On Guitars

1997. Late Saturday morning at Tohcha Music, one of Cleveland’s only remaining independently owned music stores. The last five years have seen the rise of Sam Ash and Guitar Center, both of them “big box” music stores, that, what they lack in customer service, knowledge, and experience, they make up for in the volume of guitars, drums, keyboards, and recording gear in their showrooms. Right now, Rick Tohcha is in his office, sorting through a mountain of invoices while simultaneously barking into the phone, an ever-present coffee mug planted on the desk. Rumor has it that there’s more than java in there, but I’m not going to be the one to call out the boss as a closet alcoholic. Sure, the thin wad of twenties he pays me under the table hardly seems worth it at the end of the week, but it’s all I’ve got. At the end of every conversation, he slams the receiver down hard enough to shake the windows of his office and send the paper towers trembling.

Next to me, Patrick is restringing a vintage ’59 Les Paul. He holds the string against the fretboard with his left hand, and with his right pulls the slack tight, stretching the silver wire back and forth. He’s tall, thin, and stoop-shouldered, perpetually beleaguered. Last month he started working out, and not a day’s gone by since that he hasn’t flexed his arms and made some comment about being sore.

“Man, my guns are burning!” he says, setting the Les Paul down and spreading his arms out to his side. I roll my eyes. It’s too early for this. It’s always too early for this. The phone slams down again in the office, followed by a muffled “Idiot! Jerk!” We look at the door, then back at each other.

“So… how was this morning?” I ask.

“With Rick?” Patrick snorts, massaging his biceps one at a time. “A disaster, as usual. The fucking guy slept in his office again last night. He showed up at the front door in his boxers and a tank top, brushing his teeth. I just stood there, shaking my head. ‘C’mon, man, put on some pants!  Get your rug on!’”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Five minutes till we open and the guy’s not even dressed.  He reeks of alcohol, man, and—”

I throw my hand up, cutting him off.  “Wait, did you say rug?”

Patrick shoots me a look, a quick, bird-like motion, an eyebrow raised somewhere just below his hairline. It hovers like a swimmer on a high-dive. “You don’t know?” He glances at the office to make sure the boss is still inside, but drops the volume of his voice just the same. “Captain Tohcha over there wears a fucking toupee.  How did you not know that?”

“A bad haircut? I dunno — I just work here, man.”