Listen…(for Kofi B.)

I last saw cousin Kofi six years ago in Allentown, PA. at the Miller Symphony Center.  I’d heard that TTB was in town.

They’re an exciting, dynamic band that can play anything, and Kofi, being a co-founder and extraordinary composer and musician on keys and flute, helped to increase their library of quality music in their already impressive repertoire.

I went to see the performance, and it was stellar, as always.

After it was over, Kofi did his thing with the fans, and when that passed we went into the tour bus. He offered me half of his Cuban sandwich, and we talked about the show, the music, his performance in particular, and life in general.

When the bus had to get parked, we went to his hotel room, and he saw my brief three seconds of internet presence on a performance I was part of in Easton, PA for a Christmas special.

After he saw it, he beamed and said to me, “You’ve come a long way.”

Coming from him, it was more than validation.

Through the years, we saw each other sporadically, but whenever I was in DC we’d share some time in my uncle’s ‘music room,’ a space that ran wall to wall with vinyl from every genre, too extensive to ever go through in one sitting, and even more massive than my Dad’s.

During the summer of ’78, I spent long hours in that room, and spent some time with Kofi in there as well as we listened to music he’d written, music he was working on, and music he liked. It was my introduction to jazz fusion in particular, and he revealed to me his love of electronic music and its potential to break new ground.

I explored some jazz history on my own, never dreaming one day I’d get to see him play alongside some names that I was listening to at the time. What an even bigger kick it must have been for him.

Kofi once told me back then that a true musician ‘listens to everything.’ At first, I thought he meant different types of  music, but he really did mean everything. A car horn, birds, the pitch of voices, pipes hissing. His gift was so open, he was always literally surrounded by music: the music of life itself.

There were times, my aunt told me, that when he was off the road, silence was all he craved, once to the point where she had to take down her wind chimes. I understood that. The anointed need to have their own space of silence sometimes.

I would’ve liked to have seen him once again, and more than that, to play on the family  project that was a dream of his, but unfortunately it never gelled together.

It would have been glorious, but I understand that too; his workload was as massive as his gift.

The music that he left behind is extensive, and has touched the lives of many.

The music that he hears now is just for him alone.

I know he’s enjoying it.

I can see him now, eyes closed, little tics of expression and appreciation flitting across his features, and I know exactly what he’d say if I were sitting beside him:

Listen…

 

Tales from the Laptop Cafe’

Every day, (well, it seemed like every day),  Neal would find himself in a coffee shop surrounded by (sometimes) low chatter, and the busy buzz and whir of baristas making coffee magic, scrambling to fulfill just-so orders of people who would be better off brewing at home.

He didn’t know how they managed.

He didn’t know why he cared.

His laptop was a comforting weight against his side, and he’d hoped he beat the rush of college students and other wanna-be writers like himself who would camp out at tables for hours, slowly sipping coffee he thought was too steep in price.

It was just because the barista he had a crush on worked this shift, and he always felt lucky when he was able to land a table, because as it turned out, he wasn’t the only one who had a crush on her.

These days, though, one couldn’t be too careful; he didn’t want to be seen as a stalker.

Truth was he had all the confidence of a tasered turtle, and for the life of him, being a wanna -be writer and all, could think of nothing clever, witty, romantic, (and if the day was going on a particularly sharp downhill angle, intelligent) to say that would make the opposite sex pay him any attention.

He wondered sometimes if that was, in fact, the reason he wrote at all. He could be anything in a story, and with enough research, he could pull it off. A knight, an assassin, a military genius, a cutting-edge scientist, a brilliant fencer, a chess master. It occurred to him, the way one sees through thick fog, that he never made himself a boyfriend, a husband, or even a friend with benefits.

Truth was, (well, another truth was), that he actually preferred a connection. It was less risky if the liking of each other was not only mutual, but constant, steady, like the North Star guiding sailors into the harbor for centuries.

Like that.

But that wasn’t the climate of today’s milieu. It was all so loose and casual and messy and a shallow, like a ball pit in a fast food restaurant playground.

He felt he had more to give, but it seemed he could never get around to saying it, much less asking for it. Monogamy was a thing of the ancient past, like illuminated manuscripts now kept in climate controlled cases in parts of the library nobody visited.

The line moved, and he was next, and his crush was there.

“Can I help you?” she said, all smiles and pretty eyes, and he dared not look to see what else.

“Uh, yeah. I’d like a caramel macchiato, please.” He sometimes thought he could die drowning in a vat of caramel. It would be ugly, but sweet…

“Okay. What size?”

“L-l-large, please.” When did that develop???

“Okay, that’s five twenty five please.”

He gave her his card; her fingerprints would be on his card.

Don’t swoon, Neal. 

“Thank you. Marta will have that for you at the end of the counter.”

“Th-thank you.” Dammit.

He was still holding the card, where their fingerprints now mingled in delightful oblivion to their union.

“Here ya go,” said the comparably nondescript Marta.

Warren took his coffee, the cup pleasantly warming his hands, and settled himself in a corner, pulling out his laptop, setting up his writing camp.

There was this part in his story he was wrestling with, where the character was at a crossroads between a bold choice that might propel him forward to someplace he might regret, or turning back toward the sacred obscurity of his own cocoon, where he was quite comfortable, thank you.

The laptop fired up, and he took his first sip of the macchiato. It was perfect, the second bright spot in his day.

Glancing up, he saw his crush looking his way.

The bobbing of his Adam’s Apple suddenly hurt as he accidentally slurped more than he wanted to, and began, to his mortification, to cough as the hot liquid streamed the wrong way.

She smiled and gently shook her head, and walked into the back to see about something.

“Are you okay?” the comparably nondescript Marta asked.

“I-I…y-yes, I’m okay.” He closed his eyes, and sighed in resigned embarrassment.

I’m never coming back here.

Even as he thought it, he knew he would.