At Ian's Place - Part III, in which I Don't Get a Tattoo

painted sunflower with birds and fish
The Zorya - debora Ewing - detail
It's much more interesting to find quirky travel mementos on Craigslist than to buy them at souvenir shops. You get a story, a connection. I’d collected a bunch of succulent cuttings, a stainless steel whistling tea kettle, and a large plaster vase which looked smaller in the picture. A nice man who lived a few blocks away drove it over in his car. The vase looked perfect on the patio, but so far I only leave kitchen items at Ian’s place.
I packed up the succulents inside the tea kettle and tucked that into my checked bag. My vase was 16 inches high and weighed about that many pounds - it would have to travel as my one personal item in the cabin.
At every checkpoint through LAX I had to explain: No, this is coming with me. It got its own plastic bin to go through the x-ray, and every nearby TSA agent watched to see if anything was revealed. I have to admit I was curious, too, but it was solid plaster, no contraband. As I boarded my plane, the stewards were fascinated and complimentary. They said it wouldn’t fit by my feet and was too heavy to put overhead – wouldn’t want it falling out during turbulence and hitting someone – so they kept it with them in the back by the rolling liquor cabinet. One of the guys even carried it off the plane for me. That vase doesn’t match the decor at my place at all, which is exactly what I love about it. It’s my own remote piece of Lo-Cal, like a portal.
I decided to get a tattoo next time I was in LA but I missed my appointment. The artist had agreed to meet me outside regular hours, so of course he didn’t stay when I no-showed. The night was not a total loss,though - a dive bar downstairs from the tattoo parlor was leaking smoky vocals and some very tight electric guitar licks. I called Hannah as I walked in, and told her to meet me.
Hannah’s my friend from college. We still talk on the phone maybe twice monthly - even when I’m in LA, which is where she lives. Sometimes we actually meet face to face for lunch; mostly it’s email or texting.
“Come on,” I begged her. “It’s not that far from your place. You could walk.” This is a joke: Hannah drives everywhere, even just a few blocks. On cue, she laughed.
“Gawd. Okay, I’ll see you in a bit.” This is not a promise from Hannah – it translates as she’ll think about it for a second after hanging up.
I sniffed my surroundings. “Pick up some clove cigarettes – they still allow smoking in here.” I took a low table near the door, in case I wanted fresh air.
“No WAY. ‘Kay, see you in a bit.” She meant it that time.
Hannah showed up and pulled out her little silver case. She offered me one of those slim brown tubes; I shook my head a little.
 “You know they’re worse than tobacco,” I admonished. “Let me just hit yours.”
 “The spice must flow!” She lit one up gleefully.
I drink my smoke – Laphroaig 10 when I can get it - the server didn't so much confirm as walk away and come back with a rocks glass: "fire pit, neat." Live entertainment was a couple of old black guys who looked like they just got off work at the factory, and who sounded like they just got off work at the coal mine. For all I know they were in their 40s; I’m sure they meant to exude the personas of Old Black Guys and they were nailing it. Maybe they’d passed out cigarettes at the beginning of the set, for atmosphere.
The atmosphere was really dense in this place. I could feel the menu of cheeseburgers, deep-fried mushrooms, nachos with the bad plastic cheese sauce against earthy notes of water damage from leaking pipes. Incandescent bulbs in the ceiling had that barely-discernible flicker of old wiring. Every time the front door swung open, the brighter halide of street lamps flooded our table. I could only see two people with smokes other than Hannah, but knew the smell would come home with me. It was already crawling over my clothes and creeping up in my hair, but damn, this band of two was good.
Everybody knows Hey Joe, the rock classic made famous by Jimi Hendrix, written by Billy Roberts, and originally recorded by The Leaves. A few brave guitar players will dive into it. This guy was playing it like he owned every note. I balled* up a ten-dollar bill and went looking for the tip jar. The singer ended with a ruddy growl that raised hoots and hollers from the back of the room.
“You got a tip jar? ” I said, looking around. There wasn’t a jar, just a $5 on top of the guitar bag. I added my ten-spot. “I feel like I want to issue a challenge.”
“Why you wanna challenge us?” protested the singer. I’m not sure what he was expecting, maybe rock, paper, scissors? The guitarist grinned.
“You sound like you know some stuff,” I countered. The guitarist responded with a flourish. The singer looked doubtful.
“Lonnie Brooks?” I asked. The singer still looked doubtful, but I could see gears turning.
“I got a country song…” he mused. The guitar player demonstrated some fancy picking.
“I got the boots,” I said, and showed them – my red and black cowboy boots are another thrift store find. The old guys were impressed, and went ahead with the country song followed by a Muddy Waters tune.

I saw Cosmo sitting at the bar; I grabbed my scotch and slid into the seat next to him. He was typing into his phone, looking at the band. I said nothing. Eventually he turned my way and was surprised to make eye contact.
“Something smelled different…” he said. I wasn’t wearing perfume; I must have looked confused because he clarified: “I smelled  smoke. What are you drinking?” The Laphroaig – he already knew. Cosmo and I like to build our own flights.
“I’m not playing with you today,” I responded. “I’m just having this one. Hannah’s here.” I pointed toward her with my head.
“Ha, cool. These guys are good. How’s Ian?” Cosmo assumed if I was in town I was still staying at Ian’s place.
“I have no idea.”
“Oh, right.” Cosmo nodded and turned back to the musicians. I sat there for a while, because he wasn’t talking to me. Let Hannah smoke; I can call her later.
Also, I’d need to reschedule that tattoo appointment.

* that's for you, Mel.

to be continued...


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