“…a joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.” -Rumi from “The Guest House”
Life is full of surprises if you’re open to them.
On a cold February morning this past winter I set out from our home in Harlem to drive my 7-year old daughter to school. Our usual Friday routine.
We climbed into the icy interior of our little Landrover Freelander. My breath crystalized on the inside of the windshield. An indicator that it was a particularly cold New York morning. I turned the key. It started. Then it died instantly a second later (hmmm).
I turned the key again and it was as though there were no engine for the starter to turn anymore. Like it had been secretly abducted by aliens in that instance. I knew in my gut that this was the beginning of a very long day.
The Stranger Had A Name…Harvey
A little back story would be in order.
1. I’m a music producer. At the time I was looking for my next gig.
2. About a year ago, when we bought the car, it needed service not long after so we needed to find the place you take your Landrover to in Manhattan. Someone who wouldn’t rip us off. (Good luck on that one, I know.)
3. That’s when I first met Harvey.
Harvey had a repair shop that catered to Landrovers way over on the outskirts of Upper East side. A real character. Older guy with glasses, a blue blazer, crumpled Yankees hat and a Marshall amplifier shirt underneath. He was looking pretty rough around the edges when I met him.
Harvey was in the middle of talking down an irate customer on the phone. After he hung up, I inquired about the T-shirt, making small talk asking if he had anything to do with music.
“Yeah, man. I got a band. We’re a bunch of old guys playing rock and roll, you know. We did a gig last night. I got way too fucked up and got home at 4AM. Now I’m paying for it. Oh, my head!”
“Awesome.” I said. “How much is my car going to cost me? When can I have it back?”
Zen And The Art of Landrover Maintenance
Unfortunately, over this past year I got to know Harvey a lot better than I would have preferred. Meaning our car was in the shop more than I had patience or money for. But we would BS about music whenever I showed up. On a more recent visit for a “Service Engine” light that wouldn’t go away, Harvey dropped the bomb about our little car.
“How many miles does this thing have?” he asked.
“Around 80,000, I think. Why?”
“Ah shit, man. Ever get your timing belt done?”
“No. Why?” I asked, feeling good news was not imminently in my future.
“These Freelanders, they’re dogs, man. Once they get to around 72,000 miles, if that timing belt hasn’t been changed you’re living on borrowed time, brother. Then she snaps one day and when that happens…” his voice trailed off.
“It’s over, Charlie. Blown motor. These engines are trouble, man. And it’s a big job. Set you back like two grand. But if you don’t…”
Which brings us back to that cold February morning.
What Happens After The Fat Lady Sings?
As the tail lights of the flatbed disappeared around the corner enroute to Harvey’s place, it was like watching a relative being carted off by the coroner to the morgue after a horrible accident. Like I wasn’t going to see this car ever again. I felt a new chapter brewing in my life: the car-less New Yorker.
Sure enough, a few days later the news came in from Harvey. “It’s not good news, man.”
I figured that. What was the prognosis?
“No compression in the motor. It’s over. Ain’t worth fixing. Sorry, man”
“But the car was in like perfect shape barring the slight fact that it no longer moves. Prior to this moment it was worth like real money.”
“Yeah was. That’s the keyword here, man. It was worth money. It’ll cost you what it’s worth to fix it now.”
Fantastic, I thought.
And that’s how I became a car-less New Yorker. Death offers no option. It’s absolute.
But then something interesting happened.
There was an awakening. From out of the darkness we all create with our fear of the unknown.
Suddenly, there was no more parking hell. No more tickets. No more $60 gas fill ups. No more car insurance or new dings to piss you off. No more…anything.
Maybe this was a good thing after all? We would finally give Zipcar a go, as we always said we wanted to try.
After a couple weeks I heard from Harvey again. He thought if I left the car with him, maybe there was a chance in hell he could figure something out.
“Nothing new to report, man. I’m sorry. I really tried but my guy wanted like five grand for a new motor. I told you it wasn’t gonna be pretty. Come get your baby seat.”
And that’s what I did. I was finally OK with it all.
I walked into the shop fully prepared to say a quick eulogy for the car and take my baby seat.
In The White Room
Harvey was sitting in the service booth on the phone, as always, when I walked up. An older guy with a blue blazer and an earring was standing outside the booth waiting. Maybe another pissed off Landrover owner waiting to argue over some insane bill. I could only hope. Misery loves company, right?
It was all so surreal. Like standing in purgatory, waiting in the empty white room for your name to be called so God can go over your life with you to see which team’s going to draft you.
So Harvey comes out shaking his head.
“I’m sorry, man. I know this sucks.”
He looks over at the other guy with the earring. “I’ll be with you in a minute, brother. Oh hey, Lee this is the poor bastard I was telling you about with that Freelander, remember?”
“Oh yeah. Hey, man I’m really sorry. What a fucking drag.”
“Yeah, thanks.” I said.
“Yeah, Lee sings with my band I told about a while back, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember.” I said, reaching out to shake Lee’s hand.
“Yeah, Lee’s here because it’s kind of a big night for us. We’re getting ready to cut an album. We’ve been interviewing producers and we’re gonna choose one tonight.”
“Yeah, cool.” I said, not really hearing him, still feeling like I was waiting in that white room.
“Yeah, we never had any music we could sell at the gig when people ask so we needed to go into the studio and make a…” his voice trailed off.
Then I saw the lightbulb go off.
“Hang on a minute. Didn’t you say you were a music producer when I met you? You have a studio? That you worked with guys like Joe Walsh and toured the world with…who was that, Foreigner?”
“Yeah I am. I do. I did that, yeah.”
The white room was starting to get colorful.
“Yeah! yeah, I remember this now!” Harvey was starting to get amped up. “Lee…Fucking Foreigner! This guy toured with Foreigner!! And Joe Walsh from The Eagles! And the fucking James Gang, man!!”
“That’s really cool, man.” said Lee, a little more subdued than Harvey.
“I guess, yeah. It was fun,” I said.
Harvey was thinking. Thinking and pacing. Pacing and looking back and forth to Lee with eye exchanges. Finally, he turns back to me.
“So…would you, umm, have any interest in checking out the band?”
“As in, if I like the band I produce your record and you give me back my car with a new motor?”
“We could do that, brother.”
This was all getting very strange.
“But here’s the thing, brother. We’re supposed to choose someone tonight and the guys haven’t even met you. So do you think you can come down to rehearsal tonight and listen to the band? See if I’m fucking crazy thinking we got some real songs?
Let me know if you’re even interested and what you would charge if you are? This could work out for you, man.”
I smiled at the absurdity of events unfolding here.
“Yeah, I can do that.” I said.
“Fucking cool, man. We’ll see you tonight.”
I got home that day but I’m not sure how. It was all a blur. I told my wife, who had just sent out a heartfelt email eulogy for our little car to friends and family, that there was a chance there could be life after death for Freelander. I would tell her that night.
And God Said, ‘Go Make Them A Record!’
I showed up to rehearsal and met the band. They had this amazing rehearsal room they created above the shop. Any man and certainly every New York musician would seriously envy such a man cave: full stage, PA, mixing position, full bar, couches. The only thing missing was the home theater.
We talked. I listened. Harvey was right. They had songs. There was definitely work to be done here but there was also something to work with. They had the passion. And it was rock and roll. I knew what to do with that.
Harvey asked me in private for my price. I told him I wanted the car with a new motor and an undisclosed sum in cash (mind you, not the kind of undisclosed sum politicians silence sex scandals with but a far cry from a total loss for sure).
He went back into the studio to talk to the guys while I waited outside in the next room. After a few minutes he asked me back in. They were all sitting on the couch so I sat down at the board.
Harvey began, “We’ve met with a fair amount of guys. And some of them have some pretty cool ideas. But the guys seem to dig you and like your ideas. I’m already sold. So you want to do it, man?”
“Sure. Let’s make a record.”
We all shook hands and I told them we would start pre-production the following week. Then I said goodbye.
I walked out into the New York night in a part of town that gets real quiet when it gets late. You could see the lights of Roosevelt Island dancing on the East River. A half moon was perched just above the last building on the block, peaking out from behind a few whispy clouds. All was well again with the universe as I walked up to the corner to catch a cab.
What are the odds you could walk into a funeral one minute and walk out with a new lease on life? It was about as far away a possible outcome of that February morning as I could ever possibly imagine.
(hmmm, maybe the answer lies in those last two words)
Possibly, as in possibility and imagine.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Can you remember a time when something totally unexpected happened in your life that humbled your belief that you knew how everything was going to turn out?
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