Full Circle by
50
(96 Stories)

Prompted By Lost and Found

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I had split up with but not left my partner. We owned a house together, B. and me. For almost a decade, we had shared the love and care of two great kids, had sung together from California to West Virginia, lived in the Rockies for two winters, traveled the country in a variety of vehicles, all that and more. As is often the case, the breakup was horrendously painful.

“Don’t sweat it,” I said. I couldn’t get the “brother” part out; it stuck in my craw.

We had returned to San Francisco where B. enrolled in law school. Enough of this fooling around for her. I was working in the theater with a salary from a latter-day WPA program. I was also playing jazz in San Francisco’s bustling music scene.

I was functioning, but crazy as a loon. I needed a time out, so I packed up my upright bass (gotta keep those chops up), a sleeping bag, a few clothes, tools, and my favorite leather jacket, which I had nherited from my grandfather.

I drove north to visit friends who lived on the Lost Coast of Humboldt county. I felt I needed to make a decision about what my next move would be. Should I move out of the house I had settled in with my surrogate nuclear family and assorted fellow musicians and actors? Should I stay and try to pick up the pieces of my badly fragmented relationship? Or should I leave one theater company for the excitement of a new creative project and a year-long work relationship with S. that promised new love, new worlds, new directions and, as is so often the case, new conflicts?

The sojourn to the beauty of Humboldt’s wild coast settled nothing. I started back to San Francisco as conflicted as when I had left, proving that retreat solves little; engagement, painful though it may be, is the only way to work through dilemmas. There was a lot at stake, and I had to return to address the tangled web I had woven.

By the time I completed the long, solo trip back to the city, I was a wreck and still undecided. Should I stay or should I go? I stopped by the home of S. my theater partner heartthrob, and confidante. Working together, we had grown more than close.

I sat in her kitchen, had a beer, calmed down with the benefit of her patience and wisdom. Although we didn’t resolve my problems, destiny dictated that I would soon take up residence with a third-party pal, an actor friend who had a spare bedroom. I would move from Andover (over And over And over And over) Street to a new pad on Connecticut (Connect I cut, Connect I cut, Connect I cut) Street. As mentioned earlier, I was out of my mind.

I said goodbye to S. and descended the stairs to my station wagon. My heart stopped. In my road-weary disarray, I had left the back window of the vehicle open. The tailgate was down; everything was gone: clothes, sleeping bag, tools, and my string bass. Gone. Lost. I’m sure you can imagine such a feeling. Anger, self-recrimination, and the case for karmic retribution centrifuged in my skull until my vision blurred.

Time passed. I moved from Andover to Connecticut Street. Set up shop. Found a throaty old string bass and scrambled for the cash to cover it. I began working with the new theater company and sealed the exciting, intense new partnership with my exciting, intense new partner.

Gigs, theater pieces, a life filling in, a new theater company building, terrible happenings in San Francisco, the city hall murder of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, the mass-manipulation -murder -suicide at Jonestown. But the work continued, my relationship with S. deepened. I reunited with the wonderful kids I had lived with for so long. I began to feel whole again.

One evening, S. and I went to see Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” The film had become popular and there was a line leading down from Van Ness Avenue to the ticket booth and the theater marquee. An acoustic ragtime band was playing to the waiting line of movie goers.

“Jeez,” I said to S. “That looks like my old bass.”

“They probably all do,” she said. “Probably a little like seeing an ex where no ex is.” We shuffled closer as the theater doors opened.

“That really looks like my old bass,” I said. You get to know an instrument you play a lot. The outline, the look of it, all the little imperfections.

We drew closer. The band was playing a kind of watery ragtime, hippies in ragged jeans, plaid shirts, funny hats and ponytails.

“Fuck,” I said. “That IS my bass.” I walked up to the band, very cool. The guy playing my ax was no thief. “That’s my bass,” I said.

The poor guy looked like he’d just killed his mother. “Oh, no,” he said. The other guys responded with a soft chorus of “oh, wows” and “dangs.”

“Look on the inside,” I said. “You’ll find a serial number ‘4-2-1’ hand-written in ink on the label. It’s a Thompson. And there’s a chipped corner on the inside cornice of the bridge, right…“ I put my finger on the broken bridge cornice. “…right here.”

“Oh yeah, man. Oh, wow. Sorry, man,” the bass player said. The other musicians nodded in chagrined agreement. “Bummer, man.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Bummer.” I felt very pre-possessed. “So where’d you get the bass?” I asked. “Don’t worry. I know you didn’t steal it.”

“Oh no, man. I sure didn’t.”

“Okay,” I said. “I don’t wanna know.”

“Oh, okay, cool.”

So,” I said. “Here’s what we’re gonna do.”

“Sure, man. Whatever. I sure am sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it,” I said. I couldn’t get the “brother” part out; it stuck in my craw. “Just give me your driver’s license and your phone number. We’re gonna go in and watch this movie, and tomorrow, I’m gonna call you. When we meet, you’ll give me the bass, and I’ll give you back your driver’s license.”

Nods and assents from the possessor of stolen property and his voluntarily culpable music mates.

Through it all, S. stood by. Although she had a sharp eye for human behavior and a lightning articulate tongue, she also frequently quoted Kenny Rogers current hit, “The Gambler.” You got to know when to hold ’em/know when to fold ’em.”

The bass player gave me his license, apologizing all the way through the transaction. Sad but sweet in an apocalyptic sort of way. San Francisco. 1978. An apocalyptic time.

My partner and I went in and watched Woody Allen indulge in one of his earlier explorations of pedophilia. Mariel Hemingway played a lovely teenager who was laughably unbelievable as the adoring girlfriend of the scrawny, balding, funny man. He almost redeemed himself with one of those Allen overtures with New York City and George Gershwin serenading each other.

Through the film, I felt surprisingly composed, whole. I felt an unfamiliar peace buzzing in my gut like a warm roll. When we emerged from the theater, the little ragtime band was gone. The next day I called the unfortunate musician and picked up the bass.

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Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

Visit Author's Website



Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Wow, what a story of lost and found! Those of us who have been following you for a while have heard about B. and S. before, so the setting makes perfect sense. But I did NOT expect the encounter with the ragtag bass player to go well; I thought he would disappear with your bass.

    I love how you played with the street names Andover and Connecticut, gleaning a message about what course you should follow. Thanks for another fabulous story!

    • Glad you enjoyed “Full Circle,” Suzy. At the time, it was clear to me that the poor guy knew he had bought a stolen instrument, no questions asked. I would have probably been more demonstrative had he not (and his pals) been so sheepishly apologetic. I remember how clearly I understood my “loose” response would work out and S. seconded that impulse. I am glad the potentially “too cute” mantra on Andover and Connecticut worked for you. Thanks again, and thanks, guys. The prompt “prompted” me to recall the whole episode from such a difficult, transitional time, both personally and politically.

  2. Bravo Charles and your lost and found bass!
    Do you remember that years ago Yo Yo Ma left his million dollar cello in a New York taxi and got it back – of course it was probably insured anyway.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    You retrieve and use the pivotal moments of your life so well, Chas; the transition from B to S, even though you were “not in your right mind”. Like Suzy, I liked how you played with the street names Andover and Connecticut.

    I cannot imagine how AWFUL you felt when you discovered that all your worldly possessions were gone (including that leather jacket from your grandfather; I have my father’s WWII leather flight jacket, a bit big for me but I enjoyed wearing it around the Brandeis campus back in the day). But the odds of finding your precious bass are phenomenal, then taking the guy’s driver’s license to ensure its return. Good move.

    Since Yo Yo lives locally (for me), and I used to travel a lot for business, I once saw him running desperately for an airplane through Logan, but with his precious cello, slung across his shoulder. He truly is a gift from above; from the Silk Road project to his own communication skills, to playing now on social media platforms to ease us through these troubled times. A rare man.

    • Thanks, Betsy. Another Retro prompt that brings back another big moment. The loss and recovery of that bass seemed at the time analogous to what I was going through in my personal and artistic worlds and still seems as such today. I still wish I had that leather jacket; it was irreplaceable!

  4. Marian says:

    Charles, this story is so evocative of that time in San Francisco and what you went through. At that time I could definitely see the musicians’ reaction to buying your stolen bass. Amazing writing, and I love how your mind “centrifuged.” Many of us have been there. The Yo Yo Ma analogy is dead on. I saw him at Stanford years ago and thought that someone could go on the stage and gently take the cello out of his hands, and the music would continue. It was coming through him from another plane.

  5. Wonderful story, Charles…a real gem! While I love the heft of the story itself, I savor the fourth from the last paragraph about S and of course the second to the last about WA. Bravo!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    What a great story, Charles. You write so well. I just finished your book Gates of Eden, which I very much enjoyed. Took me back to an era I had lived through and brought back many memories.arles.

  7. Hi, Dana. I see your recent comment re: “Full Circle” via email, but can’t find it on the site. So… Here it is: “Charles, Thanx for the link to the story, it gave sorely maligned New York cabbies a better name!
    Sweet to hear how Ma’s music moved you. At the end of his weekly radio show Rick Conaty, a NY the jazz and 20s and 30s popular music guru, always said RHYTHM SAVED THE WORLD. Hope it’s not too late.”

    CD: Sad story, Dana, the withering away of NY cabbies, first from Uber, then from covid. Rhythm has always saved the world, the cosmos rocks in tempo! Have courage, patience, stay safe, stay sane.

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