Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dark Was The Night -- Cold Was The Ground

It wasn't the filthiest hotel room I'd ever been in -- wasn't the cleanest either. That distinction is held by the -an eleven story syphilis infected body on deaths door that was located somewhere on the outskirts of Atlanta proper. There were two obese hookers in the lobby watching a 15” TV with rabbit ears, which seemed odd given that the hotel supposedly had cable. The carpeting in the room had at least six visible stains larger than a fist. And I'm pretty sure the one near the window was blood. Later, this spot would make more sense because when I pulled the curtains open to see the view, there were four bullet holes in the Plexiglas. Given that I was on the third floor, my hypothesis wasn't entirely improbable.

I was sitting on the edge of the queen size bed strumming my guitar, trying to get it in tune. The guitar was a beat up Martin D-18 which was left to me by a man named Skeeter Dixon, who I used to play with every Sunday afternoon until he had a stroke. His picking hand was now a slightly curled dead appendage. Between that and his mouth hanging loose and his speech dramatically impaired, Skeeter slid into a deep funk. After he got out of the hospital, everybody came by trying to cheer him up, but his eyes always looked vacant. After a few weeks he stopped letting people come by to visit or play music for him.

His sister and her husband lived across the street and they saw to his needs. One evening when his sister stopped by after work to make him some dinner, she found him sitting in his recliner, lifeless. Blind Willie Johnson was playing on the stereo. Supposedly, he wasn't cold to the touch yet, but he was definitely gone. His sister declined to have an autopsy and the cops and doctors were more than willing to call it natural causes, seeing as he'd just had a significant stroke. More than likely this was the cause, but almost as fast as word got around of Skeeter's passing, rumors started about what actually happened. Before Skeeter was even in the ground most people were convinced that his ex-wife Dora Mae had stopped by and given him a hot shot of heroin to end his misery.

Once I had the guitar sounding the way it should, I began playing Blind Willie's “Dark Was The Night-- Cold Was The Ground.” Somewhere in the midst of it I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror that was mounted above the dresser across from the bed. The dark circles and three days of beard growth were only gentle signs of what I had been through these last few days, months, and years. I smirked a bit then started up playing another Blind Willie tune called “I'm Gonna Run To the City of Refuge.” Running was what I was doing at this point. I don't know if this one bar town in the middle of the desert somewhere between the Arizona border and Los Angeles was a place of refuge, but it was where I needed to be. To fully understand the circumstances it's best to know why I ended up there in the first place.

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