It all started the year I quit medical school. Actually, I flunked out of medical school. I got Fs in four out of six classes and my scholarship was gone. Poof!
So there I was, kicked out onto the cold cement steps of this prestigious university, barely a nickel to my name, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I did know that I wanted to be with my girlfriend, Diane.
Now Diane was really the first true love of my life. She was a skinny, hippie, vegetarian, constantly constipated, narcoleptic who never shaved her legs or armpits. But all this took on a poetic charm for me. I loved her that much.
And you see, when I was accepted into medical school in Los Angeles, Diane had been accepted to graduate school in Michigan. For the first time in four years we were apart. But no more, I said.
So I loaded up my piece of shit baby blue Toyota Corolla and headed East. I told Diane I was going to take my time, visit some of the national parks along the way, clear my head. She sounded appreciative of this. This was in the days before cell phones so I simply told her that I would see her in about two weeks.
My cross country trip was going great, but about halfway through I said fuck it, I didn’t want any more pretty landscapes, animals or natural formations. I wanted to be with Diane. I didn’t care if that meant driving all day and all night for the next four days, I wanted to see her. Bad. And besides this would be great, I thought, because I would get to Diane’s three or four days early, what a surprise that would be! So that is what I did. Thirty-nine hours straight it took me. I arrived at around 2AM Sunday morning and I thought to myself: Man! This is even better! Not only am I getting here three days early, but it is 2AM! What a great surprise this is going to be!
The front door was locked of course, but around the back the door was open. I stepped through the kitchen which smelled of curry, Diane’s favorite – and mine. An opened, half-empty bottle of red wine one the counter next to a used wine glass struck me as odd, since red wine gave Diane violent headaches, but I was in a hurry.
I made my way up the stairs as quietly as I could. I whispered into the darkness: Diane! I immediately heard a sound, some rustling, a faint voice crying out, I heard her say my name, then came some more noise and then the light in her room came on. There she was, completely naked, sitting in the middle of her bed. That she was naked was not much of a surprise, because as I said Diane was more than a bit of a hippie and so she was naked a lot of the time. But what was surprising was that there was a man in her bed. And that wasn’t even so surprising since the two of us had had issues with fidelity in the past but always worked past them. But what was really surprising to me was that this man was her professor, the man she had come out to study with. And that wasn’t even so surprising to be honest, because what was really surprising was that this professor only had one arm. That is what really threw me. Because the fact is, you can’t hit a man with one arm. And so I had to stand there and watch this man get dressed. Which he finally did and left without saying a word.
Diane raised her tear-streaked eyes and said to me, “But you told me you weren’t going to be here for several more days!”
“Oh,” I said, “so if I had called and told you I was coming tonight, everything would be okay then?”
“Yea?” She said.
“Nope,” I said. And with that I got into my car and drove all the way back to L.A.
It was a terrible, tortuous drive, as you might imagine, but what made it worse was that I kept seeing that one-armed professor everywhere! Yes, everywhere! He would pass me driving a semi-trailer. I saw him behind the cash register at a fuel stop. And it didn’t end there. When I got back to L.A. I would see him at the all-night grocery store, in a seat in front of me at the art film theater, at the local Irish pub, or on the bus that I took to go to the school library – any place I sought escape and refuge from the pain of losing the love of my life. It was all in my head, but how that one-armed man tormented me! I became severely and perhaps clinically depressed. I stopped going outside and spent all my time shut inside my room of the apartment that I shared with two other university students.
One of them felt sorry for me and gave me her guitar. She showed me how to play a song – “Hey Joe” by Jimmy Hendrix. Three chords and the only two lines of lyrics that she knew. And that is what I did. I played that song. I played that song over and over again, I played it all day and all night, those same three chords, singing that same two line verse. Soon I was driving my roommates fucking crazy. I even drove the guy downstairs crazy and finally he came up the steps, banged on the door and shouted at me: “Dude! If you are going to play the guitar all day and all night, at least let me show you how to play the fucking guitar!”
And it turns out he was in fact a pretty good guitar player. Peter Spellman was his name and that is what he did, he gave me lessons and taught me how to play the guitar. And in little time I have to admit I got to be pretty good. Over the course of these lessons, Peter also became a good friend and so of course I told him about Diane and the one armed man and how this had fucked up my brain. He said, “Dude, you need to get out of this room. Let me take you to a gig I got tonight. I am opening for an act in town. Let’s go.”
And just like that I left my apartment for the first time in months and we drove down to the beach. We got to the club, the Golden Bear, which had this outdoor marquee with these huge letters that said: B.B. KING AND HIS BAND. Down below that in small letters was: Peter Spellman. It was really small, you could barely see I, but it was cool all the same, him having his name up there. I felt proud and I was smiling as we walked into the back of the club. Peter and I were the only members of the Peter Spellman contingent, and there must have been 50, maybe 100 of BB King’s band. Once we walked inside Peter just kinda disappeared into the crowd – I never saw him again. So I just made my way over to a corner of the room and sat down with my guitar and plunked away, pretty much ignoring everything going on around me.
But then I sensed this presence come over me. I looked up and there was the biggest man I had ever seen. It was B.B. King, the man, himself, standing above me. And he looked down at me and he spoke to me in this deep, bass voice, but I could not understand anything that he was saying, except he had in his hands a crystal box with this white powder and two silver spoons. I had never done this before but I had seen the Woody Allen movie and so I took a spoonful up each nostril and then he looked at me and said, “IF THEY ASK YOU WHO YOU’RE WITH, YOU SAY YOU’RE WITH B.B. KING.”
Wow, this was cool! I had understood him, I suddenly understood every word. But then WHOOSH! Then it really hit me. My brain exploded and suddenly BB King was gone and I looked around and all the people were moving about with this sudden sense of purpose. I had to get up and find out what I was supposed to do. I saw a man standing next to a set of doors who looked like he would know, in one hand he had a clipboard in the other had he had – Wait! He only had one arm!
“Hey, what are you doing here?” I shouted.
The guy looked up at me and said, “Dude, you know you are one bad ass guitar player!”
I said, “Wha- yea?”
And he said, “Like yea, I was listening to you get down. Who you with dude?”
“Well,” I said, “I’m with Peter—I’m with B.B King!”
“Ok then,” the man with one arm said, “then you go right up these stairs all the way to the top.” He opened the door with his one and only hand and I started up those stairs.
Well, I have to tell you, I was moving up those stairs, I was trucking up those stairs, I was climbing those stairs so fast I suddenly wished these stairs were the stairs to the Empire State Building because I was climbing them so fast that if these were the stairs to the Empire State Building people would be getting out of my way and they would be looking at me and they would be saying: “Man, look at that guy climbing those stairs!” Because I’d be climbing those stairs so fast that people would be looking at me not looking outside the windows, they’d be taking pictures of me, not pictures of New York City!
When I made it to the top of those stairs I opened another set of doors and walked into the darkness. I stood there for a minute amidst all this dark and quiet when suddenly – KA-BAM! The lights came on from the stage down below and I could see now that I was in the back of a huge auditorium, I was standing behind hundreds of people who filled the seats in front of that stage. And then the horns of the band that stood to the back of the stage blared out – LIKE THE HORNS OF JERICHO! my mind screamed to me – and then those stage curtains parted and out came a colossal giant of a man and of course this was none other than B. B. KING! With a guitar like a blue lightning bolt hung to his hip, he came right out to the center of the stage, and he didn’t say a word, he simply lifted his hand and pointed his finger RIGHT-AT-ME!
And then he spoke, and I am sure he actually said something like “Yea, hi I am B.B. King” but that is not what I heard, no, what I heard as he was pointing RIGHT-AT-ME was THAT GUY – HE’S THE KING!
And the lights began flashing and the music was blaring and I was up on my own private stage, my hands in the air, my eyes to the heavens, shouting though no one could hear me: “Yes, I am the King!” YES I AM THE KING!
And so, how did this all end? Well, the first time you do coke, no one is standing around to tell you that what goes up eventually comes down – hard! I found that out for myself. Soon enough. The concert over, the encores completed, the people filing out the exit doors, I found my way down those stairs and back into the musician’s area behind the stage. I looked around but could not find Peter anywhere. I asked the one-armed manager who said Spellman had left after his bit hours ago. It never occurred to me that he might leave before B.B. King would play.
I was pissed. And my head was screaming. I found my guitar and walked the streets for almost an hour in this strange part of town until I found a bus that would take me back to my neighborhood. When I got home I swore I would have nothing to do with Peter. I purposefully missed my next lesson. Over the next several days my anger subsided though, and I decided if he wasn’t going to come apologize to me, I’d apologize to him. I missed him. I knocked on his door and his girlfriend answered. She looked at me surprised.
“What, you didn’t know?” she said.
“Know what?” I asked.
“He’s touring with B.B. King. Got hired after the show. Isn’t that great! This could finally be his break.”
I walked back upstairs to my apartment, not angry or disappointed. That is what Peter lived for. A break like that. I put my guitar away. In fact, I would never really play guitar again. I often thought back to that night when B.B. King told me to say I was with him. I wondered if he knew then that Peter was going to join his tour and that I was supposed to join them. Instead, I had gotten high and then I had moped for enough days to lose out on that chance.
But you know what, I was fine with all that. If I was going to set my hopes on something for myself, I needed to start now.
Jeffrey Flannery divides his time between Minneapolis, MN and Natchez MS. Short stories of his have appeared or will appear inThe Hopper, Dark Mountain Project, Ducts Journal, Deepwaters Literary Journal,Semaphore and other places. Jeffrey is passionate about storytelling and participates often at The Moth and other StorySLAM events. He is also determined to bring old guys back to comedy stages all along the Mississippi. So look for him there