Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Winter 1987 – Spring 1988
"I’m sorry, Miss," the cashier at The Gap in Briarwood Mall said. "You can’t bring that in here."
"But it’s just a guitar case," Dayna protested. "It’s full of guitar."
"It probably would be all right," the cashier shook her head, "but it’s against policy."
"Oh, all right," the tall, brunette teenager with the guitar in the gig bag slung over her shoulder said. "How about if I leave it here with you?"
"There really isn’t room behind the counter," the twentyish woman cashier replied, "and I wouldn’t want to take the responsibility if it came up missing."
"All right, another time," Dayna sighed. "I was just looking to kill some time, anyway."
"I’m sorry, Miss," the woman said. "That’s just the way it is."
"Oh, no problem," Dayna smiled as she turned to leave. It was just as well; she didn’t have much money on her anyway, certainly not for jeans as expensive as they were in this place, but it would have been fun to look.
Darn, this was going to be dull. With her car in the shop, she’d had to juggle things to get where she had to go today. Her mother had dropped her at the mall in Hawthorne while she’d been on her way grocery shopping; Tina and Bill were going to meet her here at four. She’d figured she could waste a couple of hours in stores just looking at stuff before her friends came to pick her up; the plan was to sit around Tina’s house here in Hawthorne and do some practice for their group, not that they’d probably do a lot of practice, but it meant that she had to bring her guitar.
The guitar wasn’t proving too welcome in the various stores she wanted to go into; it was obvious why: a bag that big would be handy for shoplifting. So, there was nothing to do but kill time. This deal with Tina and Bill wasn’t working out very well, anyway. Bill thought he could play the guitar and Tina thought she could sing; Dayna thought she was better than either of them at both playing and singing, but it was fun to get together with others and practice a little. Maybe someday they might even play a gig somewhere – that would be exciting.
With the guitar still slung over her shoulder, she worked her way back down to the fountain in the Saturday-afternoon-crowded Mall. Two hours to kill, anyway. Bummer.
She sat down on the low brick wall surrounding the fountain and just watched people pass by for a few minutes. It was busy and there was a steady stream of people, but all too quickly it got boring.
As long as I’m just sitting here, she thought, I might just as well get some practice in. It was not the dumbest idea that could have crossed her mind; she spent a lot of time with her guitar. It was a cheap one, a First Act that she’d been given several years before for Christmas. She’d never had any formal lessons with it but, over the years she’d run across people here and there who could teach her bits about it. She had a good ear for music; if she could pick out the lyrics, she usually only had to run through something two or three times to make it sound halfway decent. Some kids talked on the telephone if they had time to kill, or played video games, or watched TV; her idea of fun was to go up to her room, turn on the radio, and play along. She’d never counted, but there were at least a couple hundred songs she could play, and maybe a quarter of them she could play well.
She unzipped the olive-drab gig bag and lifted the six-string acoustic out, leaving the guitar case open at her feet. It really wasn’t that good of a guitar, and it was starting to show the wear she’d put on it. She usually had to stop and tune between every song, since it wouldn’t hold its tune well. As she tuned it and warmed up a little, once again the thought crossed her mind that sometime, maybe this summer, she was going to have to get a job and earn some money for a better instrument. Something like working at Micky-D’s – oh, that would be a bummer! The days of high school were dragging to a close; six more months and she’d graduate from Bradford High. The plan was to head off to college, probably Central Michigan, although that wasn’t settled yet, and all too damn soon she was going to have to be working for a living.
Somehow, the thought made a song come to mind. Satisfied with the tune, she played through the lead, and began to sing,
"Left a good job in the city, workin’ for the man every night and day
But I never got one minute of sleep until I hitched a ride on a riverboat queen . . . "
Proud Mary was a song that required more than a little energy to do right, and she worked on it a little, paying attention to her music, not all those people around her. No way could she do that song like Tina Turner, but it was fun, anyway, and better than that junk Bill thought he could play.
"Hey, you’re pretty good with that," she heard a woman say from not far off. She looked up to discover that there were four or five people standing there watching her.
"Well, thanks," she smiled back. "I just had a little time to kill and thought I’d practice a bit. Would you like to hear something else?"
"Sure," the woman said. "Maybe something a little different?"
"Well, sure," Dayna grinned. She leaned her head back for an instant, then picked out a lead and began to sing,
"What do you get when you fall in love?
You get enough germs to catch pneumonia,
And when you do, he’ll never phone ya,
I’ll never fall in love again . . . "
The old Karen Carpenter piece was light and airy, with a good beat, and while Dayna never thought of herself as having anything like Karen Carpenter’s voice, she had a pretty good one, with good diction and phrasing. A couple of times she glanced up to see that she had some smiles at the old chestnut, right down to the last line,
"And so at least, until tomorrow,
I’ll never fall in love again."
Much to her surprise, she was greeted with applause – nothing earth shattering, but a nice gesture from the people gathered around her, a dozen or more, now. "Thank you," she said, then threw in a wisecrack, "You don’t have to applaud, just throw money. Would anyone like to hear something else?"
"Sure . . . go for it," came from the impromptu audience.
"Good enough," she grinned, then started another lead and began to sing,
"All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day . . . "
Dayna had been brought up on California Dreamin’, had heard it on her dad’s LPs from when she’d been just a little kid. Anyone who ever heard Cass Elliott sing knew that it wasn’t a song for nice and easy; it took some power to carry the natural sarcasm the song carried. She had to concentrate on what she was doing, and she barely noticed the woman who had first encouraged her step forward and drop something in her open gig bag. An instant later, a man from the other side of the group tossed something in there, a bill of some kind!
She followed that with Cold Cold Heart. It was actually a Hank Williams piece she’d picked up from one of her mother’s albums. It was old-time country-western, which she really didn’t care for much, so she’d worked up a blues arrangement of it. That drew more applause, and so did Downtown – that actually set a middle-aged couple to dancing! Some guy took off his hat, threw a bill into it, and started to pass it around the crowd as she sang – in a couple minutes, it had made the rounds of the group, then he stepped forward and dumped the contents in her gig bag as the song was ending. She stood up, and holding the guitar in one hand, gave him a one armed hug and a peck on the cheek, to more applause! "Thanks, everybody!" she said, truly amazed at the response. This, after mostly playing to her empty room for so long! "You want to hear more?"
The applause of two or three dozen people gave her all the response she needed. "OK, I’m going to rest my voice for a minute," she said as she sat back down, and began to pick away at Walk Don’t Run. In the next hour or so, she did another eight songs, alternating fast and slow, while money was accumulating in her gig bag. This was fun!
She was just winding up with American Pie, the short version, and had the crowd – and now it was a crowd, fifty people or more – singing along with the chorus. Again, she got good applause, and someone else started to pass a hat, when a man in a business suit came up and said, "Miss, can I have a word with you?"
"Sure," she smiled. The last hour or so had been such an upper it was hard to believe!
"Miss, I’m the mall manager," he said. "I was coming over to tell you that I’d really rather you don’t play here."
"I’m sorry," she said, "I was just bored and thought I’d practice a little, and people just started giving me money. I don’t believe it."
"I know," he smiled. "Miss, people come to a mall to shop, but I was standing out there watching you do American Pie and it struck me that they’ll buy more if they’re in a good mood." He let out a sigh. "Look, we bring in people sometimes to make things a little more fun around here. I can’t have just everybody and their brother coming in with a guitar and sitting down. But you . . . well, you’re good, and if you’ll stop by the office and ask permission in the future, I’ll make sure you get it as long as you can put on a good show. If anyone asks, they need my permission, and maybe that’ll keep every Tom, Dick, and Harry from taking after you."
"Sure thing, sir," she said with a big grin on her face. "How about next Saturday afternoon?"
"Fine with me," he grinned. "If you like, I’ll even put it on our schedule. What’s your name?"
"Dayna," she said. "Dayna Berkshire."
"All right, Dayna," he laughed. "You’re on the schedule from one to four next Saturday, right here. Just keep it clean, there’s a lot of kids around at this time."
"Sure, no problem," she smiled. "If my dad caught me doing something dirty in public, he’d kill me anyway."
"Then you understand. Tell me, do you know Sounds of Silence?"
"No, I’m afraid I don’t," she shook her head and smiled, "but I will next Saturday afternoon."
"Good deal," he smiled. "Look, one other thing. We don’t want the crowd to get too big. Take a break every half hour or so and let people drift off, or I’ll have some store managers complaining that you’re attracting too much attention."
* * *
She took a good break – she needed it – and talked with some of the people who had been hanging around, then played for about another half hour. By then, it was past the time that Bill and Tina were supposed to come for her, so she thanked the crowd that had gathered, made a pitch for donations, then said she had to wrap it up, played one final song, and began to pack up. She knew from a song that she shouldn’t "count her money while she was sittin’ at the table," so she just gathered up the loose assortment of bills and change in the gig bag, stuffed it into one of the bag’s pockets, and called it good enough. And it was plenty good – there were at least a couple twenties in there!
Shortly afterward, Bill and Tina showed up. "Sorry we kept you waiting," he said. "You about ready to go?"
"Whenever you are," she smiled.
"Tell you what," he said, obviously feeling uncomfortable. "We’ll buy you a Coke."
"Works for me," she grinned, feeling good about the afternoon and anxious to pass on her news.
They went over to a nearby food stand, got Cokes, and sat down at a table. "Look, Dayna," he said. "Tina and I have talked it over, and I feel like we need to tell you up front. I don’t want to say that you’re a fifth wheel, but we’re not playing the same things, and we’ve decided that it should just be her and me."
"Three’s a crowd," Dayna nodded. "I understand." The news came as a relief – she’d already been thinking that when Bill and Tina found out what she was going to be doing on Saturday afternoons that they’d want a piece of the action, and she didn’t think it would go over nearly as well.
"Don’t think I’m jealous, or anything," Tina frowned. "But, well, uh . . . "
"You want to be sure," Dayna smiled. "Look, no problem, so long as you can drive me home this afternoon. I agree, we’re pulling in different directions, maybe it’ll work better that way."
Not long afterward, Dayna was climbing the stairs to her room back in Bradford, carrying the guitar. She set the gig bag down on the bed, opened the pocket where she’d stuffed the money, pulled it out, and began to count it with increasing amazement. By the time she got done counting the change, she realized that her first "hat" – although she wouldn’t know the term for a while – came to $127.35 for a little over two hours of playing some of her favorite songs! Hell, she’d just sat down there for the practice, and the applause by itself would have made it worthwhile!
She sat there and looked at the pile of bills and change on her bed, while an interesting series of thoughts went through her mind: Vicky Varney worked twenty hours a week busting suds at the Chicago Inn out by the overpass, and didn’t make that much in a week! For that matter, Emily Jones worked at the Spee-D-Mart for about those same hours and didn’t make that kind of money in a week, either. Already she could see things she could have done better, to get more money out of the crowd. You know, she thought in an epiphany that changed her life, this beats the hell out of working . . .
* * *
Not every Saturday went that well over the next couple months – the next weekend was a downer, she only had $78.45 at the end of the day – but several went better. As Christmas neared, Mr. Fredenberg approached her one afternoon and asked if she’d like to do a kiddie Christmas show for about twenty minutes once an hour on Saturday mornings. He said he’d make it worth her while, especially if she agreed to be one of Santa’s elves the rest of the time. That threw an extra fifty bucks into Saturday mornings, and a good price on a new, really good Gibson on layaway at the mall’s music store meant a better guitar in the near future.
Being an elf got her mother off her back a bit – there had been some hints that she should be getting a real job, and that sort of counted. Her parents were, of course, aware of the fact that she was kind of a street musician at the mall on Saturday afternoons. They even thought she was making pretty fair money for fooling around, but it wasn’t like it was a real job, and there were college expenses looming out there.
Word of what was going on got around school, of course, and some of the kids thought it was pretty cool. She’d occasionally see kids she knew from school in the crowd, but as far as she could tell she got very little money from them, if any at all – she wasn’t anyone special, she was just Dayna. She was not a popular kid in class, nor was she one of the unpopular ones; she was just sort of there, and snuck under a lot of people’s radars in Bradford High School. She was not a stellar student, either – just good solid B’s, well behind standouts like the minister’s daughter, Jennlynn Swift, who was obviously going to be the valedictorian of the class of ’88 and was already headed for Caltech. Ironically, she got along about as well with Jennlynn as she did with anyone, at least partly because neither were "popular" girls much interested in the feminine pecking order or trying to score on boys; they both could see that there were better prospects up the road and out of Bradford.
Just before the Christmas break, she and Jennlynn were sitting by themselves in the school cafeteria, talking about general things. "Have you figured out where you’re going to college?" Jennlynn asked.
"Central, I guess," Dayna admitted. "I sure haven’t figured out what I want to study, though, like you have." She already knew that Jennlynn wanted to get into electrical engineering, computer chip design, and other high-level, high-buck work.
"I figured you’d want to get into music," the tall, dark-haired student smiled.
"I really can’t," Dayna said. "I don’t know any of the theory; I don’t play a conventional band instrument and was never in band, anyway. I don’t read music well. I can figure it out, but not real time while I’m playing."
"You’re a natural," Jennlynn shook her head. "I caught you down at the mall Saturday, and it sure seemed like you were having fun."
"Oh, I was," Dayna admitted. "And I can’t complain about the money, but it just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing I can do for a lifetime. But, you know, I’ve been thinking that there are other places I can play besides the mall. Festivals, and like that."
"Here’s something you ought to look into," Jennlynn told her. "Last summer, my folks and I went up to Kalamazoo and the Maple Leaf Renaissance Faire. They had a number of street musicians up there, buskers they call them. It’s all period music, but it looks like the sort of thing you could pick up."
"I’ll have to give that some thought," Dayna nodded. "I don’t see how I could make a life out of being a street musician, but if it puts some money in my pocket while I’m getting through college, it beats frying burgers."
"You’ve got that right," Jennlynn nodded. "I’d hate wasting time on junk jobs like the Spee-D-Mart. If I can get through this summer, I hope to get a halfway decent internship in another year, but it’s not going to be the fun of getting out, making music and making people happy. I sure wish I had your talent for it. I can’t even play the radio."
"Yeah, but you’re talented in so many other ways," Dayna shook her head. "I just wish I had your brains."
"To each his talents," Jennlynn shook her head, obviously quoting the Bible. "I guess it’s how you make use of them. But you can’t call anything just good enough; you have to keep improving."
"Yeah, that’s true," Dayna said. "I just wish I knew someone who knows how to do this stuff. I can see there’s things I could do better, but I don’t know how to do it."
"Maybe someone will turn up," Jennlynn shrugged. "If all else fails, head up to the renfaire next summer and corner some of those people."
"Good thought," Dayna nodded.
* * *
Dayna was still thinking about it the following Saturday afternoon. She’d headed into the rest room and changed out of her elf outfit into something more comfortable, and she was at her regular perch on the wall by the fountain singing. The place was busy, and people were intent on Christmas shopping; she wasn’t drawing crowds like she liked, and when she did it was difficult to ask for money. She knew there had to be a better way to go about this.
But she wasn’t doing bad for the afternoon, all in all. While she tended to stay with popular oldies for most of her performances, since a lot of people knew them, she liked to throw some more obscure songs, even original material into her act. Just then, she was doing Empty Cat Blues. The main lyrics were almost a rap, talking about coming home after a hard day at work and being met by a hungry cat. The chorus was the cat’s part, and it was done a lot more bluesy:
"Oh, Mommy! Dear Mommy! I got the empty cat bluuuues
Oh, Mommy! Please feed me. You got nothing to looooose
Don’t ya know if I had ’em I’d be down here begging on my kneeeees
Oh, Mommy! Won’t ya feed me, won’t ya feed me, won’t ya feed me pleeeease!"
There were only a handful of people around, and the applause was polite. "Cute song," a fortyish man said. "Never heard that one before."
"I wrote it," Dayna admitted to the medium-height, balding, short-bearded white man.
"Very good," he said. "But if you’re going to play it, play it like it’s blues."
"I thought that was what I was doing," she frowned.
"Let me show you," he smiled, sitting down next to her. Dayna handed him her guitar. "I’m a little rough," he said, "I haven’t done this for a while." He launched out into the same chorus, and in his hands it was an entirely different instrument. It was now a heavy, sobbing blues guitar; he swung into the chorus, and in his picking, you could just hear the cat begging and pleading. "Now that, my dear, is blues. You have to get some soul into it."
"Yeah, but how’d you get the guitar to sound like that?"
In a couple minutes playing back and forth, he showed her the gist of blues guitar, and she launched into the chorus, not caring about any crowd that she might have built up. This was something new – and good – and something she wanted, no, make that needed, to learn how to do.
"Would you like me to show you some more?" the man said.
"Sure, go for it," Dayna said. Today’s take might not be as much, but this guy knew what he was doing – there was always something to learn that would help in the future.
He bailed off into three blues songs that Dayna had never heard before. They were just loaded with soul and she watched him intently, learning a lot. He could make her old guitar sit up and talk, and he knew how to show her what he was doing. By the time he finished the third song, he had a crowd.
As he wrapped it up, he grinned at the group, and said, "If I made you laugh or if I made you cry, please reach deep into your pockets and put a one- or a five-dollar bill into the guitar case. If I happened to do something that offended you, please write your complaint on the back of a twenty-dollar bill, put it in the gig bag, and I’ll never do it again!"
The crowd broke up in laughter, and several bills were tossed into the gig bag. "You’ve done this before, haven’t you?" she laughed.
"I made my living at it for over a dozen years," he laughed. "That living-on-the-road jazz gets to you after a decade or so, so my wife and I decided we’d better turn straight." He let out a sigh. "Now, as often as not, I wish I was back out on the road."
"Man," she shook her head, "Do I ever want to talk with you."
"You’re just learning this, huh?" he grinned. "Tim Willoughby at your service, Miss. Tell you what, let’s share this pitch while my wife does her shopping."
"The place where you work the tip," he smiled. "You don’t know the slang, I take it?"
"I didn’t even know there was slang to learn."
"Yeah," he nodded, "You want to talk to me, all right. Do a couple songs, and throw out a hat line."
"The line you use to get people to burp up money when you pass the hat," he laughed. "Look, the biggest single mistake anyone new in this business makes is to be afraid to ask for money. People who don’t ask for money don’t stay in the business very long. It’s nice if you can work a little joke into the hat line, and I like to joke around a little anyway. Play something. You know Proud Mary?"
"Of course I know Proud Mary," she snorted. "It must be about the second song anyone learns to play on a guitar."
"Not a lot of people play it and put the soul into it that it needs. Go for it."
She did Proud Mary, and then since this was obviously a blues day, followed it with her version of Cold Cold Heart. The first was received pretty well, but the second drew a pretty good applause from the crowd that had gathered. "Ladies and gentlemen," she smiled, "if you enjoyed the show, put some money in the guitar case. If you haven’t enjoyed the show, put some money in it anyway."
"Better," he grinned, as some cash began to drop into the gig bag. "Oftentimes you can let the hat just sit there, but sometimes you have to pass it. Might not be a bad idea to get an actual hat, or a basket or something. You go to church?"
"Once in a while," she told him. "Not recently."
"You ever see anyone skip putting money in a collection plate?"
"OK," she sighed. "I see your point; I’ve got a lot to learn."
"I like what you did to Cold Cold Heart," he said. "I think it sounds better that way, but think what it would sound like in a smoky blues bar."
The hat that afternoon wasn’t terrific, but it was one of the more valuable afternoons Dayna had spent doing anything. Tim was a fountain of knowledge for tricks and techniques, and he could play the living hell out of a guitar. They traded off on the guitar, and it was just fascinating to watch him play – she learned a lot from it, and she learned a lot from his critiques.
Quite a while later, with a good crowd around, Dayna happened to look up and see a tallish blonde woman in her forties standing there with an armload of packages, shaking her head. She had an elaborate hairdo, and some of the longest nails she’d ever seen. Tim happened to be playing as she came up; he finished the song and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t leave here this afternoon without doing your part to support quality live entertainment. I hope you enjoyed yourselves watching this show as much as we did doing the show for you. It’s been an experience that can have no value placed on it. All I ask is for each of you to contribute what you can . . . one dollar, five dollars – perhaps even a ten. I do realize that there are some of you out there who cannot afford to contribute to this show today. It’s okay. Your smiles and applause are enough payment for us. You’ve been a fantastic audience – give yourselves a round of applause. However, the rest of youowe us money!"
There were some laughs at the punch line, but several people tossed money in the guitar case as Tim handed the guitar back to Dayna. The tall blonde woman just kept shaking her head, as she walked up to them. "You addict," she smiled. "Now you’re hooking another one."
"Yep," he grinned. "Dayna, in case you didn’t know it, this is pretty addictive. And, in case you haven’t guessed it, this is my wife Charlene."
"Hi, Charlene," Dayna grinned. "Thanks for loaning me your husband for a while. I learned a lot."
"Oh, every addict needs a fix now and then, I guess," Charlene laughed. "I’ll warn you, Dayna, run while you can. Once you get hooked on this, it’s hell to go back to a normal life. Believe me, I know. I was out on the road with him for years."
"I don’t know that I want to make a life out of this," Dayna shrugged. "It’s just something to do in my spare time."
"Just guessing, you’re in high school, right?" Charlene smiled. "Are you going to college?"
"Probably Central," Dayna shrugged.
"Are you planning on studying anything in particular?"
"You’re in real danger of getting hooked on this," Charlene grinned. "I will admit, it is intoxicating."
"Look, Mr. Willoughby," Dayna shook her head. "I want to thank you for one of the most interesting couple of hours I’ve ever had. I learned a ton. I’d sure like to get together sometime and learn more about how to play that blues guitar."
"We hardly scratched the surface," he nodded. "Honey, are we doing anything tomorrow afternoon?"
"Besides football, no," Charlene grinned.
"Aw, the Bears will get their butts kicked anyway. Dayna, if you’d like to drop over to the house tomorrow afternoon, I’ll dig out the Martin and show you a couple tricks."