The solace of Central Park


Keith-&-LesliKeith shook his head, ruing that there just seemed no getting away from Lesli. There was, though, his ace in the hole. His first distraction from problems was always music. Second choice, a good movie. When all else failed there was, right down the street, the solace of Central Park.

The sun would be up before long. In fact, the sky was already bluing. Druggies and muggers would be calling it a night, clearing out ahead of the morning police patrols.

Meanwhile, he stepped out into the hall and took in the New York Times and Newsday. Made coffee, looked over yesterday’s mail. Stopped dead. As if things weren’t bad enough, he had letter from Cousin Linda — from the return address she was still in prison.

He put that to the side. Butch and Sundance, woke up, sniffed the air and started prowling around, meowing for another meal. “Nothing doing, guys. Y’all just ate.” He looked at them looking pitiful, relented, and went to the cupboard for cat-snacks.

Keith forgot about going to the park. And came face to face with an ugly conclusion he’d really known was inevitable. Even if Lesli called, even if she came over out of the blue like last time and jumped his bones.

Crazy as he was about the woman, much as he wanted her, did he need someone in his life who’d twice, now, left him flat? And this time, she was carrying their child. No matter how well she explained herself, nothing short of her having wandered around this past week in a state of amnesia was going to hold water.

It was, he swore, time to move on past Lesli. Wasn’t going to be the least bit easy, but when all was said and done, yes, it had to be done. The realization didn’t do much for his mood or for his frame of mind. How, he wondered, could so much go right in the world — his career was on about fast a track as there was — and everything go wrong at the same time.

He gave up any idea of going to bed, where he would simply twist and turn, tormented by his thoughts, and went back to watching what was left of the game, the kittens curled up on either side, slipping off to sleep. Keith couldn’t figure what to do with himself and decided to go the park after all. If only to get out of the house.

A grey day. Drizzling. Not enough to need an umbrella. He tossed on a windbreaker and went out. A breeze was blowing and rain lightly sprayed his skin. He sighed. And strolled.

When he got to the entrance, the cops hadn’t yet come through. A few hookers were still hanging out, looking good — no slatternly down-and-outers in this neck of the woods.

A couple of them called after them as he passed. Comments like, “Hey, sexy!” and “Baby boy, don’t you want some of this?” He smiled and kept going. Looked back over his shoulder at one lady, a regular, who more than a few times had playfully propositioned him and resembled Linda. He winked. She grinned and winked back.

He went on into the park. And sat on a bench, watching the large pond. Ducks, geese, a few swans swam around snapping up bread and crackers a couple stood tossing in the water. Despite an overcast, the sun was starting to dry things out and warm things up.

Gradually, the park was waking. The birds had begun to get noisy, cabs and cars were coming through taking the shortcut back and forth across town. Pretty soon the place would fill up with people carrying out their plans for the day.

For that matter, the band had their own plans. Before going into the studio later in the week, there was a listening session this evening. So Helen, Sam and he could sort through what they’d recorded on the Long Island dates. There was plenty of music and it would take hours. Something of a pain, but on the bright side, they had come up with a general objective.

Capitalizing on “Let’s Fall in Love Tonight” from Helen already making noise, one of this album’s tracks was going to be a long, live version. In fact, outside the two studio cuts, everything else was going to be on that order. Performances that featured a lot of jamming and soloing.

It had come to characterize their gigs. Things hadn’t started out that way, just evolved.  Simply because, instead of merely backing up Helen and Sam, Keith’s role now was to have a presence. To him that translated into airing his chops for all they were worth — like any bluesman, which he was at heart.

This quickly rubbed off on Sam, who delighted in doing the same thing at the piano. Here and there Luis got in on the act, whipping up a tasty percussion solo. They had, by happenstance, formed the first Black jam-band of the modern era.


Next week: Keith looks after the necessaries.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.