It was a sweltering summer’s night, and I found myself sitting under Antonio’s accordion in the dimly lit Cantina, sweaty arms and legs stuck to the padded booth cushion, about to be serenaded. I had asked for the ‘cheapest red wine you have’ and gotten it and I ‘d done my best not to attract his attention but Mercedes got a notion to stare at him and now we were reaping the consequences.
“Here’s a song you’ll never hear outside the North End of Boston - I learned it from an old man who was a butcher!” He winked, cocking his head sideways with a devilish smile.
He began to lean in and out rhythmically over our table, squeezing the bellows of his instrument pretty much in my face, singing like a bullhorn at close range, with a little hat teetering provocatively atop his 20-something hair statement. I smiled nervously and self-consciously checked my neckline. So this is what it means to be middle aged, I thought. Antonio could not possibly know that I’d been thrashing on a Stratocaster hooked up to a Marshall stack while he was still in diapers.
Only in the universe of my mind would these wild comparison’s reign as I grappled to maintain some kind of appropriate posture toward the moment. Antonio continued to croon from the sound track of “Moonstruck”, his deft fingers gently but firmly traversing his accordion’s supple buttons in an effort to charm. I had to acknowledge his talent but he was working us for a tip and I hadn’t invited him.
Thirty years ago I was walking these same streets looking for a boy like Antonio who would take me home to mama – now I was mama. He would fall in love with either of my daughters. That was how life went. It worked best to enjoy the irony.
I survived that meal, had a fun weekend with Mercedes, and was back in the studio on Monday producing a great local band - but the mood was pensive and everybody was hang-dog. They were reviewing the first mix of their project and imagining all the things they could have done differently, which burdened them with doubts - until Jimmy piped up.
“This one old timer in Quebec had it figured out, I’d say,” he offered.
We looked at each other and looked at him, but as always, his affable chatter drew us in, tempting us with the promise of a good story.
“ When they had that big stone down in the hole and no way to get it out, he said they’d just float it.”
Odd coincidence that earlier in the week we’d started a major rock wall project outside the studio, which Jimmy had no way of knowing. Floating stones might come in handy.
“Well, when it was too heavy to lift it and no way to get around it, they’d just start putting smaller stones underneath it,” he went on. “ Eventually that stone would be right up to the top and they’d just roll her off”.
I had stopped coiling microphone cables and was now truly fascinated as I watched Jimmy deliver this punch line, one eyebrow slightly raised, head tipped ever-so-slightly to the side, a slow grin growing to the size of China. In the story telling world we are all ageless and equally in awe of unbelievable things.
It’s rich velvet, where cultures collide, wisdom drops in, and peculiarities are honored. And that’s where I live. It’s the stone soup starting from nothing but rainwater that mysteriously offers nutrition. It’s the piece of me that was drifting until I became human because you showed me that you were too. And like Jimmy’s stone from the depths we will continue to float up and out, even as things look pretty hopeless.