Chapter 20: Cather Williams and the Silver-Tongued Gigalos

Cather was messing around on his piano when he heard his cell phone receive a text message. He reached for it and checked. It was from Dylan. It said this: “Want to hang out after work tonight?”

“I sure do!” Cather replied. “I suppose you’re on the floor?”

He wasn’t playing anything in particular, but was re-hashing some of the chord progressions he’d played in New Orleans. Another potential band mate was coming to his place in about an hour. So far he’d found a drummer he liked — who also had a house with a garage, a definite selling point — and had seen a couple bass players. The young man coming this afternoon was a guitarist who also sang. He said he had a few songs under his belt the he was willing to share. His influences were Nirvana, Coltrane, Trombone Shorty (a New Orleans native who had made good), and Pink Floyd, so it sounded like his musical tastes paralleled Cather’s pretty ably. Cather himself hadn’t written any songs with lyrics before, but thought a good nightclub opener was Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” and he planned on seeing how well the guitarist, whose name was Tom, would be able to ad lib it, as it wasn’t a particularly technically difficult song.

His phone pinged again:

“Yeah, I’m waiting tables tonight.”

Then, a few minutes later.

“Sorry I haven’t been in touch. Things are complicated, you know how it is. Anyways, see you in a few hours.”

“Okay, see you in a few. Hope you’re having a good day.”

He’d already decided on a name for the band, which the drummer also liked: “The Silver Tongued Giggalos.” Who could argue with a moniker so sexy?

It was kind of a terrifying thought, striking out from his cushy restaurant gig. He worked every Thursday through Sunday, the meatiest days for the concert-going public. He was paid $100 per night. He could imagine surviving on three nights a week that way, but any more would be a stretch, and might tempt the manager to look for someone more reliable. He supposed that he would see how things developed. He hoped Pyramid would be accommodating, allow him a night off a week, but, if the Giggalos turned out to be any good, he would certainly need more than that. Maybe he should also start looking into teaching. Wouldn’t pay as well, but would fit into a schedule easier. Suffice it to say he had a lot on his mind. Hearing from Dylan was a nice little bonus. Tomorrow he was scheduled to see a trumpet player. That might add a little something unique.

A little while later, right on time, he heard a knock at his front door. He got up and went to answer it. There was a medium-height white kid with brown hair waiting for him.

“Hi, Cather?” the boy asked.

“Yeah. You must be Tom.”

“Yes I must.”

Cather smiled. “Come on in. You brought your acoustic so I see.”

Tom raised up his guitar case and patted it.

“Don’t leave him without it.”

“Come on in. Sorry, my room’s kind of a mess.”

He led Tom through his ground floor apartment to his room and smoothed out the sheets on his bed so Tom could sit there.

“Don’t worry about playing too loud. This is the perfect time of day cause most of the rest of the house’s tenants aren’t here. We couldn’t get away with practicing here regular, but I’ve got a drummer I like in East Lake who has a garage. Do you have a car?”

“Yep.”

“He has a mini-van, so he can help me move my piano when the time comes. Yours isn’t a mini-van is it?”

“No, it’s a two-door.”

“Shame. Anyways, thanks for coming, I’m really excited about getting this project going. I like your influences. Have you ever performed before? I mean professionally?”

“I’m not sure what you mean by professionally but I’ve been playing in one way or another since the seventh grade. I’ve done a few gigs here and there, but I’ve never been part of a real band before.”

“Then you’ve come to the right place, I hope. I think. You can sit there on the bed.”

Tom sat down and opened his case and took out his acoustic. He started tuning it while Cather took out the sheet music to “Get Up, Stand Up.”

“You know this song?” Cather asked, handing it to him.

Tom looked at it: “Of course I recognize it, but I’ve never played it before.”

“It’s pretty easy. I thought it would be a good getting-to-know-you kind of exercise. I think it would be a good show opener too, if we want to get ahead of ourselves.”

“Okay, I see what you’re saying.”

Cather handed over a music stand for him to position the sheet music on. He watched Tom look over the material and strum the opening chords.

“Reggae rhythms are kind of difficult,” Tom said.

“You’re right, but we don’t have to go too fast. I hope I don’t sound arrogant or pretentious but I think I know what I’m looking for. I just want to see how you do.”

“I take it you know what you’re doing.”

“I’ve got a lot of performance work under my belt. I lived in New Orleans for a few years doing mostly jazz, but I grew up here in Oakland being taught classical. Now I think I like the idea of doing prog rock. The drummer that I’ve found agrees.”

“Prog rock. What, like Pink Floyd?”

“Yeah, King Crimson. Have you ever heard of Swans?”

“Nope.”

“Well, I recommend them. That’s the kind of stuff I like the most. Dark, edgy, with room to show off.”

“Okay, well, I hope I’m up to it.”

Tom strummed the opening chords a few times, tapping his foot. He leaned over his guitar and re-positioned it. Soon he was launching into the music itself. Cather joined in, and was pleased when Tom wasn’t thrown off. They kept rhythm together and before long, with few technical mishaps, had made it through all four pages of the song. At the end Tom threw in an extra few seconds of improvisation, but nothing too showy, that Cather appreciated.

“Hey, that wasn’t half bad,” he said.

“Thanks. It’s a good song. I’d never thought about playing it before.”

“You want to try something a little harder?”

“Sure.”

Cather went into his folder of sheet music and brought out another paper-clipped set of pages.

“The Killers, ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,’” Cather said.

“Oh, I like The Killers.”

“Tell me when you’re ready. You set a pace you think you can maintain and I’ll join in.”

Tom took some time to read through the first few chords, then started playing at about the same tempo as the song was performed on its album. Cather joined in with the most relevant backing chords, but also played the vocal melody. It didn’t sound half-bad. When they were done Cather was all but certain he’d found a new band mate. He told Tom this directly:

“You know, I think you’ve really got something,” he said. “Strong musical sensibility, if you ask me.”

“Thanks. I like playing with you too. Thanks for not pushing me.”

“Well, unless you have something else to do some time next week I’d love to welcome you to the Silver-Tongued Gigalos.”

Tom laughed. “I love the name,” he said.

“You don’t by any chance have any songs you’ve written yourself, do you?”

“Nope, never done that before.”

“Well we’ll see what we want to try out. Maybe we’ll just do covers at first, or even just jam out for a few minutes at a time. I’m good at that.”

Cather went into the little desk next to his piano and took out one of his business cards.

“My cell and e-mail are on here. I’m seeing a trumpet player tomorrow and I might want to see another bassist, but next week maybe we can start practicing, maybe twice a week at first, convenience permitting.”

“Works for me, brother. It’s been great to meet you.”

“Likewise. I’ll need help moving the piano but I think Jason, that’s the drummer, can help with that. We’ll practice at his garage.”

“Awesome, man. It’ll be great to get out, won’t it?”

“Yes it will, as long as nobody fucks it up.”

“God permitting, nobody will.”

With that Cather showed Tom the door, then went back to his piano and played a few celebratory passages that came from his sub-conscious. There was something adventurous about this pursuit. So far it had gone as well as he might have hoped.

He went back to practicing, then ate a late lunch and got ready for work. He wondered how things would go with Dylan. There was a quality about him that Cather couldn’t quite reconcile, as if his diffidence was a protective mechanism, though Cather was pretty sure he’d never been overtly demanding or threatening. Maybe he would find out tonight. He found, since coming back to the Bay Area, that the ability to go with the flow was an important one to possess; not to demand too much or expect more than the minimum. That way you would never be disappointed. It wasn’t a terrible philosophy to live by, and so far it had served him well. Now, with this band, he hoped, he wished, that he might reach new heights of gratification. He thought he had a shot. He was good at his instrument. Everybody said so. Of course you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, but it was a good thing to be excited about the future. How many adults could truly say that they were? And he supposed, being 22, he was technically that. When he left for work it was with a slight smile on his face.

His showing that night was as solid as it had ever been. His repertoire, mostly repeated but sometimes expanded upon since his hiring here three months ago, consisted of a bevy of relatively un-dramatic classical pieces one might consider “easy listening.” He’d learned most of them in high school, but it was in New Orleans where he found his voice, where he learned to improvise, to be part of a group, both colluding and competing with the other musicians on-stage for the purpose of together making a good song that the audience would enjoy and remember.

His mind was back in NOLA most of the night, a place chock full of performers of many stripes, but which didn’t treat them any more gratefully than any city you might find yourself in. There was a saying that it was as good to be a rich man in New York as a pauper in New Orleans, and Cather appreciated this sentiment, though he could not personally attest to the former experience.

He wondered at his group’s name. He thought he was the most technically skilled musician in the young, 4-person collective, but vacillated on whether to call the group “The Silver-Tongued Gigalos” or “Cather Williams and the Silver-Tongued Gigalos.” He thought the second sounded more graceful, for no reason he could articulate, but was he truly willing to assign himself the role of leadership so ham-handedly? Maybe he would ask the rest of them the first time they all met, which looked to be some time next week. He had been the one to instigate the whole thing, after all.

While he was playing he noticed Dylan gravitate towards him a few times, and the two of them even made eye-contact once. Cather felt a confrontation brewing. He was curious as to what form it would take.

He typically played two ninety minute sets. Finished with his first he approached the bar. Along with his pay he was entitled to a shift meal, which he usually took in the form of a medium-rare bacon cheddar cheeseburger. He ordered it and looked out at the rest of the restaurant. It wasn’t a bad place to spend an evening, if you had enough of the necessary dough, that is.

His burger arrived and he started to eat. He was about halfway through when someone sat down next to him. It was Dylan.

“Hey Cather. Great playing tonight.”

“Thanks.”

While Cather was facing the bar Dylan had sat down backwards, and leaned back and put one elbow on the counter right next to Cather’s right arm.

“You want to hang out tonight?” Dylan asked.

Cather took a drink of water.

“What was that?” he asked.

“I’m asking if you’re busy tonight.”

“I guess not. Why?”

“You want me to spell it out for you?”

“Well I haven’t heard from you in almost a month, so I guess so.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m an asshole.”

“What do you normally do with yourself after work?”

“Normally I go home, which is in the Mission.”

“You want me to go home with you?”

“That’s the crux of the matter.”

Cather sniggered. “I pride myself on my directness.”

“Okay, just think about it. I’d like to get to know you better.”

“What brought this about?”

“Or why didn’t it happen sooner?”

“If you like.”

“I can answer all those questions on the way. In short I was seeing someone else the last time we hooked up, and I don’t think I still am. Or maybe I’ll like you more, I don’t know.”

“The ladies love musicians, don’t they?”

“I ain’t no lady.”

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s true though, isn’t it?”

“Yes, your playing impresses me.”

“We can talk about it on the way, but the last couple weeks I’ve been working on putting a band together.”

“Wow, that’s awesome.”

“Yeah, so my regular gig here might be in jeopardy. Eventually. I’d be a fool to let this one go too easily.”

“What are you called?” Dylan asked, pivoting on the stool so he was no longer aimed backwards.

Cather thought for a moment. What did his sub-conscious think? How should he answer?

“Cather Williams and the Silver-Tongued Gigalos,” he said.

“Ha, I like it. Your idea?”

“Of course. It’s something I’m looking forward to working on.”

“That’s great. I’ll let you eat. Just find me once we’re closing, okay?”

“Okay. I’m glad we’re getting another trial run in.”

“So am I. Take it easy Mr. Silver-Tongued Gigalo.”

Cather smiled and nodded. Dylan left. A few minutes later Cather finished his meal and returned to the piano. He started with a J.S. Bach Partita, then continued with a Chopin Nocturne, and a slow, lyrical Satie song called “Gymnopedie.” He chewed up the time and before he knew it the restaurant was closing.

He ordered a bottle of Anchor Steam at the bar and sat by the front door, waiting for Dylan, who was finishing his side work. He supposed he didn’t need to go home tonight. Dylan had hurt his feelings a bit with giving him the cold shoulder after their first encounter. Maybe this was the beginning of something, who knows? His so far useful philosophy applied here as well: go with the flow. An over-abundance of judgmentalism or pride wouldn’t do, unless you were content with what you already had, or were willing to be unhappy. As for fresh conquests, you couldn’t get anything unless you were willing to risk something. Maybe he would find his philosophy validated with Dylan, even if after a month’s delay. There was only one way to find out.

He watched Dylan walk towards him, removing his tie as he did it.

“Ready?” Dylan asked.

“Yup,” Cather replied.

Dylan cast a glance over his shoulder, as if to see if anyone was watching. No one was. They left the restaurant together and walked down Kearny Street.

“BART’s a little faster than the bus,” Dylan said.

“If you say so.”

They arrived at the Montgomery Street station and descended down to it on an escalator. They both had Clipper cards, so neither of them needed to buy a ticket. Neither tried to speak to the other while they passed through the fair gates and took another escalator down to the platform. The next train arrived a few minutes later and they took it to 16th Street, where Dylan tapped Cather’s knee and gestured for them to offboard, which they did.

It was a cool winter’s night. Both of them were wearing jackets. The Mission wasn’t the safest neighborhood in the city, but had been experiencing a high degree of gentrification for some time now. Dylan led them to a Victorian on 17th and Folsom, where the two of them climbed the stairs to the front door, which Dylan unlocked and led them in. He hung his coat up on a rack next to the front door, and Cather followed his example.

“Nice house,” Cather said, and meant it. It was well-lit, warm, and had high ceilings.

“I live in the attic,” Dylan said.

“Must get hot in the summer.”

“It does.”

“You want some wine or something? I think I’ve got a bottle in the kitchen.”

“Sure, that sounds nice.”

They went into the kitchen, which shared a floor with the living room, where there were two roommates watching television. They looked over their shoulders at the approaching duo.

“Hey Dylan,” one of them, a young Mexican kid, said.

“Hey Marco,” Dylan replied. “This is my friend Cather. We work together.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Marco, turning forward again.

“You can sit there at the table,” Dylan said, gesturing towards one that was positioned at a window at the rear of the house.

Cather did as directed and watched his co-worker ferret a bottle of Yellowtail cabernet out of a cupboard and locate a pair of wine glasses. He poured for both of them, then came to the table and sat down across from Cather, handing him a glass.

Cather decided to watch him, as he didn’t know what to say. In the back of his mind lay the possibility that he would leave at some point, before the BART station closed. He wasn’t sure, for some reason, that coming here had been a good idea.

Voice lowered, he leaned forward and asked: “Do they know? Your roommates?”

“Know what?”

“You know, that you’re…” he raised his hand and made the wishy-washy gesture that, for people like him, held universal meaning.

“Of course they do. I’ve lived here for three years.”

“Hm. I guess I haven’t known it long enough myself to make a point of it.”

“It’s something to think about. You never know how someone might take it.”

“If it bothers anyone they’re not worth the time of day.”

“Still, it could be, kind of, a surprise.”

Cather leaned back and continued to watch.

“Have you ever been with a woman?” Dylan asked.

“I haven’t.”

“You’re younger than me.”

“I’m twenty-two.”

“I’m twenty-five. With years come experience.”

“And wisdom.”

“Well, not in my case.”

Cather laughed and took a few seconds to finish his wine.

“More?” Dylan asked, raising the bottle.

“Sure, why not?”

Dylan poured. When he was done Cather drank some more.

More silence spread between them. Perhaps Dylan was aware that his odd behavior had put himself at a disadvantage. Their eyes met once and Dylan saw that there was humor in Cather’s, but also wariness. Cather saw in Dylan’s that he believed this sentiment understandable.

“You want to come upstairs? For some privacy?” Dylan asked.

Cather looked uncertain.

“Just like that?” he said, and scratched an itch on the side of his face.

“Take it or leave it. It’s just an idea.”

Cather found himself wondering what he had come here for in the first place. If he left he probably would never be alone with Dylan again. He wasn’t sure if he wanted this or not.

He finished his second glass of wine. Dylan was looking at the surface of the kitchen table as if there were something to read there.

“Do they know at work?” Cather asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“They saw us leave together.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“No, I guess not. I wonder how my friends would react. Or my new bandmates.”

“The Silver-Tongued Gigalos.”

“No, Cather Williams and the Silver-Tongued Gigalos.”

“I don’t think you can be any kind of an artist if you don’t think you have the ego to believe that you’re something like that.”

“Would you know?”

“I took some drawing classes in college. So, no, I guess not.”

“You guess.”

“That’s right, I’m merely emulating impressions that I’ve overheard.”

“It’s true though. Even though I’ve got a job any pianist would kill for I’m thinking about tossing it in the trash just so I can be a starving artist on tour.”

“You want to be your own boss.”

“I want to be famous, ideally.”

“You think you’re good enough?”

“I think I’ve got a shot.”

Dylan leaned back and met Cather’s eyes again.

“Well then I guess you should take it.”

Cather smiled, and felt now less non-committal than he had a few minutes earlier.

The two of them maintained eye contact a few moments, then Dylan seemed to realize he was entering a staring contest and his gaze retreated to the safety of the distance on the table between his one hand stationed there and his glass of wine. He looked like he needed encouragement but didn’t know how to ask for it, or if he should. Over the course of the last several minutes it had become incontrovertible that Cather was the one that needed convincing, and, given how Dylan had hurt his feelings quite effectively since their last night-time encounter, Cather felt himself gratified that he was, in fact, gaining ground in a game that could last as long as he felt it should. Did he want to stay the night? The unspoken question.

He took another sip of wine, then leaned forward and, with a grin on his face, touched the one of Dylan’s hands that was resting on the table. In this way he made clear his decision. He was forgiving by nature, after all.

A little while later Dylan led him up the stairs to his attic room, which, even in the winter, was explosively hot. It became a night that the both of them would, for years hence, remember fondly.

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