Mose leaned against the stone façade of the Bank of the West building on the corner of 16th and Champa. It had snowed the night before but now, closing in on sunset, it was near 80 and promised the first comfortable night of the spring. No fighting over street vents tonight.
He opened the black case, lined with velour, and drew forth Sally. She was the only thing he truly owned. The only thing he’d brought with him from the old life. Even the clothes on his back were someone else’s. But not Sally.
It was a little early for the real Friday night crowd but there were plenty of tourists, drawn to the “life style” stores on 16th that sold gummie bears and chocolate chip cookies with kick. Aside from the tax revenue for the state, the legalization of marijuana had also increased trade for all of the businesses along the open air mall.
He moistened the reed – more of a kiss, really – and began to play. Sally was a bass saxophone and Mose had once been a great. You wouldn’t have heard of him, honest blue jazz isn’t the sort of music people listen to anymore, but if you heard him play you would stop what you were doing. A cobra to a charmer.
And the people – commuters and tourists – all stopped when Sally began to sing. Mose had killed a man with a plastic fork one night to keep her from being stolen. He had gone hungry for almost a month rather than pawn her. Sally was special to him. She was his only tie to before.
It had been a hobby first, in the days before Capital and Virgin and MCA. He’d been born able to play a reed but he never took it seriously until chance and fate went on a date where he was washing dishes. The sax player was picked up on his way into the club with an 8 ball. Clyde had panicked until Mose said, “I can play a little.” “Let me hear you.” said Clyde.
Mose played 5 nights a week after that. He made 6 figures a year through the 80s as a sessions player. He played with Kenny a couple of times and probably could have gotten his own record, but Mose wasn’t that sort of man. For him it was about the music. It was about being in the groove with Sally. It was about jamming. And six figures bought a lot of blow back then.
The drugs nearly killed him. He fled L.A. and the money in his pocket stretched across the Rockies but no further. He landed in Denver in 1993. He’s seen a lot since then. Has even had paying gigs since then (he’s Lisa Simpson’s sax) but he never went back to the big time.
He lived in the Bermuda Triangle until the city fathers fenced it up and sent the bums scurrying for cover. There’s not a mission in the city that won’t squeeze him in if he shows up at their door. But he doesn’t go usually. He doesn’t want to take the bed from someone who needs it more. And they make him play.
It isn’t that he doesn’t enjoy playing. He loves his time with Sally. It’s more about the pressure of the performance, the need to be amazing. On the street he only plays when he wants to. Like tonight.
I get chills thinking about it. The longing. The sorrow. The love and loss. When Mose and Sally are together everything else stops. And on the corner of 16th and Champa their voice echoes and you are drawn into a secret world. If you could turn away, if you could look west, you’d see the Rockies leaning in closer. Remembering eternity past. Drawn to the song of a man’s suffering, of his penance for a candle burned at both ends.