The Honky-Tonk Requiem began with guys, their cars and an ungodly pile of empty beer cans.
Yes, I know we shouldn’t be mixing booze with motor vehicles but truth is truth and all over America young men gather on weekend nights in places far from home to drink, tell lies, fantasize about women and then drive home in cars that roar.
The stories they tell swell up in proportion to the horsepower under those hoods.
The Honky-Tonk Requiem began on just such an evening. Albert Cortez was back from college for the summer and this was his last night with the guys. Albert was the one who got away. He studied musical composition at an institute whose name alone would have inspired awe in Mozart. His friends however were not that impressed and basically pitied Albert having to go away to a cold place for 9 months of the year to do something so tedious. They thought of Albert as the poor kid who tagged along in school pranks but was always the one who got caught and was made to stay after school while his friends made faces at him through the windows. Worst of all, back where he lived, he rode public transit.
But in spite of the unfairness of it, Albert liked it that way. He preferred that his friends treated him as if he weren’t any different from them, as if the only righteous thing in the world was to tune your car to perfection and stock merchandise at K-mart. He put up with their misunderstanding knowing that inexorably his life was taking him further and further away. One day, all too soon, he wouldn’t remember how to spend a night like this. You couldn’t study Piazzolla and Alban Berg all year long without having your ties to your buddies in the hot Central Valley of California slowly dry up like a farm that’s had its water rights denied.
How many summer nights had he spent gathering at the favorite spot on an untraveled dirt road while they transformed their ordinary deeds into legend? He knew he would miss that simpler life, that he already did. But you couldn’t live in Manhattan and hold conversations in cafes about tonal composition without this world losing some of its luster. He knew he loved them but he also knew that he had to get away before he started looking at them the way his friends back East did. He didn’t want to be a witness to his own betrayal.
Even though his family had lived in the same neighborhood as his friends and his parents had worked the same factory jobs and they had all gone to the same schools, something had made him different. Was it ambition or self-respect or just a curiosity to see what surprises life might bring? All his life, he had told himself that he was just like them – until he couldn’t say it any more. He knew now that it was just a comforting mirage like the kind that formed on the freeways on hot days.
But being his last night, he pushed back such thoughts. Tonight the important thing was that they were together one last time. The cars were parked haphazardly in the dirt. Some of the guys were standing around; others had their doors open but refused to get out, preferring to be in tactile communion with their beloved beasts. Beer flowed freely from a keg in someone’s trunk.
They weren’t saying goodbye. They were just doing what they did every time their shifts ended and they gathered at that oasis until they had no more perfect summer nights to squander.