I was lucky enough to share a stage some time ago, in the previous millennium, with Bill Callahan as a member of Smog, on a short tour of Europe. Bill, Jeff Parker, and I all played guitar in this band, and with little rehearsal, I had to feel out my role. Bill, like Will Oldham, doesn’t say a lot about what he wants from you—he trusts you to complement what’ s going on. So, on this tour, I did just that—playing melody lines and coloring the gaps with a volume pedal. There was one show though where Bill turned to me on stage as an instrumental passage approached and said in his patented dead pan, “Be Rick Rizzo.”
I had perhaps less than a measure to process what that meant. Who the hell am I?
I didn’t learn to play guitar until I was what I considered way too old to begin—23 years old. It was 1980 and I was just out of college and living on my own in upstate New York. I had traded my friend my P-bass for his ’68 Telecaster because I wanted to learn to play so I could write songs. When you learn how to do something you tend to go to your reference points. Critics have tended to refer to a very narrow list when they describe my playing. So, let me unpack it for you, the best I can–here are my guitar influences. Although my playing has evolved over the years, I think Rick Rizzo, the guitar player, was formed before I even started a band.
Just to get it out of the way, I think The Beatles served as a primer for everything I know about music and how to perform and write, but the first time I was thrilled by a guitar I was ten years old lying in bed listening to WCFL on my Sears Silvertone radio. I would set a timer on it and fall asleep to the current charts. I Can See For Miles was energy from space. Pete Townshend was my first favorite guitar player. Critics always said he didn’t solo with the best of them (I beg to differ), but it was the rhythm playing and power chords that had me. The one note solo was brilliant too. Pete.
If I go through the timeline of what I listened to as a kid beyond the pop charts, Shindig, and the garage bands on my street, it starts with Chuck Berry. My music fandom as a serious consumer started with Fifties music, just ask my pal, Pat Daly. We recorded a version of Chubby Checker’s, Let’s Twist Again, at Adventureland in an amusement park recording booth for a buck. (I think Jack White has bought up all those old booths). I bought Chuck Berry Gold on cassette and listened every day for weeks. Those rock and roll licks are the dna for all rock that followed.
After Chuck, Albert King was my guy. Lots of the same licks, but slower and with emotion. Albert was West Coast electric blues. At the time I knew nothing about acoustic blues—I would discover Son House and Lightnin’ Hopkins years later after I started with eleventh dream day. Albert’s notes were filled with a force greater than time and space. If I had the internet back then I would have figured out that Buddy Guy had that too.
When I bought the Allman Brothers, Live at the Fillmore East, I became a man. Okay, I was 15 and wouldn’t grow facial hair for almost ten years, but this record was guitar brilliance. Duane Allman was the guy. I think my sense of jamming was born here.
In the early seventies all I wanted to hear was loud, sonic guitar playing. My friend Gary was a Hendrix freak and I too became a worshipper at the altar of Jimi Hendrix. I went to a local theater for a showing of the Woodstock movie. I was in awe. Jimi was gone, but he was alive in my world. His playing defied all boundaries. The Star Spangled Banner interpretation says it all. There are other great guitar players from this era who I liked alright, but since they didn’t satisfy my sonic guidelines I appreciated but didn’t love them. Keith, Jimmy, Eric were not in my pantheon.
My friend Pat had a couple of older brothers who shaped the next phase of my guitar lexicon. I would never have found John McLaughlin or Frank Zappa if Pat’s brothers weren’t dropping acid and getting stoned. I was pretty innocent in high school but I sought out Mahavishnu Orchestra and Mothers records with the money I was making as a grocery bagger. At this point I was years away from thinking I could ever play music—these guys didn’t help with those thoughts, but I did register how they explored beyond the typical rock boundaries I knew. My first concert was at the International Amphitheater in Chicago—row 40—Frank Zappa on the Apostrophe tour with Captain Beefheart. Mind blown.
I used to set my alarm to wake up at two in the morning to watch Rock Concert. One night Neil Young was on—a taped performance of Like a Hurricane from London off a record that didn’t yet exist. I owned After the Gold Rush and loved it, but this particular performance struck me deep down in my musical soul. A large fan onstage blew his hair and ruffled his flannel shirt in the simulated hurricane. The solo soared beyond Hendrix—it had all the astral power, but there was a melodicism that made the notes sing. I’m getting blown away indeed.
1975—University of Kentucky—half the dorm hasn’t arrived yet because they have to work the tobacco fields at home. I meet the only other person who had arrived –the friend who would change my musical life—Keith Holland. Keith was gay. I had no idea. Back then, who would have known? Those first weeks of school, I heard records that changed everything. Keith turned me on to the Velvet Underground. Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison probably have as much to do with how I play than anybody else. They weren’t necessarily good players, but there was magic in their interplay. The adage that only a few thousand heard those records, but all who did formed a band was true in my case. James Williamson was also a fave from the Stooges record Keith turned me on to.
Keith also had the record that changed everything—the Patti Smith Hey Joe/ Piss Factory 7”. This was something that only existed on the fringe of the world. It made FM radio irrelevant. It made 99.9 % of everything I knew irrelevant. Patti has said she didn’t ever consider herself to be a punk, she used the “n” word to describe who she was. Outside of society is where I want to be. The term punk was perverted by the fashion-fueled British version of rock that happened in the mid-seventies, but really, what could be more punk than taking on the Crown, so give fashion plate Johhny Rotten his props. To be a punk meant to be on the fringe. That’s why homosexuals, artists, and poets (of which I was none, but a fascinated guest at the party) tended to find each other. In Lexington, there couldn’t have been more than two dozen of us. Keith and I found the townie punks, but it took a couple of years. As for the dorms, I know that we were on the fringe. When it was discovered that Keith was gay,that would be all too apparent. And the music that we listened to was shunned by all but several of our small circle. Lenny Kaye, the champion of the garage music of my childhood, was another subliminal influence on my future guitar style. All over Horses there are guitar runs that are not made to be transcribed. Lenny channeled Patti’s lyrics and expressed all the emotions therein. Unpack Lenny’s playing and you’ll find all that garage band fuzzy Nuggets too.
I bought a bass and amp from the J.C. Penney catalogue in the summer after my junior year of college and taught myself to play. I played in a punk band with my roommate Chris. I traded many of my classic rock records for punk rock. Television Marquee Moon was one of them. Tom Verlaine possessed some of the string bending skills of Quicksilver’s John Cipollina coupled with Neil’s emotional range. Like his adopted name suggests, there is a poeticism to Verlaine’s playing. Richard is pretty great too.
My band The Pods played New Year’s Eve at Halle Lou’s in Lexington to welcome in 1980. We entered the stage to the song Foxhole. The local punks were there at the free show probably because our flyer used the same cut and paste collage style of Never Mind the Bollocks. We made some friends that night, played some shows together in the new year, but then I decided to ship out back to Chicago. I started a new job and moved back in with my parents. I was still playing bass in my bedroom, and loving post-punk bands like Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, P.I.L., and Gang of Four. To fill out the rest of my influence roster I have to include the guitarists I was loving just before I picked up the six string for the first time. Bernard Sumner had a way to interchange power chords with lead lines that I loved, Will Sargent played guitar like J.W.M. Turner painted, Keith Levene was creative and daring, and finally, Andy Gill slashed and chopped and burned his way through the mix. All of these Brits made an imprint on the songs I’d be writing the next year.
Since I began way back then trying to learn guitar I haven’t been immune to other guitarists. I discovered Richard Thompson and Fairport Convention in the early eighties. The sounds he makes are amazing. I’ve also been influenced by my friends. Tara Key and Ira Kaplan are kindred spirits and two players who always take me to other places. The Feelies’ Mercer and Million, Roger Miller, and Karl Precoda seeped into my subconscious as well.
So who am I? No doubt a little bit of all of the above. I wish I could be the sum of those parts I’m just a patchwork. I’ve never considered myself to be much of a guitarist. My hands are too small and I’ve never been able to use my pinkie much because it doesn’t stretch to the fourth fret of the major scale. I have to slide my ring finger up to the note that the pinkie would have covered. As a result I’ve never used scales—I sort of feel my way around. I also have a very poor short term memory. I am not the kind of player who can listen to a record and play what I hear. I cannot duplicate anything no matter how hard I work at it.
Back to Smog.
I stepped to the edge of the stage in mock stardom. Bill had emboldened me. Across the field, Iron Maiden was playing, their roar faintly drifting across the fields that separated us at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. I stepped on my Tube Driver, closed my eyes, felt the breeze in my hair, and fired back.
- Am. Rick. Rizzo. Whoever that is.
The Mercury Lounge
eleventh dream day will be back at the Mercury Lounge in New York City on Friday, August 21st.
On the bill will be our good pals Antietam and 75 Dollar Bill
New York has always been a special place to play. I remember the first time going in to do a show–we booked ourselves onto a bill at CBGBs with Prairie School Freakout out. I was nervous on the drive as we came in through New Jersey–Baird actually drove us the wrong way out of the Lincoln Tunnel into the bus exit at Port Authority. I had been to New York City many times before, driving in from Ithaca where I worked for A.C. Nielsen in 1981-83, but it was different to be playing.
My first time ever in the city was a drive in to Times Square to visit. I parked my car for $20 in a garage (outlandishly expensive back then), walked toward Times Square with my head in the sky, almost got hit by a taxi, then was offered a ticket for $5 to see the Clash at Bonds International. I didn’t even know the Clash was playing that day–it was a matinee and it wasn’t sold out–it was a late add-on to their week long run. So, I saw the Clash within an hour of my first trip to New York. I came in for other visits later that year–New Order at the Peppermint Lounge, Gang of Four with R.E.M. opening at theRitz,The Cure at the Ritz, and a blind date with a girl from Jersey that ended up at the Mudd Club.
Walking into CBGBs that first time as a band was a trip. I had seen Tom Verlaine play solo there some years before on a visit, but now the first face I was seeing was Hilly Kristal’s with his dog next to him. That night, I forget who we played with, but I’m sure we had a late, late slot on the five band bill. I know we played with Antietam, Giant Sand, maybe Run On at various times–we probably played there 3 or 4 times over the years though and it’s a bit of a blur.
[ Doug has weighed in on this: “Our first show at CB’s was with Band of Susans, Antietam, and Fish & Roses, all couples bands though I can’t say that Band of Susans had a couple. I think we played first. This may have been before the “opening band” played at 2 a.m.. This led to Band of Susans asking us to play with them in Chicago.”]
One night when we were headlining, we were playing an encore. The soundman came on through our monitors loud and clear to us in the middle of the song-“You gonna be done any time soon?”
When we came back to the city after signing to Atlantic, opening for the Meat Puppets, we got out of the van with a few autograph hounds hovering. I didn’t know then that these people probably had no idea who we were, but it was nice to get asked for what was probably the first time. The show was one of our biggest, and we had energy coming out of our eyeballs. Verlaine was there backstage with a kind of shroud around his head looking mysterious and it was also rumored that Scorcese was there in the crowd (to see the Meat Puppets, I know)
On our first visit to the Atlantic offices at 75 Rockefeller, we pulled up in our 39 foot R.V. pulling a trailer. I felt like the Beverly Hillbillies. We walked past Ahmet’s office, saw him in there, but were advised to keep walking to our little corner of the floor. Then we got the media blitz–Janet and I got interviewed on MTV, but only 2 of us were allowed–we held up Baird and Doug’s drivers license to the cameras.
The highlight of all NY visits though was to be able to live there for a month while making El Moodio. We had the chance to stay in Keith Richard’s vacant apartment, but it had two floors and a spiral staircase–there was a worry that our then toddler Matt would toddle over the rail. We ended up in an amazing 3 story condo in Little Italy near Prince and Mott next door to Ray’s Pizza. It couldn’t have been nicer–crisp October beauty and a short walk to Sorcerer Studios to make music. When it was all wrapped up we had a listening party at the studio. Matt had a grand mal seizure and we had to rush him to the hospital. That was the end of the stay.
For a while, the band and/or I made it back to New York at least once or twice a year to play and make music. Those visits have slowed down in recent years but have never really stopped.
And now it’s time for our third show at the excellent Mercury Lounge. Hope to see you there.
The song “North of Wasteland” from the Eleventh Dream Day record Lived to Tell, was based on a true story that took place in South Central Florida in 1980 shortly after my college graduation. I have realized years later that the song tells just a fraction of the story and fortunately, I have lived to tell the rest.
North of Wasteland
There was a tree that grew outside my window
Amid the fields of cane and unanswered questions
It held a fruit of fatal mystery
And it soothed me to think that it grew so close to me
In the morning
There’s never any warning
Except the neighbor’s rooster
And the church bells ring
From north of the wasteland
I think back to the time
I lived in a trailer
Amid the fields of cane
And unanswered questions
It still seems so absurd
One night outside my door
A wild boar that seemed so lost
We both knew we were caught
In a wasteland
There was no time or place where we belonged
I was wrong
And I knew it from that night on
There’s that moment when waking up in a strange bed where you have absolutely no idea where you are; where your world is a late night test pattern of confusion. The crowing of a nearby rooster offered no clues. It was still dark and I couldn’t see a thing. But in the dank heavy air, I knew the space was small. A darting tickle on my leg startled me into full consciousness, and I saw the tiny cockroach scurry away as I lifted the sheet.
“Oh yeah,” I thought, and as quick as a dart thrown at a map, I realized where I was.
The drive in from the West Palm Beach airport the night before with Sherri in her old Karman Ghia was the start of a new life, a post-collegiate adult life, and now with the girl of my dreams.
As we dieseled past lit highways into the black pitch of a sticky Florida night, I looked at Sherri’s profile and couldn’t quite believe I was sitting next to her. With her green-tinted almond eyes and the start of a deep tan, she had the kind of exotic look that I thought was out of my league. And she had been well out of my league for some time now; hard-to-get couldn’t describe the last year and a half of my frustration at trying to win her over. I still wasn’t used to this new haircut though, a Hamillish bob, the result of a stormy spring when she took scissors to the hair that had never been cut. But the feeling in this verdant place where vines draped the trees was that love and hair would grow and keep growing.
The curtains began to color with the pastels of morning and I took stock of what brought me here. I thought back to the phone call that urged me to quit my job in Chicago, the voice on the other end as seductive as waves lapping gently on a tropical beach. But now I was on my back in an R.V. trailer, the kind that hitched to the back of a pick-up. From where I lay I could see the tiny kitchen sink, and beyond that a toilet visible behind a half-open accordion door. Sherri was close, though not with me; she was in the double wide trailer that sat on concrete blocks just twenty yards away. After whispered good nights following our late arrival we had kissed one last time, and she had shown me to my lodging—“The Rogue” decaled on its aluminum side.
I wondered when it would be appropriate to rise and make my way to the door of the big trailer, Sherri’s parent’s retirement abode. I noticed from the corner of my eye a couple more cockroaches scurrying on the faucet then into the cabinet. Their night shift was over, and I closed my eyes . Church bells tolled from some place unfamiliar, and I fell back asleep.
Two knocks and then too much light poured through the door as Sherri entered The Rogue with a steaming cup of Nescafe.
“Were you going to sleep all day?” she asked. “My parents will think you’re lazy! C’mon. Get dressed and say hi.”
I was slightly nervous as I clumsily navigated the too steep metal steps out of the trailer, but as I stepped into this novel space, the sun had an instantly welcoming embrace.
“Mister Rick Rizzo!”
A fifty something stocky athletic man with his hand extended emerged from the double wide with a greeting that was at the same time welcoming yet impersonal. His handshake pushed my knuckles together.
“How’d The Rogue treat you last night?” he half grinned.
“Just glad to be here sir,” I replied, partly a reflection on my well- mannered upbringing, but even more seeming like a private reporting to duty. Sherri’s dad was a retired army sergeant, my preconceptions of which were informed somewhere between Combat!and Gomer Pyle.
“C’mon in, let me show you around.”
As I stepped into this much larger trailer, I noticed it was tethered in four corners by steel cables, an attempt to keep it from flying away in the occasional hurricane winds that swept through these parts.
“Check it out,” he beamed; gesturing at what I had to admit was more space than I could have imagined. It was certainly bigger than any apartment I’d lived in—two bedrooms down the hall from a spacious kitchen, dining room and family room complete with working fireplace.
“You must be Rick,” Sherri’s mom entered cheerfully.
A retired high school English teacher, she reminded me of my own mother with her bright smile and short brown hair.
Nice to meet you. Formalities. I wanted to make a good impression. I realized that I had a weak reason for being there. A recent college graduate, but no ambition other than being with their daughter.
As the small talk began to sound even more forced, and Sherri’s parents moved on to their daily routines, I noticed the morning paper on the breakfast table. The West Palm local paper was typically thin, but I knew what I needed and went straight to the classifieds. The clock was ticking on my dead beat status and I needed to see what was out there.
My bachelor’s degree was in business administration with a focus on marketing. A number of my college friends already had found jobs, mostly through family connections, but this was 1980, a year of double digit unemployment, hostages, and high inflation. The meager list of job opportunities was worse than I anticipated. Drive a truck. Telemarketing. The best I could do was to call an employment agency and they setup an appointment for me the following morning. It was a start.
Walking out of the air-conditioned double wide into the stifling mid-morning heat, I surveyed the flat horizon of trailers and palm trees. A wasteland. A few miles to the west, the sugar cane factory let loose the by-product of its enterprise—a sickeningly beyond ripe rotting and somewhat burnt smell that quickly coated my nostrils.
That night after an all-you-can-eat pizza dinner at a franchise Sherri’s father had an investing interest in, I had trouble falling asleep knowing how the micro-fauna would soon be bustling around my restless torso. I must have dozed off at some point into the Floridian night
Minutes or hours later I was aware of the presence of a much larger creature and bolted upright. No matter how much I wanted it to not be true there was no denying that something was snorting and making guttural grunts just outside the thin aluminum of my walls. A choice—either lie on my back petrified and wait for death or face it and get it over with.
I slowly opened the screen door.
Somewhat darker than the shadows stood a beast. The tusks that stuck wildly from the sides of what looked like a head with legs told me this was some sort of wild pig or boar.
It looked at me and snorted.
I said nothing. It would have been weird.
What I thought though, and what the boar seemed to be thinking as well was clear. One of us doesn’t belong here.
What was invisible that first night driving in was now unveiled in the orange glow of morning as I drove to my first interview in Del Ray Beach. Route 441 was a single lane highway connecting Belle Glade to my future. Driving Sherrie’s VW, I passed horses in pastures, county fairgrounds, migrant workers stooped over baskets, and a turn off for Lion Country Safari. Pick-up trucks with gun racks and dogs with tongues lolling in their flat beds kicked up dust pulling onto the road. It all smelled green. When I hit the interstate though, time seemed to reset as I joined the rush of the morning commute of BMWs and Audis. As I pulled into Porter Paints on A1A, I checked my tie in the mirror poised to join the working world.
The interview went well enough, I got the job. I was now the assistant manager of a business I had no experience in, but I was willing if not able. The money was crap, but I knew the prospects were slim, and the feeling of going back to Sherri’s parents with a job was worth it. Work was work, and this was work in Florida! The beach was across the street; the Atlantic Ocean visible, a literal sea of possibility. I crossed the road, dress shoes sinking into the sand, unknotted my tie, and squinted into the morning sun.
That evening I enjoyed a cold beer with Sherri’s dad as we both watched the sun set over the trailer park. I sensed he was sizing me up, and I did my best to survey the landscape with authority.
“That’s an interesting apple tree,” I pointed toward a spiny looking tree with ripening fruit.
“That’s no apple tree, that’s a manctineel–the Spanish call it manzinilla de la muerta—little apple of death.”
He explained how Columbus had noticed that just a few drops from a leaf onto the skin would instantly blister.
“You know if you took a bite of one of those “apples’ you would drop dead within ten minutes. The interesting thing is that an autopsy wouldn’t turn up a thing.”
I fell asleep that night wondering why he added that last tidbit.
The next morning in Del Ray Beach at the paint store I was primed to start a new career. A clean cut preppy looking kid not much older than me would be training me before moving on to manage the Boca Raton store.
I got trained how to mix paint using a variety of pigments squirted into a can of white base. It was easy, and I enjoyed it. I knew I could do this job:
Keep the books. Check.
Receipts, register, check, check.
The first paint contractor came in. Bloodshot eyes. Painters are notorious alcoholics I would come to know, with gruff hung-over demeanors. I was intimidated which I’m sure was the intended outcome. The shift ended. I would survive to work another day.
My third day on the job, things weren’t quite so good. A rich lady with a brand new Lincoln Continental had me load a five gallon container of primer into the trunk. The trunk was deep though, and the container was heavy and awkward, and it tipped out of my grip. Five gallons of milk white paint burst out and coated the fuzzy black interior of her luxury car. I hadn’t put the lid on tightly enough in the store.
She was as nice as could be considering the mess, and didn’t get upset, although she asked me to stop trying to clean it up since I was only making it worse.
The days passed. It was a job. I was working poor, but now I had an apartment in Del Ray Beach and my girlfriend would soon be moving in with me.
Sherri moved in. Her parents didn’t know, so if the phone rang only she could answer it. The apartment was basically a studio converted from a coach house broken into two units. The owner was a widow who turned a blind eye to our sinful cohabitation and the immigration status of the two young Cuban fellows who lived behind us. There was a relief that the tiny cockroaches were out of my life, but here, gigantic Palmetto bugs, cockroaches on steroids, apparently thought the space was theirs.
Life was peaceful though and a routine developed. Work at the store, home for lunch, a downpour of rain at 12:30 which evaporated by 12:45, back home for dinner with Sherri, and an occasional walk to the beach past the Intercoastal waterway with its funky houseboats. The neighbors across the alley (not the friendly Cubans) blasted Eric Clapton’s Cocainelive version at regular intervals punctuating the day. Some nights we took a late night dip in the ocean which might have been romantic save for my crippling fear of man-o-war stings and shark attacks. It was worth the buoyant embraces and salt water kisses though and life seemed good. But then came the day Sherri announced she wanted to be an actress.
Yes, Sherri wanted to be an actress. This in itself should have been great news. I should have been happy for her. The thing is, in the last few months she also had wanted to be a nurse, a teacher, and a merchant marine. This last one was particularly troubling. Sherri’s ex-boyfriend was a merchant marine. I had noticed one day on her dresser a letter from this guy, Richard. I asked her about it. They had been high school sweethearts and she swore she was long over him, but there were little things I couldn’t let go. For one, Sherri’s favorite record was Joni Mitchell’s Blue. There’s a song The Last Time I Saw Richard on that record. Her eyes seemed to go somewhere when it came on.
The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ‘68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
My name Rick seemed so unsophisticated. Richard was a merchant marine. Traveling to distant ports. Tattooing girls ‘names on his biceps. A salty spray of ocean as he stood on the deck of a ship.
I was assistant manager at a paint store.
All good dreamers pass this way some day
That night I had a dream. I was back in The Rogue. Hurricane winds started to rattle it back and forth. Cockroaches streamed upward from the sink and toilet. The trailer walls ripped away and I was exposed to the storm. A wild pig ran out from behind the big trailer as the steel cables groaned. Cane snakes slithered beneath what was left of my trailer. The giant smoke stacks of the sugar factory crumbled. I closed my eyes and screamed silently into the gale.
When all had calmed, the sun was burning through the clouds. The boar asked me why I was still there. Sherri’s dad stood with a rake in his hands. Gathering the tiny apples of death.
The small theater culture of South Florida was vibrant in the early 80s, no doubt fueled by the presence of Burt Reynolds in Jupiter Beach and a bevy of retirees to fill the seats. The Florida Atlantic University Theater posted a notice for open auditions for a production of Moliere’s The Miser and Sherri figured it was a good place to start.
Auditions were held on a small campus stage in Boca Raton, and each hopeful was instructed to improvise a scene (unrelated to The Miser) based on a suggestion from the director. I’m not sure if that was standard procedure to try out for a play, but I was nervous for Sherri. I thought she nailed it though, and I was impressed.
After the mostly female group of hopefuls finished, Sherri and I were headed for the back of the theater, when I heard the director’s voice.
“What about you young man? Aren’t you trying out?”
I turned, not knowing it was me he was talking to, but I did seem to fit the bill.
I saw that he was addressing me.
“I’m just here for moral support for my girlfriend,” I replied somewhat sheepishly.
“We really have a shortage of males for this play, and I think you should give it a try,” he peered over his glasses.
Thankfully, he didn’t make me improvise. I simply had to read a short scene from a paperback copy of the play. I sensed he was lowering the bar. I did my thing, he said thanks to both of us, and we headed back to Del Ray.
The phone rang. It was late afternoon, Sherri was out shopping. I picked it up forgetting as I often did that I shouldn’t; I might have some ‘splaining to do to the Sergeant.
I was formulating an excuse for why I was there and Sherri wasn’t as I said hello.
“Hi, this is Joe Conaway, I led the auditions last week for The Miser.”
“Oh, hi” I replied. “Sherri is out right now, can I take a message?”
“No, that’s okay. I want to talk to you about being in the play.”
“But wait, what about Sherri?”
Nothing was registering for me, but he would quickly give me the necessary pieces of the puzzle.
“We thought she was really good, but we really have so few female parts for the play, and there were some more experienced actresses I wanted to cast.”
“I’d like to offer you a role though. I can actually see you as Cleante, Harpagon’s son.”
I don’t remember what I said, but it wasn’t no.
After we hung up, I realized that I had made a huge mistake. There was no way I could relay this news when Sherri got home. I don’t remember what I said, but my reply didn’t have the words, I’ll call him back, no, or sorry.
The Miser ran through the end of July. The rehearsals were a blast, and the rest of the cast was so fun to be around. I didn’t get the hefty role of Harpagon’s son, but I did get a line as one of the lackeys.
“I seem to have torn me breeches” delivered in a ripe Cockney got howls of laughter every night as Harpagon chased me off the stage with his cane.
By the time the play closed I knew I was leaving for Chicago. I wanted to find a band to join. Sherri had applied to Nursing School at the community college. We weren’t talking to each other much. We had one tearful night when I told her I was going home. I think she was relieved.
Sherri and her father drove me to the West Palm airport. There was a beautiful Florida sunset that night. Sherri’s hair had grown much longer now and she brushed long strands from her eyes. She kissed me on the cheek.
“Good luck, Rizzo. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Sherri’s father gave me one last strong handshake.
“Yes sir.” I returned it in kind and started for the plane heading north of the wasteland.