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How to Play a Guitar, "What’s Your Name"?
My youngest son asked me how I learned to play the guitar. And why did I do that? This question took me back ten years to New York City and another life…
I had to change trains at 57th Street to catch a train down to Brooklyn, where I went to high school. I was standing on the platform waiting for the train when he came down the stairs and stopped only ten feet away from me. He was looking down the road so I couldn’t get a good look at his face, but the brief glimpse I did get when he turned was interesting. When the express train arrived, we were both in the same car, I made sure of it and tried to pretend it was a coincidence. I sat in the back to watch him read as he drove downtown. He got off at 14th Street and I watched him leave as the train pulled away.
The next day I waited again at 57 and watched him, and sure enough he came down the stairs nicely. I was there for half an hour and in that time I missed two express trains. We got on the train together again and I felt some kind of connection, even though he was deaf and didn’t know me at all. “What’s your name” was playing in my head, but I didn’t dare ask.
This went on for a few weeks and I finally worked up the courage to just smile as he walked into the station. God, he smiled back, oh man he knew I was there. It made my day, but he sat on the other side of the car and read the damn book again. I wanted to go to him, but I froze in my seat. What can I say? “I’m sorry, but I’ve been watching you for a month, and I think I love you”? It was really too stupid.
So every day we sat in the same seat, never speaking, but only communicating with a shy smile every now and then. June was coming up, school was out, and I wouldn’t be seeing him again until September, so I knew I had to do something, but what? Buy her flowers? Oh, good idea. What about saying, “Whatever your name is, I’m sorry, but I brought you flowers, I don’t know.” Maybe give him a card? No, that was another stupid idea. All my ideas were dumb because I knew they would never come true.
I finally decided to ask her name on the last day of school and maybe go somewhere. After I finished teasing, I got my best friend’s back, and she encouraged me to at least talk to her. He was right; I was ready, nervous, scared, but determined. I watched the stairs and let the express trains pass, but it never came. Maybe his school is already over for the summer. I wanted to wait soon, maybe he was late, I was late for class, I almost didn’t go.
Summer comes, I wonder where he lives, what he does, does he ever think about me? What should I do to fill the long lonely summer? I started walking down 57th Street and Central Park almost every day. In my dreams I will wander, walk around the lake, walk through the trees and fields of Central Park; Up and down busy streets lined with expensive shops and hotels. Sometimes I’d stop and buy a hot dog for lunch on my walk, maybe I’d catch him doing something somewhere, who knows. It somehow made me feel better and closer to him; He had almost walked these streets before, and perhaps he would again. I learned to play the guitar with my father’s advice. In the evenings, I would practice until I could play “what’s your name” almost decently. I can’t wait for the class to start so I will see him again.
Finally, September arrived and I was once again waiting at the 57th Street Station. I waited and waited until the express train was dispatched and departed. I waited every day for the first two weeks, but he never came. I never saw him again; I know it was silly to pretend it was nothing. “What’s your name” was on my mind all year long, all the way to school. I was actually getting better at the guitar, singing that damn song and accompanying myself, I’m on my own. It gave me a strange relief. I couldn’t really break my heart because there was nothing, but I missed him.
Finally, I thought I saw him every now and then after graduation, when I was walking around town, but no, it was just some ugly imitation of him. Next September, I’m going to college, and I remember her every now and then as she sings, plays the guitar, and imagines what would have happened if I hadn’t been so young and shy. New college, new freedom, new girls, a whole new chapter in life, there were many things to distract me at that time. It’s still a haunting memory for me, but I can’t tell you what it was like now.
“Well, my son,” I said, “there was a girl watching over there,” and “Daddy,” he got angry like a six-year-old couldn’t. “Really? Oh yes, one summer I was sitting around bored and my grandfather came up to me and said, “…
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