Theme for Ernie
start at 1:06
Walking down the backstreets and the alleys to cut through to the sidewalk in front of the line of bodegas that are the borderline between the grime and success, the grand succession of neon lights and fevered dreams. Cracks in the sidewalk stared up at me as I huddled deeper into my coat, hands shoved so deep it was like I was trying to pick my own pockets. The rain was a cold chill serrated knife edge, and I hadn’t seen Ernie in weeks.
We were wondering where he was, where’d he’d been, what he’d gotten up to. This night I was checking out the old haunts, I had nothing better to do but waste but my own dime, passing what passes for time by wandering through the oily silverfish glow of the maudlin watercolour blues that is the city at night.
Walking past the café where we used to sit and talk for hours about heaven and hell and everything in between. Looking into the window, seeing only one woman huddled over a coffee, seeped in Edward Hopper colors and staring into the forlorn wilderness of her own bespotted dreams.
Next door down was the laundromat, where we used to kick machines to return our eaten quarters. Now only a few Salvadoran women, sweating in the heat of freshly dried sheets as they fold them into crisp hospital corners, and a young lanky black man practicing his rap about poverty, guns, drugs, love, and overcome, when
I’m suddenly jostled by a gang of six youths, rolling down the sidewalk, just fresh from the exit doors of the community theatre. They don’t even notice me as they stagger by, all high on life and youthspeed and one of them looks just like she could be Lucinda, 20 years back, and
I watch her recede into the night, along with her pack of friends, and I think about how Ernie was so head over heels for Lucinda. Lucinda. All last year, every word out of his mouth was wrapped around Lucinda. Said she had a thing for John Coltrane. Ernie bought every album by John Coltrane. Hell, Ernie didn’t even LIKE John Coltrane, but he played nothing in the apartment but John Coltrane, absorbing every lonely note, every frenetic trill, because that sound, man, that sound, just spoke to him of Lucinda.
Because a good lover is like an addiction you just can’t quit.
I looked up into the neon skyline and I knew, Ernie had gone back to Lucinda. The rain spoke to me of John Coltrane, and suddenly there was a warmth in the midst of the chill, like good jazz gives you: that shelter from the storm.
There on the corner of Filth and Grime, under the bright streetlamps marking time, I called Ernie one more time, and one more time I left a message on his voice mail: “Ernie, hey man, hope you’re doing ok. The gang misses seeing you around. Give us a shout when you can.
Narration inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper, the Lucinda Williams song “Righteously,” the film “Paterson,” the wealth of American Beat Poetry, and, of course, this song by John Coltrane … which harkened me back to Sesame Street.