Another Wednesday Open Mic Night at Sam Ash, where Northeast Philly’s finest come to ruin the atmosphere with obnoxious, offbeat, out-of-key, self-unawareness. I’m behind the counter in the guitar department fumbling desperately with my key to unlock the pedal case so that I can make some noise to drown out the clamor. Pitch-shift, chorus, reverb, delay, instrument cables, 9-volt power supply, daisy chain. With this mess in my hands, I make my way to the Hot Rod Deluxe and set up my gear on the floor in front of it. I plug in a nearby Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster and flick a couple switches, stomp my pedals on, and adjust their knobs. As the Hot Rod’s tubes warm up, the signal’s volume grows to a modulating ethereal growl. I turn the volume up a bit more, as I can still hear the Open Mic buffoons. Holding an Amaj7, I lightly tickle the strings, and their slight vibrations create a thick wall of sound, the timbre of which approaching orgasmic.
Yes, I think to myself. What potent texture. I bask in my soundscape until I’m accosted by one of the Open Mic regulars, a tattooed, middle-aged, sleeveless boozer. He strides over into the guitar department with this big smile on his face after the fantastic show he just put on, exclaiming, “Better’n stayin’ home an’ masturbating!” with a cadence that suggested “like I usually do,” but maybe he’d thought that saying that much would make him come off as weird. I could feel a wave of amusement emanating from Andrew, the other sales associate in the department, who stood behind the counter.
“I gotta get a new cable,” Prince Charming says to me. He’s pointing at the cheapest cables on the rack. “These any good?”
“They usually don’t last too long. I recommend the Pig Hogs,” I tell him.
He examines the price difference – a whopping seven bucks – and grabs the cheapo cable. “I’ll go with this one.”
I set the amp on standby and hang the Tele back up on its hook, then make my way behind the register. As I’m ringing up his cable, the guy starts going off about how he’s trying to get his wife out of his house.
“She’s bipolar schizophrenic. I’m already asleep by the time she gets home anyway – from gamblin’. Yeah she’s nuts. Can’t wait to get ridda her.”
“It’s fifteen forty-seven.”
He hands me a twenty and I give him the change, as Ryan, the band & orchestra department manager, walks over to close out Andrew’s register. Guy takes his change and goes, “At least I have some money left over to buy a little crack.” And he says this jokingly, but I wouldn’t put it past him.
“Nothing like a little bit o’ crack,” Ryan remarks in his usual monotone voice.
The receipt prints and I rip it off of the printer and give the guy his receipt.
“Oh, yeah, it’s the best. Smokin’ some crack after Open Mic,” the guy says.
“Just a little bit o’ crack… Take the edge off, y’know?” Ryan’s intentionally drawing this out.
Is this conversation happening right now? I ask myself, before remembering where I am.
“Thanks, have a good one,” I tell him.
“You fellas have a good night,” he says with a wave as he walks off.
After the store is all closed up and I walk out of the doors, I look up at the inside of the awning. It’s well lighted, and covered in hundreds of gnats. I think to myself, this is what our customers turn back into when they leave the store.