After the show ended Taj said, “Do you want to go get a beer?”
“Sure,” I answered. I have always loved going out after going out. Anyway, we had been discussing beer earlier, the Belgian variety, and Taj had said he knew a good place nearby. In fact it was on the corner, a stone’s throw from the club.
I pulled on the dull bronze knob set in a wooden door frame of peeling black paint. Inside, strings of soft red lights lent a pleasing visual counterpoint to the hushed old-school piano blues on the speakers. “I like this place; it’s so different from the typical Spanish bars,” Taj said as we claimed our stools. The bar was pretty much empty. Candlelight glowed on nearby little round black tables stuck in the corners. “It’s not all metal and brightly lit,” he continued.
“No noisy flashing lottery machines either,” I added. “I hate those.”
Taj’s favorite beer was the Rochefort 8 (not 6 or 10, and I have no idea why there are no odd numbers). I tried to remember what I’d had with Alexander and Robert recently; I’d liked Leffe Rouge best but this place didn’t have it so I chose Chimay Azul. The usual dish of peanuts, cornnuts and pork rinds appeared with our drinks.
“I kind of can’t believe that show,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better blues show and that’s saying a lot.”
“It was pretty amazing,” Taj agreed. “My student who told me about it, he’s pretty cool. He’s the only student I have that likes good music, not Iron Maiden.”
“Isn’t that hilarious how there’s a cult of Iron Maiden here in Spain?”
“I figured the show would be good but it went way beyond my expectations. What were you telling me before, about the meter?”
“Oh,” I said, “the six-eight. It’s a common meter in blues, especially slow blues. Some of my favorite songs have it, like Ray Charles’s ‘Drown in My Own Tears’ and Aretha Franklin’s ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ Every measure has six beats. The first and fourth are emphasized, so it goes one two three four five six.”
“You know a lot about music. I wish I did.”
“Well, stick with me and I’ll tell you lots of stuff about music.” I took a sip of my Chimay and put it down.
I would be friends with Taj. By now it was clear I liked hanging out with him. Also I was reasonably confident he felt the same, hence the “Stick with me” comment. Before he’d made me kind of nervous with his intense yet nonchalant charm but now things were relaxed. We both appreciated blues and other kinds of good music. He never once asked me a stupid question or interrupted me, always seemed to listen to what I had to say. I also had the feeling that if I felt like sitting quietly for a while he wouldn’t mind. A good quality in a friend. Probably he would never give me a hard time if I did something he hadn’t expected. I seem constantly to be surprising people. They want to know why I am leaving a party so early, or on a different occasion why I am showing up so late, or how I could possibly be so crazy to go running every day, what I am eating, what type of food is that exactly, am I vegetarian, why do I live in Madrid, doesn’t Paris have a better lindy hop scene, why haven’t I started one here yet, why do I like to hear people talk about math if I’m a dancer, that’s really weird, and what you don’t like musical theater, but musical theater has dancing in it! Oh, thank you for telling me, I didn’t realize that. Oh yeah, I forgot, I like musical theater. (Shoot me.)
“Want to try it?” Taj asked me, about his beer.
“It’s better than mine,” I pronounced, after a sip. “Here, tell me what you think.”
“Yup. Mine’s better. That’s still good though.”
“I love the music they play in here. I think this is Oscar Peterson.”
“You can tell by the really ripply chords. When I lived in Boston, sometimes I used to go to this fancy restaurant on Sunday nights just to hear this guy. His name is Paul Broadnax. He’s 80 years old and awesome. Plays piano like Oscar Peterson, sings like Joe Williams. Joe Williams is my favorite male singer of all time.”
“I don’t think I know him.”
“I’ll have to give you some of the more old-school blues music. You’d like it. I have to admit, I don’t miss too much about the US but one thing I do miss is being able to dance to music like this.”
“I still want to learn how to dance to blues. I think it would be awesome.”
That was the second time he’d said it unprompted so I took a leap and believed him. “OK, I’ll teach you. Tomorrow, if you want.”
“Is there anything you miss about the US?”
“I miss going fishing.”
“It’s the one thing I could do, all day, every day, and never get tired of it. I could fish in Spain, but -” he sighed. “Well, not in Madrid. And it’s not the same as it is in Florida.”
“What do you like so much about it?”
“Being outside, in nature. Seeing what nature is doing, how it affects everything. A lot of things affect fishing: the weather, the wind, the phase of the moon -”
“I never thought of that; none of that ever occurred to me.”
“Well, I think most people don’t think about it. When you’re just out there, on the boat, some beers….” he smiled. “I’ve had to learn how to think like a fish.”
“Where they’re going to be, what’s going to make them bite. You can’t rush them. Sometimes,” he shrugged, “you just don’t get anything, but sometimes it’s like they’re biting every second. I don’t always keep them. Usually I throw them back.”
“Oh,” I said. “You mean you don’t eat them?”
“Sometimes. It depends. Some people think it’s cruel, killing animals. People think that about hunting.”
“You mean eating what you kill, or not?”
“Yeah, eating it.”
“Well, people who think that’s cruel, they eat meat, right? Usually. They just can’t kill they’re own meat so the factory farms do it for them. How is that somehow better than hunting? I don’t get it.”
“I don’t know.” He smiled and shrugged.
The bar gal caught my attention. “Chicos,” she was saying, as she wiped down the bar. “Estamos cerrados.”
“What time is it?” I said.
“Two,” said Taj.
“Oh yeah, it’s Sunday, so they are closing early.”
The gal brought our check and Taj said to me, “I’ll buy your beer. It’s your birthday.”
I slid off my stool and Taj stood aside to let me get to the door first. It took me a long moment to figure out which way the knob turned and whether to pull or push the door. Charitably, and to my great relief, Taj said nothing at all.
We got out onto the main road, having resumed chatting. It was dark and misty and quiet, even the cinema neon shut off. I hadn’t been paying attention to where we were exactly. “Um, I think my place is over there.” I pointed down the hill.
“Mine’s that way.” He indicated the opposite direction, coming to a dead stop. “Well. I had a really good time tonight.”
“Me too. It was awesome. Thanks.”
When he kissed me on the cheeks I noticed how warm he was. Not fair, why are boys always so warm?
OK, where was I exactly? I wobbled toward San Bernardo Glorieta. A glorieta is like a rotary, except usually much more beautiful, with a fountain and plants. I had to cross it and to make sure I didn’t get run over. Not getting run over would be a plus. Apparently I was still drunk. So, let’s see, San Bernardo all the way to where it ends at Callao metro, then cross Gran Via and put El Corte Inglés on my left, that department store to end all department stores. Then Sol and then. Easy.