walked over to where I was seated. “Take this,” she instructed me. I thought I was accepting a five dollar bill, but upon closer inspection, I realized that it was a fifty.
I hesitated and made a face at her. “Oh — you don’t have to tip me! Are you SURE?” I asked her.
She gave me a radiant smile. “You have a beautiful voice.”
And with that, she walked away. I watched her sit back down, next to the person I presumed was her daughter. I was stunned.
A few minutes later, a tall, elegant, and spry older woman hurried over to me. She searched the ground for a moment and then raised her eyes to look at me. “Where’s the tip jar?” she asked.
“Oh, I didn’t put one out! I’m just enjoying this,” I explained with a smile.
“Take this,” she insisted, slipping a twenty into my palm. “LOVE your voice. You did a WONDERFUL job,” she winked and then disappeared.
I couldn’t believe it.
At the end of the event, just as I was finishing strumming the last chord to Kung Fu Fighting, the event coordinator approached me, smiling widely. “They REALLY enjoyed your music today!” she raved. “Can I have your contact information for future events?”
“Sure!” I exclaimed, writing my phone number and email address down onto a random piece of paper with the thick permanent marker she’d offered me.
The pay for the gig was supposed to be $50; I took what she gave me without counting it, said goodbye, and then, when I went to put it into my wallet later on, I realized that she’d actually paid me $60.
“Wow,” I breathed, doing the math. “What was supposed to be a $50 gig turned out to be a $130 gig. How AWESOME!” I paused. “Wonder if that would have been enough money for him,” I chuckled to myself, swinging my guitar case with my left hand as I returned to the car.