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The International Writers Magazine:Life Lessons

Sour Notes
John Kujawski 
My friend Anna said she could bring out the worst in me.  I knew that wasn’t possible because she’d never seen my bad side. Besides, in order to bring out the worst in me, she’d have to get inside my head and I knew she couldn’t do that.  Her roommate might have been able to because I liked her but she wasn’t around much. At that time in my life, I was more influenced by music than the words of everyday people and I knew that songs were a powerful way to take in another persons life experiences. 

sour notes

When I wasn’t carrying my guitar around the college campus, I was usually headed off to hear someone else play.  Going to school in Seattle wasn’t bad but a lot of students, Anna included, used to sit around the cafeteria and talk about their classes.  I wasn’t interested in any of that stuff.  I had music. 

One Monday afternoon I found a place that I actually liked.  It was an old music store that was about a twenty minute walk from campus. It was a big brick building with plenty to look, mainly instruments and sheet music. The place was pretty much one big, brown colored room but there was one small room in the back of the place that was off on its own.  I walked back through the shop and some guy was sitting in that room playing his saxophone.  I was hooked within minutes as I sat outside the room listening.

Whatever he was playing, it was certainly different.  It was complicated, like jazz music, but very odd sounding with a lot of odd lower notes.  There was a certain bitterness to the sound that gave it quite an edge and he was an evil looking guy to top it all off.  This man was large to say the least and had  a tattoo of a snake on his arm. He had long hair and it looked like he had even died it black.  He actually reminded me a bit of my favorite professional wrestler, The Undertaker. 

This musician did not even acknowledge me.  He had to have known I was watching him because I was right on the other side of the glass window but he never even looked at me.  I was only able to listen to him for about ten minutes.  That factor was kind of frustrating but I had to head back to class.

 When I walked out of the building there were three fat rats on the sidewalk running beside the store but I wasn’t bothered by that.  I figured sewer animals had a right to enjoy music, too and a lot of underground music tends to bring out all sorts of characters.

Class that day however, was excruciating.  I sat through my Communications course and I was bored senseless.  I had all that saxophone music playing in my head while the professor was lecturing and when the lesson finally ended, my head ached and I just wanted to walk off somewhere to throw up. 

I was in a really bad mood but I wasn’t sure why.  I walked down by the cafeteria and there was a display case set up with the school paper in it.  I just  started kicking at the thing and I knocked the papers all over the floor.  I think a few people saw me but I didn’t care. I think I was just irritated that I wanted to hear more saxophone music and I was stuck on the damn college campus.    I just wanted to go back to the music store, which I did a week later, and this time the guy had CDs. 

I actually picked up two CDs after avoiding the rats that were still running around outside. Inside, the guy was playing his saxophone again, still not paying attention to me, but he had a pile of CD’s near his carrying case and I grabbed two of them.  

I picked one of them up for this guy named Al who worked at the campus store.  He was an older guy and collected rare records.  I dropped the thing off for him at the counter in an envelope but I never heard if he liked it or not.  Within three days after I left him the disc, he was fired.

There were plenty of rumors as to why Al was canned.  I was a little stunned by the news because it seemed like Al was doing so well on his work release program and didn’t want to spend his life behind bars. 

I was told that the main reason was that he beat the hell out of some guy just outside of the campus.  It wasn’t just a standard beating, though.  It was a brutal assault that nearly ended his victims life.  In addition, money was coming up missing from the cash register and I guess people were pointing fingers at him.  The other problem was that rats were starting to get in the building but Al never reported it.  I felt bad about it, but not as bad as I felt when I realized my copy of that music recording was a defect. 

The damn disc was scratched.  I tried playing it in my dorm room and I couldn’t listen to a single track.  I was so frustrated that I could be so influenced by someones music and I didn’t even have a disc of it.

 I found my pocket knife on the floor, the one my Grandfather sent me for my birthday.  All I could think about was how much I’d like to use that thing to keep people from getting in my way.  It was a pain, going from class to class at school as it was but the city streets were an even bigger annoyance.  I had a feeling that if I started pulling that thing out, people would clear a path for me.  I just left my knife on the floor and walked out of the dorms, though.

I ended up walking across the campus in a foul mood.  Anna tried to stop me to chat but I told her to get lost.  I tore down the street and headed back to the music store. 

Every person I saw on the walk just irritated me and the people I encountered just seemed plain ugly.  I thought of Al who was off sitting in jail somewhere and the way I was feeling, I could have ended up there as well.  Every car horn I heard was an annoyance, distracting me from the music in my head.  Every sign on the streets was just something telling me to go somewhere I didn’t want to go.  I just wanted to tear them all down.  Finally, I got to the store. 

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that there were no rats near the building.  I probably shouldn’t  have been surprised that the saxophone player wasn’t inside the place when I got there. I was told by the manager that the guy was headed back to prison and probably wouldn’t be out anytime soon.  The only belonging they had of his was a notebook. 

I was surprised that the manager let me see the thing.  It was an illustrated journal, with graphic pictures of snakes eating rats.  It was a unique drawing of the snake and looked quite a bit like the tattoo I had seen on his arm.

 There were plenty of violent pictures as well.  Pictures that were sketched of some maniac killing his victims with a hammer.  It was brutal, vivid, artwork as if every murder scene had been drawn to look as vivid as possible. 

The notebook ended with  ended with a few hand written music compositions that were most likely the pieces I was listening to in the store.  This was a life experience, all laid out in front of me, the bitter and horrific stories he had expressed through his music.

I never listened to the saxophone player again and maybe it’s a good thing.  I don’t have much of his music in my head anymore either but I did the day I read the journal.  When I was walking home, some idiot bumped into me.  I know in my heart if I had my knife on me I would have stabbed the person to death, all with the sound of music in my head. 

© John Kujawski October 2011
John has interests that range from guitars to the Incredible Hulk. You can find some of his other stories on websites such as Flashes in the Dark and The Fringe Magazine.  He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri and still lives there to this day. 

John Kujawski

Mira used to draw pictures of the devil.  When she wasn’t making sketches involving her vision of satan, she would  draw monsters and witches or vivd scenes of flesh eating zombies.  Mira wasn’t afraid of her creations and she wasn’t afraid of me.

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