Tuesday, March 29, 2005

sometimes this city finds a way to make me love it

Last night. 9pm. MP's living room. "You want to go listen to some blues?" I was wearing my official unemployment uniform: jeans, tank, sandals, pleather jacket, ponytail, not a stitch of makeup. Lyle Lovett was crooning on the stereo. "Hmm....live?" "Yeah. It's like an open mic night. People just get up and play together on stage." "I'm in......I'll give you 10 bucks to get up there and sing." "No deal."
So there we are in MP's Jeep cruising down the 10 Fwy blasting the country and singing along. She exits and heads south. south. south. "My god woman! Haven't you seen Boyz 'N the Hood?!?" We parked on Crenshaw and 43rd. The country music was still blaring when she cut the engine.
After walking around the block looking up at all the numbers on the buildings, we finally find our destination. Music spills out onto the street. We step inside a small dark room - there's a blue spangled curtain in the corner marking the stage. Round tables. Hushed voices. A red candle on each of the tables illuminates faces in the crowd. They offer white zinfandel in a tiny bottle - an individual serving of wine - I order two.
First of all, I must say the music is amazing. I cannot believe that this is open mic. Musicians step up on stage, shake each other's hands, call out a key and just play. After about 20 minutes, an entirely new set of strangers takes the stage and they make it up as they go along. drum. bass. lead guitar. sax. harmonica. mandolin. the vocalists are amazing.
Soon, an elderly couple stands and the entire first row of tables is moved back to allow room for them to dance. They are hunched over, barely able to shake their hips, but they have a practiced routine. From the looks of it, these two have been dancing together for at least 50 years. His hands are shaking, but he holds her as tight as he can. It is so beautiful.
Then all of a sudden, the house lights go on and MP is snatched up from her chair and pushed over to a long table in the corner. I didn't know what was happening as it seemed like the entire room stood up and ran over to that corner at the same time. When I caught a glimpse of MP, she was laughing with the sax player and carrying a big ol' plate of something. My god, food! I shit you not. Everybody in the whole damn place got in line for a family style meal at 11:30pm. For FREE. Well, there was an $8 cover at the door, but I assumed that was for the live blues.
green beans. collard greens. blackeyed peas. potato salad. fried cornbread. bbq sausage and fried chicken. I tried to just get some cornbread and potato salad, but a large man grabbed my plate from me. He pointed to the blackeyed peas. I shook my head. He sort of pushed me into the peas. I muttered, "Yes, sir." He smiled. By the time I sat down, I had blackeyed peas, collard greens, potato salad, cornbread and a piece of fried chicken on my plate. Damn, those peas were good. seriously.
After the meal is done and the lights go back down, there is an introduction from the stage. "Everybody put your hands together for Miss Mickey!" The crowd goes wild. She must be a regular. The music starts. I see no Miss Mickey. After a few bars, this voice comes booming out from behind the bar. Miss Mickey is about 85 years old. She is a short stocky woman wearing an oversized red sweatshirt with the word FLIRT embroidered on it. She has two teeth and one powerful set of lungs. This woman needs no microphone. And she is unbelievably talented. The kind of blues vocals that makes you want to close your eyes and hum along. Her version of "At Last" was stunning. Miss Mickey has one of the best singing voices I have heard in a very long time. I asked a regular at the next table about her. She gave me her full name so I looked her up when I got home - "...discovered in Los Angeles by the great bandleader Johnny Otis and went on to work with such performers as T-Bone Walker, Little Esther Phillips, Roy Milton, Billy Holliday, and many more." My god. The owner of the club shook each and every one of our hands as we exited. The man who force-fed me blackeyed peas called out to us, "Y'all come back now. We'll look for you next time."

Sometimes this city finds a way to make me love it. It's true. I love LA today.



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