Torrid Tucson night
The second act of your three act play – if you get one – is there for you to find those with whom you’ll live out the reasons for your birth and your persistence up unto the present moment. It’s outrageous good fortune just to get one. It marks you for keeps as a citizen. It gets you up over the fence of your romance and your self-esteem, and out into the rolling fields of your people.
A couple of days ago I’m standing in the arrivals concourse at the Albuquerque airport, and I’m waiting for my wife, who’s in the bathroom. Waiting for someone to emerge from these bathrooms in these places mid-afternoon is waiting for Godot. So your mind drifts, and mine is. It drifts to the bookstore event in a few hours’ time, to tomorrow’s show, the gears of road life, the tariffs of travel.
Without warning or preamble, there is a man perhaps four inches from my right cheek. He”s asking in a whisper if I’m Stephen Jenkinson. I’m not sure what comes next. I say “So far.” He then rotates until he’s in front of me and, with post-covid abandon, wraps his arms around me and says, “I love you so much.”
My first thought: would that my mother was there to see this.
My second thought: would that his mother was there to see this.
“Why?”, I say. “What you’ve done has saved lives”, he says. He says other things, intemperate, ecstatic things that I’ll not repeat here, things I don’t recognize myself in, things I won’t set aside.
He’s an angel. He’s my people, if that’s still okay with him.
The other night I’m five minutes into the Santa Fe show, and the elevation whammy is messing with my equilibrium, and my throat’s sandpaper, and stopping mid-verse to water it isn’t doing anything. The sound I’m making, even off-mic, no audience should have to hear. I take a few seconds to weigh out my choices, which seem to come down one: bail altogether, go back to the green room, root around in the luggage for a Fisherman’s Friend or something, hope it works, come back and against the mounting odds see if I can revive the show’s pulse.
It’s in this moment of something close to dread, I notice two things that have until now escaped me: Gregory Hoskins has begun vamping a quietly killer guitar/voice groove, in anticipation of my leaving the stage. And the Santa Fe crowd’s engaged in the most giving and supportive kind of quiet I’ve ever heard. There is, literally, no problem. This is live, and this will do. Then I find a linty mint kind of a thing in the corner of my vest pocket, draw down some kind of succor from it under my tongue, take it out a few seconds later, lay it down gratefully on the set list paper. The show goes on.
Hoskins, and the crowd: my people, if they’ll still have me.
Ah, the footlights.
Ah, the world’s grace.
Ah, timing: God’s middle name.
Founder of Orphan Wisdom