The old man looked at his watch. It was a quarter to ten, exactly. He was shocked to see it was this early, as his day has been many times as full as his usual week. He wondered what he should do next, he knew he wanted to kill some time, but, over three hours, he didn't know what to do. The old man looked back at the diner, but dismissed the option, as he'd already been there. To quote his grandson, "Been there, Done that." He giggled at the thought.
He looked up and around, meandering the street, looking at the storefronts as if they were all new to him. Indeed many of them were new, as he hadn't been down in this section of town for many months. A new music shop had opened across the street, and a big, bold sign read: Lessons! Sales! Trades! Intrigued, the old man crossed the street and looked in the windows of the shop.
The music store had not opened yet, and the inside was dim, but the windows were brightly lit from the sun. Guitars, and horns of all types filled the display case. The old man marvelled at the designs and craftsmanship so easily apparent from the instruments. Slowly he walked from one end to the other of the display window, resembling a child looking in the windows of a large toy shop. In the far window, the old man stopped and whistled. A mannequin dressed like an island girl, wearing a coconut bra and grass skirt held a beautiful ukulele. The sun practically glittered off it, it shone like a jewel. He had never seen anything made of wood glow in such a way, and was so taken back by it, he knew he had to at least hold it.
But, he'd never played any instrument. Years upon years ago, at a luau party his church had sponsored, a group of men in Hawaiian shirts played ukulele's while a few pretty girls did the hula while the entire congregation ate pineapples and roasted pork. Reverend Willie was an avid ukulele player, and always wanted to bring a little culture to the events he'd planned. The memory brought a smile to his face, as he continued to gaze at the ukulele.
"Yeah, She really is a beaut, isn't she!" said a voice behind the old man.
"Hmm, what? Yeah. The ukulele, it's really pretty! The hula girl's not too bad either." laughed the old man, still not breaking his gaze with the instrument that had him so entranced.
"Heh, good! I was talking about the uke too! Gen-u-ine Curly Koa wood, hand crafted. Abalone inlay. Sounds like a dream." An older gentleman stood next to the old man, and offered his hand to shake. "I'm Chuck, and its great to meet you!" The old man smiled warmly and shook his hand. "Here, let me open the door, and I'll let you take a better look at her."
"This is your shop?" asked the old man. "Yep, moved in a few months ago. I figured I didn't want to ever be really retired, I was afraid I'd get bored, and not know what to do with myself." Chuck went and started fussing with his keys to unlock the door. "So, I came down here, and got a small shop, it keeps my workshop far enough away from the wife where she doesn't complain about the dust, and I get to do what I love every day." He opened the door and waved the old man inside. Clicking a few switches, the shop illuminated in a bright warm white light.
The shop looked more like a living room than a musical instrument store. There were a few couches and a coffee table in the middle of the room, and it was flanked by more comfortable chairs. A recliner sat in the corner. The left wall was covered in guitars, the right wall had smaller instruments, banjos, ukuleles and horns. "Let me give you the grand tour," started Chuck. "Here on the left are guitars, I've made a few of them, but most of them are mass market type things. Up on this wall here," he gestured at the right side wall, "There are the horns, I don't repair them, I sell to the high school, and do rentals for the kids over the summer, then, here are the banjos, which are a blast to play." The old man nodded at this, as he had always enjoyed listening to bluegrass performances with banjos and guitars. "
"And here," said Chuck, as he pointed further along the wall, "here is my new true instrumental love- the ukuleles. I've made most of them, all different sizes. They're so easy to learn, and so fun to play, and always a conversation starter." The old man drifted down to the ukuleles.
"You know," started the old man, "You know, I've always wanted to learn to play the ukulele, I saw it once, and fell in love with it."
"Ha! I knew you looked familiar-- You were at the Rev's party- I remember, because you were clapping and cheering as your wife was doing the hula! And, man, she really got into it!" Chuck and the old man laughed at the memory. "So, how's she doing?"
The old man looked down at the floor. "She passed about a year ago, I got to imagine she's doing well up there. Probably doing the hula with St. Peter himself." He looked up and smiled.
"I'm sorry to hear that, but I believe you when you say you think she's hula'ing up in heaven."
"She's probably having a blast up there." The old man shrugged.
"Okay, lets get you that uke, I think you'll love it." said Chuck as he led the old man to one of the comfy couches in the front. "Have a seat here, and let me get her for you." The old man sat, and watched him carefully pluck the ukulele from the mannequin's loving arms. Chuck walked back over to the old man, and handed the uke to him. The old man carefully held the ukulele, admiring the inlay. There were abalone palm trees, and delicate flamingos placed on the headstock. The crown jewel was a flamingo curled up around the sound hole. It almost looked painted on, until you looked closely and saw that it was an extremely finely done inlay of shell and coral. The old man ran his fingers gently over the face of the uke, holding it like a newborn, afraid it'd shatter at his lightest touch.
"Now, man, this ukulele is fragile, I mean I wouldn't drop it, but it's made to play- its not quite that delicate, you know?" The old man smiled, as Chuck continued. "I try to play all of them, each day a new ukulele, after all there are plenty here to choose from, but anyway, please don't be afraid to try it out."
The old man held the ukulele in his lap and gently strummed the strings. "I hate to say it, but I don't know a thing about playing the ukulele. You think you could take a few minutes and teach this old dog a few new tricks?" Chuck laughed and answered, "Of course! I was waiting for you to ask sooner!" Chuck walked over to the ukulele wall, and picked up another uke, this one plain, but made of the same wood that practically glowed in the light of the room. He also went to his desk in the back of the room and grabbed a worksheet with various chord charts and simple songs on it. The two men sat next to each other and Chuck showed the old man a few simple chords. It wasn't long until the two men were playing and singing together.
"Hey old man, You're pretty good at this! You're catching on fast." laughed Chuck.
"I guess you can teach a old dog some new tricks" he replied, strumming the ukulele.
"If you want, you can hang out here as long as you want, I'm going to go ahead and put up a fresh pot of joe, if you want some." The old man nodded affirmatively .Chuck looked down at his watch as he started to set up the coffee pot. "Oh, and its good you're here, that lady from the local news, she's coming over in a few to check out the shop, and interview me, something about the town's new revitalization, bringing in new shops and whatnot." Chuck shrugged. "Anything that's good for business, you know?"
A few minutes later, Chuck brought over two cups of coffee. Under his arm, he had a canister of sugar and a container of powdered creamer. "I'm sorry about the coffee powder, but I don't keep around the milk anymore. Turns out when its only me here, it goes bad before I finish it all."
"At my house, its the same thing. I buy the smallest boxes, and the smallest containers, but everything seems to spoil before I can finish it all. Oh well, what to do? Heh, I ended up going to powdered Creamora too. It's not that bad truth be told." he smiled as he shook some of the powdered creamer and a spoonful of sugar in the coffee. The two men sat together drinking their coffee, chatting like idle housewives for a few minutes, before picking up their ukuleles again. They were playing, singing and laughing until they saw a well dressed woman enter the shop, followed by a sleepy looking man holding a camera.
Chuck stood and said, "Why hello, Ma'am, I take it you're the newscaster the television station sent over?"
She smiled and replied, "Yes sir, I'm Susan, and this here, is Mike, my camera man." Mike nodded and waved.
"Good, good," Chuck replied, nervous energy crackling over him like a static charge. "Make yourselves at home, want some coffee?"
"Yes, please, that'd be excellent." answered Mike, while Susan shook her head no. Chuck walked over to the coffee pot, and poured another mug. He walked it to Mike, and they started talking about the best place to set the cameras, and the lighting.
Susan sat next to the old man, who still was plinking along on the ukulele. "Sir, you look like you're having a lot of fun with that." The old man looked at here and smiled. "You'd better believe it sister!" She laughed and put her hand on the old man's thigh. "Would you mind if I talked to you on camera after I talk to Chuck about the store? I think it'd be great for people to see you enjoying yourself so much."
"Of course! I wouldn't mind at all," answered the old man. "It'd be another thing to cross off my list."
"List?" she asked while tilting her head slightly to the side.
"Its a little bit of a story, its nothing really, pretty boring stuff, I'm sure you don't have time for it." he said, looking down at the uke, refusing to meet her eyes.
"Mike's got to set up the cameras, and that boy's constantly on island time-- he forgets he's not in Bermuda anymore." Mike snickered into his coffee cup and kept talking to Chuck. "I've got nothing but time for a bit, and something tells me that the story is more interesting than you're letting on."
The old man told Susan the story from the beginning until now, telling her about his depression and boredom, and about the list he wrote that morning. He told her about his hula hoop adventure, his plan to meet the dance teacher, and how Chuck taught him some ukulele. He showed her the list, and she studied it intently.
"So," he continued, "today's been by far one of the best days in my life recently. Every day I'd just sit in my yard and do nothing but exist. Today I'm finding myself again, and I'm doing things I've always been too scared to do."
Susan wiped a tear from her eye. "I was right-- your story is far more than you thought it to be. I'm really impressed. Maybe more than impressed. I'm thinking, maybe the station would be interested in hearing a little bit about you-- maybe we can help you get some of the more interesting things done, so you don't have to skip anything." The old man looked at her with eyes as big as saucers. "You mean it?" She smiled at him. "No promises, but lets see what we can do. In times like these, people need something to look forward to seeing, and some of the 'powers that be' owe me a favor or two." She had him jot down his information as Mike came over to her.
"Sukie, we're all set up for you to start." he said, as he walked around the room one last time with a light meter. She looked at the old man. "Wish me luck," she said as she gave him a quick hug. The old man's smile practically lit up the whole room. Carefully, he refolded the list and replaced it into his pocket as he watched the interview take place. Chuck was a skilled speaker, and looked good talking about his instruments. Susan and Mike repositioned for a shot of the old man and Chuck playing ukulele together.
"Well, I guess its a good thing we rehearsed," the old man quipped. Chuck told Susan, "This here, he is my best student." The old man laughed, and continued playing the ukulele. On camera, she asked him, "You look like you're having a whole lot of fun playing. How do you like it here?" to which he replied: "Susan, this is by far the most fun I've had in a long time. Chuck is the best, and his shop here is amazing. Anyone who doesn't come and visit is missing something truly awesome." Chuck beamed at the compliment. Susan thanked them and signed off.
"Will you be around this afternoon?" Susan asked the old man as Mike packed up the camera gear. "Well," started the old man, glancing at his watch, "It's about eleven thirty now, so I'll probably be here a little longer, then, I'll go and grab some lunch, I want to try out the new restaurant- I hear they have sushi!" Susan smiled at his excitement. "Then, I'll be at the dance studio down the block probably a little before one. I'm hoping to get in a dance lesson, if the teacher's up to it, and then, hmm, I'm not too sure where I'll be."
"Well, that certainly is a full day. Will you be home tonight?" she asked. The old man gestured at the duffel bag on the side of the couch. "I planned on heading out of town, to see maybe if I could get on to bigger and grander things. I don't know yet if I'm going anywhere, I haven't bought a ticket or anything. If anything though, my kids make me carry a cell phone. I hate the thing but I gave you the number on that piece of paper. I'll leave it on all day for you." Susan nodded her head appreciatively. "Thanks, I'm going to get on the horn to my boss and see what they think, I've a feeling they're going to like you!"
"You know, people have been telling me that all day, and I'm starting to believe it!" laughed the old man as he picked up the ukulele again. Mike and Susan finished packing up their equipment, and left some information with Chuck before they left the store.
"What a day, Chuck" sighed the old man. "It's not even lunch time, and all my dreams are coming true!" Chuck laughed and smiled. I'm glad your day is turning out this way. I was listening to your story, and good luck- you deserve the best." The two men talked for a little while longer before they put the ukuleles away. The old man grabbed his bag and shook Chuck's hand on his way out. "Chuck, this has been a great time, thank you!"
"You're always welcome here, please come back and let me know how your adventure went. I have got to see how this turns out!" The old man gave him a thumbs up on his way out of the music shop.
The old man looked up and down the block for a few seconds, he couldn't quite remember where the new Japanese restaurant was. He figured that he hadn't passed it yet, so it had to be further down a ways. Like a new man, he walked down the block, checking out all the new storefronts.
He walked up to what had to be the place. The outside of the restaurant was bamboo, and a piece of fabric covered the doorway. With his hand, he pushed the curtain to the side, and called out, "Is anyone home?" A small Japanese woman dressed in a beautiful kimono waved him inside. "Come in, Come in," she said, "Please, have a seat." She led him to a chair in front of a counter. Behind the counter was a well lit area, with fish in a little glass walled refrigerator case that he could see into. He looked wide eyed at the fish, and felt a little nervous. The man behind the counter was tall, and was wiping down all the surfaces. "How can I be of service," he asked in a thickly accented voice.
"Um, I'm new at this, I don't know where to start." stammered the old man. The chef behind the counter smiled, and said "For you, only the best, we'll start at the beginning and work up from there." Deftly, the sushi chef created some small pieces of sushi, and explained to the old man what they were, and how to eat them. With some miming of the technique, the old man understood, and ate his first piece.
The flavor combination filled the old man's mouth, salty, sour, pungent and sweet combined and brought a huge smile to the lips of the old man as he visibly relaxed. "Wow, that was good!" he exclaimed. The sushi chef bowed deeply, and worked on more things for the old man to sample. Many pieces, and many more mimed demonstrations later, the old man was using chopsticks like an old pro to pick up a piece of sashimi and dip it lightly into the shoyu. The chef grinned as the old man closed his eyes, savoring the flavor of the sashimi. "You, you're a master already. Very good!"
The old man paid his bill and left a generous tip for the chef. He knew that this restaurant was now on his list of favorite places to go out to eat. Looking at his watch, he saw that he had plenty of time to go and digest his food on the way back to the dance studio. With head and spirit raised, he walked towards the dance studio.