Steve Katz

On Court Street, Michael and I tore away from each other, without words, like a wishbone minus the luck. We’d taken our argument outside the apartment and into the evening hot, walking together for a few blocks before embarking on separate runs. He was taking the train to Greenpoint for a long run home, and I was taking my legs to the air-conditioned gym for mindless release. I don’t know how Michael ran that night, but I ran fast, fueled with all sorts of emotion, a state of running I will admit to missing sometimes just because of the naturally aggressive, effortless pushing it warrants. For 40 minutes, without music, I ran uphill. Then I went and cried at the mirror, ten pounds up and down behind my head. 

As a writer it seemed the perfect night to be hot and bothered; everything looked and felt personal. The sky, a mean summer orange, had given the brownstones a sick glow as if they’d been slapped on the stoop more than once, and the old, Italian ladies sitting sticky in their chairs could tell you exactly what they’d seen. I thought about the rest of my night, how I wanted it to go, how I could make this Friday night mine and no one else’s. I thought about not showering and just grabbing my bike for a night-ride. I thought about walking through Brooklyn Bridge Park and setting myself down on a bench to think about my man and our mishegas. I thought about buying a pack of cigarettes, something I have not done in years, just to blow smoke for once. As I got closer to my apartment, and closer to the idea of just showering and going to bed, I saw two girls sitting outside Jalopy, the bluegrass, folk, and banjo venue next door. 

“Who’s playing tonight?” I asked them.

“Steve Katz,” one girl said. “He goes on at 9.” 

 I didn’t know who Steve Katz was but I didn’t really care. 

“I live next door,” I pointed out. “I’m just gonna go take a shower and then I’ll be back down.” 

As soon as I said it, I felt weird for saying it, as if we were people living in a small, country town and I had just moved into the barn down the gravel path.  

“Sounds good,” the other girl said.

The whole thing did sound good, and as I showered and shampooed my hair, I felt more and more satisfied with the night’s plan. Before I left, I texted Michael: “@Jalopy.” 

A ticket to hear Steve Katz play cost $25. I paid that up, and while I was at it, paid cash for a stocky mason glass of wine, which I took with me to the 3rd row pew, just short of the stage. There were maybe 12 people there, mostly older people, like a few years older than my parents. Around 9:10, Steve Katz walked down the aisle and got up on stage. He looked close to 70, with a belly and a plain, wrung out dark blue shirt. He didn’t say anything; he started to play. My eyes got hot immediately. It had nothing to do with what he was singing about (a jug band tune called “take your fingers off it, don’t you dare touch it, you know it don’t belong to you”) but it had everything to do with feeling touched by sound. Sometimes music hits me and I feel like it’s the first time I’ve been hit with it, ever. Behind me, under their breath, a man and woman sang along. In between songs, while tuning his guitar, Steve Katz told stories as if we already knew the most of it and here we were, just sitting around a fire, sharing more, and adding to them. Later on, in another pew, during a memory about the Gaslight Café on MacDougal Street, someone helped him remember the name of a guy they used to know. I thought about a million different things as Steve Katz played his guitar and sang his songs. His age, for one thing, and how the 60s were so long gone for him. I thought about his memories - the songs he would write about women leaving him; the joints he would roll and the bourbon he would pour. He sang a song to his grandchildren about prostitution and when he tried to explain what prostitution was to them, one of them looked up at him and said, “I don’t think that song is about that.” Steve Katz said, “Okay, it’s about drugs then.” I really liked his banter. I really liked that he was out on a Friday night playing in the cool of a friends-only crowd. Even though he also sang a song about most of his old friends being dead or having gone away. I liked the wooden tap of my wineglass hitting the pew each time I took a sip.

“… And that’s when Blood, Sweat, and Tears was formed.” 

Suddenly, Steve Katz said this and all I could think was… Dad…

My dad loves Blood, Sweat, and Tears. He loves lots of bands, but his love for this one has always stood out for me. We used to have a couple packed drawers of cassette tapes, so many of them scribbled in my dad’s lefty handwriting, I see them in my head. Almost 15 years ago, when I was showing him how “Napster” works (that is so crazy to write), I asked him to name me a band he wanted to look up. 

“Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” he said, immediately.

“Who are they?” I asked.

“Oh man, you don’t know who Blood, Sweat, and Tears are?” Disappointment shrouded his face. “I have so much to teach you.” 

Listening to a guy my dad listened to for so many years rounded out the rest of my night. 

It’s those small surprises that can turn your night around.