Most Friday afternoons at 3:45 a small group of guitar players gets together with me at the library where I work. We set up some music stands and metal chairs and we gab, drink coffee, and eventually get around to playing through a handful of songs that have fairly easy chord progressions. The odd start time gives us an hour to meet and fifteen minutes to put things away and get the hell out of the building before the circulation staff puts their foot in our ass.
I had imagined this guitar program as a room full of audience-starved local jammers, maybe somebody would bring a violin to soar over the guitars, maybe a djembe or two for some rhythm. After sending out the promotional materials and announcing my “Guitar Club” on the library’s marquee for a month, the first meeting consisted of a very nice elderly patron with a broken mountain dulcimer and me. Since that meeting, the elderly patron respectfully signed off, but we’ve grown slowly into a little circle—two retired guys from town, Jim and Earle, a woman in early middle-age like myself named Annabeth who used to tune pianos professionally for famous musicians, and a sixtyish Swede we don’t know much about but who almost never skips a session.
No one wants to play a solo, and despite my unpolished attempts, only Earle will sing. Jim often can’t sit up entirely straight because of issues with his back, Earle gets mad at Jim for fucking around too much, especially when Jim’s back feels good enough, Annabeth gives Earle the stinkeye because he doesn’t keep the best time when he’s singing, and the Swede often comments that he does not like this sort of music too much. But every Friday at a quarter to five, the big Swede looks around the room and says flatly, “I will see you next week.”
They need each other. Or, rather, they need someone. This is pretty universal.
People need each other. We walk around the world, sometimes wearing a jaunty hat, or with cool sunglasses hiding our vulnerability, looking like a badass, like we buy our clothes somewhere cooler than here. But most of us are balancing on a needlepoint, desperate for hands, loving or otherwise, to catch us. We need each other.
Early and late in life our needs make great demands. I suppose someone else wiping your ass represents the quintessence of need. These are phases we try to grow beyond and then avoid. We call annoying people “needy.” We place a high value on independence. We laugh at the local showing of Albert Camus’ play, No Exit, where Hell turns out to be the unavoidable company of others. Because others can be wondrously annoying. Because of our big mouths and little ears and our shrill mid-western accents and our terrible fear that some sort of fun will stain the upholstery, but in the end, and hopefully before then, we need each other. Studies and simple observation show that loneliness crushes us physically and emotionally. We roll our eyes at someone’s third or fourth or fifth marriage, but most single people are “looking for someone.” We’re at our best, anyway, when we’re dinged up enough to need and recognize the stunning and unmet need around us. Shared experience survives itself and the world can eat you faster on your own. You can’t wait for yourself at the hospital. Everybody wants to be with the band.
And so our little guitar group keeps getting out the chairs and stands. We play “Ramblin’ Man,” and we tell Earle how his singing was great. He looks at the floor and makes a disgusted sound in his throat and adjusts his smoked glasses and says something about his allergies. Annabeth shrugs in possible disagreement with our assessment of Earle’s singing and plays a fingerpicking piece she’s been working on with her instructor. She and Earle, incidentally, have the only visible tattoos in the group. Earle’s is from his time in the service and I’m afraid to look directly at Annabeth’s. We tell her she sounds amazing, that she’ll be better than the rest of us in weeks even though she’s just recently switched from piano to guitar. She looks grumpy and tells us it sounds a lot better at home. Jim, bent over in his seat but grinning, cracks a stupid sexualized joke and no one seems to mind.
Crammed between the conference table and the audio-visual equipment, our little group launches into “This Sporting Life,” a blues song about the dangers of living too hard that we play at the end of each session. No one solos or looks up from their song sheet. Everyone comes back next week.
The need of lovers in the digital age drives “Text + Body,” Anthony Isaac Bradley’s fine poem. Bradley shows off a strong sense of the line while his speaker sifts through images to unexpected personal epiphany. The poem deepens another satisfying layer in the long, sinewy, last sentence.
Robert Earle’s flash piece, “Phone Call Goodbye,” is a deeply moving homage to life-long friendship. Robert piqued our interest in his story by referring to its unusual dramatic context—and he delivered. Within that context his bold, terse sentences support and dignify the weight of emotional impact.
The young protagonist of this week’s story, “Pythie’s Tale,” by Hilary Holladay, isn’t used to needing anyone. As her tough exterior is strangely pierced, Pythie grows into a truly memorable coming-of-age character. Holladay skillfully builds tension, the story’s lack of resolution mirroring the often unmoored searching of our late teen years.
Photo by Harlan Harris