Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Johnny Cash "I Walk The Line"

There was this girl that I had a huge crush on . . .

Okay, let me stop right there and point out that there are many many entries of this blog that start with some form of that last sentence.  But I don't think I've ever written about this girl before.  It's true, I had a lot of crushes on a lot of girls in my day, but never did I pull of a coup such as this.

It all started 7 years prior, somewhere circa 1993.  I had met this girl at a business meeting and was completely lovestruck in the first 30 seconds when she said, apropos of nothing, "Would you like to hear my imitation of a moose?!"  I was utterly charmed.

I asked her out and, I dunno, something happened.  A miscommunication or something.  And it seemed like she blew me off.  I was crushed.  Not long after, I heard she moved West.

Seven years later, I was walking out of the grocery store and did a double-take.  There she was, walking into the store.

I quickly shoved my groceries in the car and went back in, to find that item I, um, forgot.  Yeah.  I forgot toilet paper.  So even if I tried to talk to her and she blew me off again, at least we'd have extra toilet paper at 7 Maples.

But she didn't blow me off.  She remembered me.  We chatted.  I played it cool.  I asked her what she was doing for work.  Told her that now that she was back in town, I'd see her around.

And then I stalked her.

Okay, not really stalked her.  I mean, it just so happened that my favorite coffee shop was right across the street from the office where she was working.  So I'd go there every day, and sit at a table and read a book and hope she'd come for a coffee break.  Or that she'd leave the office at the same moment I was leaving the coffee shop, so I could wave to her.

It did happen from time to time.

She was very friendly and warm, and she prolonged the conversations.  She seemed interested.  Right up to the point where I'd say, "So and so is having a party this weekend . . ." and she'd say that she had something going on.

One night on the town, I figured out where the resistance was coming from.  I saw her in a local bar with a nicely dressed, good looking dude.

Okay, so she's seeing somebody.  But I think she's still interested in me.  Because in all our conversations, she never mentions this guy.  I think I have a shot.

I needed to do two things.

I needed a way to get her to hang out with me, without it seeming like she was on a date.  Because if she was seeing someone, she wouldn't go out on a date.  But if it were just a night out---not a date---then she could say Yes.

Secondly, I had to pitch an irresistible line. And I found that line:

Hear the line, on Youtube.

Well, I didn't say "Hello I'm Johnny Cash" to her.  What I said was, "I have an extra Johnny Cash ticket, would you like to go?"

Now understand, this wasn't just a ticket to see Johnny Cash.  This was an opportunity to see him at The Carter Family Fold.

I'm sure you know the Johnny Cash story.  He married June Carter, who was a member of the famous Carter Family, known as some of the originators of what we call country music.  The Carter Family had a farm not far from where I lived in Virginia.  And on Saturday nights, they opened up their barn for concerts, usually featuring bluegrass and Old Time bands.  But June had a new album out, and she was putting on a concert, and Johnny, as well as their son John, were on the bill.  My friends and I scored 10 tickets.

Come with me and my friends to see what would perhaps be the last chance to ever see Johnny Cash (and yes, it turned out to be one of his last ever live performances)?

She couldn't say no.

And no unmentioned boyfriend in the world could veto an invitation like that.

We met up on the day of the show, and, as preplanned, my friends got into two four-seater cars, in two groups.  No room for anyone else in either of those cars.  That left two people behind.  Me and my non-date.

"We can take my car, I guess," I said, nonchalantly.

And that was my whole plan.  To be nonchalantly awesome.  

I had music by her favorite artist on the tape deck in my car.  I had racked up and road-tested a dozen stories to tell, just in case the conversation slowed.  I made her come up to the concession stand with me, and I bought her a 50 cent ice cream sandwich, which came off as wholesome and charming---all part of the plan.

The Carter Family Fold is literally a barn-like structure, built into a hill.  If you get there late, you can sit on the hillside and look into the open side of the barn.  But if you get there early, you can sit inside, because it's first-come, first serve.  And these are not Skybox seats we're talking about.  These were wooden benches, made "softer" because they had rug samples stapled to them.

We wanted to get there very, very early.  Mostly because we wanted to be close-up to Johnny Cash.  But yeah, it didn't hurt that this extended my non-date.

I was deftly managing to walk the thin line between date and non-date, quite well.  Being fairly awkward as a rule, telling myself this wasn't a date took a lot of the pressure off.  I was only off my balance once, when one of my friends made the crack to her about "PJ doesn't bring all his dates to a show like this."  I shot laser eyes at him to indicate: "THIS IS NOT A DATE."

Hours were passing and my material was running low, but The Plan was working.  I felt like I was winning her over.  And then . . .

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

He was old and he was grey and he was hoarse.  But he was Johnny Mother-F-N Cash and he was standing right in front of us singing "Big River."  He was playing straight man to the ever hilarious June.  And when he ceded the stage to let her sing, he would sit on the bench in the back, and somehow, miraculously, cease to be "Johnny Cash."  Somehow, miraculously, he could turn that charisma off and become human again.  Only to fire it back up when it was his turn to absolutely slay the crowd by singing "Far Side Banks Of Jordan" with June.

When it was over and we exited The Fold, we, along with the crowd, shared in the buzz of knowing that we'd just seen something pretty special, we'd witnessed a moment in time that we'd carry with us for the rest of our musical lives.

The ride home with her was quiet, as was appropriate for the ringing in our ears, the winding dark Virginia roads, and the brilliantly starry, crystal-clear sky.

I was at peace, knowing that despite the many, many disappointments and failures I had had in my dating days, I couldn't have made this night any better.

We reached home, and I distinctly remember the sound of my car door shutting, as I walked her to her car.  And when I heard that sound, I knew it was over.

"Well, thanks," she said.

"That was amazing, huh?"

"Yeah.  It was.  Thanks again."

"We'll do it again sometime," I said, pitching it somewhere halfway between a question and a suggestion.

"Uh, yeah, yeah.  Of course."  The hesitancy had returned.

"I'll see you down the coffee shop."

But the magic of seeing Johnny Cash, live and in person, was never coming back, and neither was this moment with her.  She had a boyfriend, and the temporary effects of a Johnny Cash show weren't going to override that.

Sometimes, even when you walk the line perfectly, she's still going to end up on the far side banks from where you are.  No matter how awesomely nonchalant you walk it.

Hear the song on Youtube.

Hear "Far Side Banks Of Jordan" on Youtube.

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