Sadie chewed her piece of pizza and spit each olive into a paper napkin. There was no one at the table to call her on her bad manners, and she had always hated olives, but the Italian
pizza ensemble had come with them as the fourth topping in a combination she couldn't possibly refuse. Sadie wondered why she was bothering to eat 'New York style' pizza on the West Coast. It could be attributed to nostalgia. But she didn't miss anything. She never had.
The setting sun was leaving everything cold, and she shivered in her tank top. It was so white she was sure it reflected the neon. There were plenty of colors to make the shirt into a mosaic
. They dyed her in fluorescence as evening brought out the lights.
Her napkin was filling with olives and she had nowhere to hide them. She wanted to seem like she was wiping her mouth after each bite, unable to bear the thought of looking sloppy in front of a crowd. There was a garbage bin a few feet away that could serve as a catch for her unwanted olives. It had a pile of metal pizza plates on top of it, clean of crumbs.
As Sadie stood up, napkin in hand, prepared to make a dash for the trash, her still-sunglassed eyes fell on the form of an Asian boy in a leather jacket carrying a guitar. He had on black boots and a frown that spoke volumes. His black hair was cut short, dancing on its own, without bangs.
Part of Sadie wished she could rush out of the restaurant's courtyard, flag him down, and feel the buzz in his hair. There was something frigid and fresh about him that only Asian boys in leather could muster. He was a prize, and the fact that he was probably banging some bimbo from the Westside
killed the rest of her appetite.
Rae hitched his guitar further up on his shoulder and prepared to cross the street, hoping no one would mistake him for a street performer
looking for luck. He would never stand for being of the same ilk as those folkies down the street whose entire repertoire consisted of two chords and a series of 'la's. He often wondered if sucky musicians were totally oblivious to sucking or were aware of their suckage and played anyway. Being objective to his own work was a skill he was always grateful for.
The walk signal brightened beside a neon
display of seconds that counted down from fifteen. Rae walked, entirely too aware that people were staring at his instrument like it was a bullseye
target on his back. He suddenly wished he had left it at home despite his plan to practice in the beachside park under the palm trees
. Everyone knew you could get away with being a shitty guitar player and still get dates on the musician angle alone. Rae pulled his jacket more tightly around him and headed for the curb. Six... five... four...
Someone in front of Rae saw the dwindling neon numbers and stopped before crossing. He was close as Rae reached the curb. Their shoulders brushed as Rae passed by, and an afterimage
flickered in his mind: a boy wearing a long white coat, staring straight ahead, eyes fixed on something beautiful
Rae wondered what the beautiful thing was for about three seconds before deciding it was probably some girl with the guts to wear a skimpy outfit. He was immediately filled with resentment. He wanted someone to stare at him the way that boy had been staring – not at the guitar as if it were a strange growth on his back, but definitively, at the shape of his face.
Rae almost backpedaled to try and run into the boy in the white coat again, but the street was behind him and seemed as depthless as the sea and he couldn't get his legs to move. Rae passed a pizza place on his left, hitched the guitar further up on his shoulder, and kept moving forward. At the crosswalk, the boy in the white coat still waited.
Laurent could hear them before he could see them. The street players often had battery-powered amplifiers to broadcast their mediocre versions of entertainment to the milling multitudes. It had become somewhat of a guessing game to gage the person's size and sex, although a few blocks back, one he had been sure was a girl turned out to be an old man playing the violin
with a Coke
bottle. It was a healthy distraction from the hordes of coolites judging his jacket – ‘coolite’ being a term he had created for anyone convinced that coolness was something tangible, and that they were wearing it.
Wafts of acoustic folk were finding their way to him from the other side of the boulevard. A pleasant female vocal wavered nervously above the chords. Laurent almost wanted her to project more triumphantly to drown out the awful crooning of the boyband wannabe behind him.
He reached the curb just as the lighted numbers were completing their countdown. Crap luck. Laurent craned his neck to catch sight of the mystery singer, accidentally bumping someone’s shoulder in the process. Laurent tried not to imagine their inevitable annoyance, focusing instead on the girl playing guitar across the street, who was finally in view.
She wore a brown sweater and jeans, and despite the obvious lack of listeners, continued to play her songs to the air. She had a sweet, unassuming style, and for this reason was impossible to dislike. Laurent was suddenly seized with guilt. The personal pride of this girl was gold, and he was walking around judging others' music as if he had the gall to do any better. If he were to trade places with the girl, he'd probably curl up on the pavement and cry. The contrast almost made him laugh out loud in admiration.
The walk signal flashed, and Laurent shook his head, amazed and disgusted with himself.
Julie allowed the guitar to hang on its strap for a moment as she reached down to grab a bottle of water. She screwed the cap off and looked around. Her open guitar case was empty; no one had even bothered to approach her in these thirty minutes. She wondered if maybe she had chosen to wore something sexier, she might be twenty dollars richer by now.
She downed a few sips of water, wiped the condensation on her jeans
, and prepared to begin playing again. It was a song that had taken her a week and a lot of emotional energy to write. Her acoustic didn't do it justice: in her head there were strings, horns, and an organ
She started to sing. Julie knew all these people saw her as plain. Just another folk singer dressed up to get ditched. Just another street musician with time to waste on tourists. Her voice began to crack until she imagined trading her brown for something in color.
Something like the reflective white that the girl across the street was wearing. There was neon everywhere now, and instead of standing out of it, like Julie felt herself doing, the girl in white absorbed each shade into her shirt and broadcasted the result to everyone who walked by. Julie felt pangs of jealousy with every chord she strummed.
The girl in neon was getting up now, heading quickly for something on the other side of the courtyard. Julie stopped paying attention and concentrated on her song, dying for the kind of flashy attitude
that drove that girl to her desire.