It felt like one of those magical nights, full of promise. As I headed along Dixie Highway toward the Beach, I popped in the Christmas cassette Rat had given me, the one with the big, hand-painted, red-and-green block letters: TOILING MIDGETS/AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB. Mark Eitzel's edgy, elegiac voice bled out the Kenwood speakers as I contemplated the evening's events.
It had already been a banner night for me, and the serious fun had yet to begin. Earlier in the evening I played one of my best games in ten years as our New Times team defeated Paragon in the first round of the YMCA basketball-league playoffs. Following the game (and a shower), I repaired to Your Father's Moustach to quaff a few Cokes and help keep a buddy of mine who had $3200 riding on the outcome of the Fins-Raiders game from losing his mind while reminding him what an idiot he was for betting so much dough on one game, especially one involving a team as schizo as Miami. But the guys in the aqua and orange pulled it off, and a few minutes after midnight Tommy exited the bar $3200 richer. I declined an invitation to join him for an evening of debauchery at Lipstik.
I'm no saint, but I had my reasons. Chief among them was the fact that Shane Soloski -- a gifted songwriter and a keen observer of the local music scene who moved to New York last summer and whose presence has been sorely missed -- was in town, and had promised to drop by Washington Square to try out a couple of new tunes. Shane, who hates seeing his music described as "Beatlesque," always seems to conjure up a warm, "All You Need Is Love" kind of groove when he plays right before the holidays, and this night was no exception. Shane turned in a ragged but heartfelt set backed by Paul Roub, Jonelle, Zack, Anita Dolly, and (on tambourine) Nina, among others, that showcased his unique songwriting talent. Just like old times.
Then there was Jim Baumann, another guy who knows how to put a guitar and a lyric in the same room and come out with a song, and who has been MIA from the local scene ever since Hurricane Andy paid him a visit at his South Dade home and rearranged his priorities. Ask Jim what curfews do for struggling musicians, especially when they hit just as he and Jonelle were starting to get things going as a duo.
And no Monday night at the Square would be complete without some good- natured ribbing from Forget the Name vocalist Rene Alvarez, who was a bit disheartened by a review some hack critic scribbled, labeling the new FtN CD, Stones For Steven, "disappointing." I told him to forget about it. No one reads reviews, and even if they did read that one, they would be bound to realize that the overall tone was positive, that the reviewer obviously held Forget the Name to a higher standard than he did most other local bands. Alvarez pondered my statement for all of three seconds before engaging in conversation with a killer blonde sipping Rolling Rock in the seat next to his.
Then there was some light schmoozing and catching up with the likes of fleet-fingered picker Rich Lyle, who has moved into a warehouse not far from Churchill's Hideaway and is trying to get Tuesday nights (acoustic, open mike) hopping there. Guitar wizard Sturge was at the door, Jeff behind the bar (great guy, even if I do still have to enlist the aid of someone like Kelly or Ginger to get his attention), and even co-owner Bill True showed up, insisting he didn't need ID to prove his age, since, after all, he owns the joint. To make the evening complete, in crawled the Rat himself, fresh from recording the Bellefires at Synch. The enigmatic black-clad rodent's impromptu rendition of "Pearl Jam Up My Ass" a few weeks back had become the stuff of instant Square legend, and I was hoping for a reprise.
So it was shaping up as that kind of night, sweet victories on the basketball court and the football field, followed by renewed friendships, music, and good cheer in abundance at the Square, and Diane Ward about to bring it all home with one of her patented torrid acoustic sets. I was feeling ten feet tall. Invincible. At one with the universe. Hell, I was even tipping!
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The Square's music director, Doc Wiley, was standing in the doorway, talking to Rafael Tarrago, FtN's guitarist, when he heard the crunch. Metal against metal. Nasty car wreck he figured immediately. Wiley stepped out onto the sidewalk in time to see a big red Cadillac convertible -- with a mangled blue Toyota Tercel embedded in its grille -- lumbering north on Washington Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets. Fearing that someone might be hurt, Wiley ran toward the accident scene. He watched in disbelief as the Caddy, which had rammed the Tercel some 75 feet up the road, disengaged its cargo and fled west on Sixth, toward Cactina. The Caddy didn't get far, however, before the driver edged over to the side of the road, hopped out, and headed off on foot.
As luck would have it, a police cruiser was ambling south on Washington. Doc frantically directed the cops toward the Caddy driver. A flash of blue light, a screeching turn -- busted! Score one for MBPD.
Wiley reached the battered Toyota, which had originally been parked facing north along the curb on the east side of Washington, but which could now be found resting in the middle of the street facing due west. Relieved to find no one inside, Doc, joined by Rafael, surveyed the damage. The Toyota's driver's side exterior looked like crumpled TV-dinner foil. The interior was less destroyed -- front ashtray knocked into back seat, some papers that had been in the glove compartment now in the trunk, a pair of cheap sunglasses cracked and lying next to the gas pedal. Wiley was about to turn away when something stopped him, forced him to take a closer look.
A cassette, sticking halfway out of the Kenwood deck -- big red-and-green block letters. Toiling Midgets. American Music Club. Looked like one of Rat's Christmas tapes. Wiley had seen Rat enter the nightclub a few hours earlier. Maybe he'd know which poor sucker this erstwhile automobile belonged to. Whoever it was, figured Doc, he was in for a long night.