June 2, 2010

The two Jonathans

I once lived in a tiny basement apartment with a kind-hearted femme fatale who wore black leather and dyed her hair bright red. We might’ve been poor in funds, but we were rich in love. We made new friends every week it seemed through the semi-popular band for which I was the main songwriter. I got to play for audiences of 500 plus.

During that time in my early-20s, I clumsily crashed into kindred spirits, three of whom I still play music with today. And during the lulls in our busy lives, we sometimes engage in some of the anti-social behavior that used to fuel our rock shows and artwork.

We can still be caught cruising down Bardstown Road, making guns with our forefingers and knuckles and pretending to do drive-bys on Emo kids, art elitists, yuppies and pretty much anyone not a member of the first family of rock founded by men like the Bird Brothers, our mentors and predecessors.

Even though I now look back on those years with nostalgia that might be considered overly sentimental, at the time I bitched a lot about being poor and working at a coffee shop owned by two painfully positive, constantly smirking metro-sexuals whom I always imagined in private moments, like at the sauna or on the putting green, acting like the jocks and conservatives they publicly renounced and detested. Although I never heard either of these men make this noise, I would, when imitating them the minute they left the store after treating me and the lesbians I worked with like complete boobs, say, “mmmyahs,” which, to be clearer, is a combination of the sound one makes when something tastes good (mmm) and the word “yes” delivered with an “ah” between the “y” and “s.”

My incessant mockery of the store eventually came to a head, inspiring a heated exchange with one of the crueler women I shared morning shifts with who believed in the coffee shop with a fundamentalist zeal. But she could not argue with the facts; the owners of this particular independent and “community friendly” coffee shop, sadly like most others in our city, continue to pay their employees less than Starbucks and do everything in their power to avoid paying health insurance.

While most of my grievances were well founded, I regret spending so much time kicking against the pricks and not paying the attention deserved to my redheaded man killer. Looking back, I could’ve used the time I spent raging against the universe and its arbitrary nature doing something, anything positive.

I wasn’t able to admit that my approach to life, one that eventually drove away a kind yet biker-tough vixen clad in black leather, MIGHT be flawed until one night I received the strangest phone call while trying to nap, enjoying the silence and darkness. I answered gruffly. The woman on the other end asked if my name was Jonathan Ashley. I confirmed that it was. By my second sentence, the disappointment in her voice was palpable. She was sure I was not the Jonathan she was searching for, as he would have been in his 60s by now. She asked if I had any relatives that shared my name, and I told her “not that I know of.”

At first she described the other Jonathan as an old, long-lost college friend from her days at Western Kentucky. Then, the prologue to a sob in her voice, she admitted he was her lover and the two had had a falling out after college, going their separate ways and never speaking again. She thanked me for my time and we hung up.

I had never written a love song until that night.

With the passing of youth’s sweet flower, I lost the redhead and the band, and I quit the coffee shop. I gathered the troops earlier this year and formed an even better group. I rekindled a friendship with the femme fatale despite all the horror I’d inflicted upon her. I even published a short story and finished college.

And now, in the quieter, more private moments between visits with old friends, with my family of brigands and outcasts, I mourn a more recent friend and sometimes partner. I wish I could say with any amount of certainty whether this Jonathan Ashley might get another phone call 30 years from now and that the woman on the other end will have found the man she was searching for.