Category Archives: Beauty

Forty-One

I’m 41 today. I’m all alone in a big house, taking care of a scrawny orange cat who is a total dick. And since I’m all alone in a big house with a scrawny orange cat who is a total dick AND IT’S MY BIRTHDAY, I decided to lounge around in lingerie. I also did some gardening. In lingerie.

In lieu of writing flowery poetry about turning 41, I am going to quote my dear, good friend Renee.

“41 is going to be your year. You are going to find love in a way you never expected. And you are going to release your album and it’s going to be a tremendous success. You are going to receive the desires of your heart. You are going to be financially stable.

You are going to be completely at peace with yourself, and that’s what the love is. Whether it’s a man or it’s just you being at peace with all of the goodness of who you are and how you are and why you are — you are going to be at peace.”

Amen. Here’s to love. Here’s to peace. Here’s to 41.

Wow.

Every so often you receive the encouragement you desperately need. This email from a stranger made me weep. Wow.
*****
Dear Leslie,

I stumbled upon your blog right just after my fiance broke off our engagement, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I cannot pretend to know the depth of pain and confusion you went through, but I certainly resonate deeply with everything you have written. So I want to thank you.

Thank you for being a beautiful soul who can see the irony and poetry and humor of life, despite how shitty everything can be. Thank you for following your passion and refusing to sacrifice one tiny bit of your soul for the Christianese Equation. Thank you for not walking away from God!! Thank you for continuing to have adventures. Thank you for letting Jesus work in you; His light in you shines further and brighter than you can ever realize. Thank you for trying again (and again) at love; you give me courage to try as well. Thank you for being honest about what does and does not suck. Thank you for being funny and creative and talented and for having good grammar. Thank you for writing with such poignant imagery. Thank you for having friendships that sustain you. Thank you for not just walking the path you’ve been given but skipping and dancing down it. Thank you for crying and raging and swearing when the load is heavy and the scars ache; you give me permission to not always be “fine” or “nice”.

You are (and I’m weeping as I write this) an exquisite treasure: a masterpiece of God’s creation. You are grace in my life. You are radiant beauty. You have been a cup of cool water in a long sojourn through a dry desert.

Thank you for allowing me to journey with you these last 2 years. I continue to pray God’s mercy and grace rain down on you, just as they pour out of you.

~ Your Sister in Christ

The Most Refining Thing

Fifteen years ago today, I got married.

I think it’s pretty safe to say no one genuinely walks down the aisle, planning to be divorced. I most certainly didn’t, as a young, extremely wide-eyed, blushing virgin bride (who was very much in love with her charming husband).

But somehow the marriage begins to crumble. It’s a slow fade, over time and choice.

Love is always a choice.

And so, through the struggle and pain and shit and hell and fire and snot and screams and tears and questions and rage and mistakes and surrender, you wake up one day and realize you’ve survived.

I hesitate to proclaim my divorce is the best thing that ever happened to me, because I believe in marriage. What is more, I believe in fighting for marriage.

But when the battle has been fought and you realize you’re the only one left in the ring, you learn to put down your sword, take a deep breath and let the dust settle.

Beauty from ashes.

So I say my divorce is the most refining thing that ever happened to me.

I learned my worth.
I learned I am worth fighting for.
I learned I have the most incredible people in my life, who love and stick by me, for better or for worse.

I am learning to forgive.

I am not the person I was when I got married fifteen years ago. I am also not the person I was five years ago, when my marriage ended.

I’m not even the person I was five minutes ago. I hope and pray to be continually refined, by the One Who will always love me; who will never leave me. For that, I am so grateful.

God is good.

Teeth Or No Teeth

2:00 pm, 120th and Madison. Headphones and ponytail firmly in place, I marched towards the train station to the beat of a Phoenix tune.

“Excuse me, miss?”

A tall, African-American woman wearing a crisp-yet-stained white shirt, bedazzled jeans and tennis shoes stopped me.

She was missing all her teeth.

I pulled out my headphones.

“I have to take a step back,” she said, and did so, “because I’m so ashamed. I don’t have any teeth.”

She opened her mouth and showed me her gums.

“That’s okay,” I reluctantly offered. I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me, and I had to catch a train.

The woman started to cry.

“I am so ugly!” she sobbed. “My husband beat me in the face a few years ago and I lost all my teeth. My daughter died when she was four and today is my birthday. I’m 69 years old.”

I took a step towards her.

“69?!?” I exclaimed, in encouraging disbelief. “Well, happy birthday!”

She sobbed, harder. Gigantic tears dropped onto her smooth cheeks. She really was beautiful.

I took another step towards her. 

“May I pray for you?” I asked, not knowing what else to do.

She nodded, and bowed her head.

I stepped all the way in and placed my hand on her shoulder. Immediately, she fell into me, limp and needy. I held her. She smelled of alcohol, but it didn’t matter. She was in pain.

As I prayed for her, she softened. I prayed God would comfort her; that He would wrap His loving arms around her and remind her of how beautiful she truly is.

Teeth or no teeth.

“I may be beautiful on the inside,” she whimpered, “but I’m so ugly on the outside. People make fun of me. I just want to die. I wish I were never born.”

“That is simply untrue,” I almost scolded her. “I don’t bullshit. I speak truth, and you are beautiful. Also? You are loved far beyond you can imagine. And I am glad you are here, right now.”

She buried her face in my neck, kissed and thanked me. She didn’t want money, just clothes. I gave her my phone number and told her I did, indeed, have clothing I could give her.

“I love you,” she said. “Thank you. Please keep praying for me. I’ll see you in heaven.”

And she was gone.

*****

I’m sitting on a train platform, not sure how to process all of this, but I have a few initial thoughts.

First of all, I am reminded that humans are absolutely beautiful, no matter what size, shape, color, sexual preference, fashion sense, social/job/financial status, or disability.

We are beautiful with or without teeth.

We are worthy of love. We long to love and be loved in return.

I know why I live in New York. It’s to love the people of this city. People who are hurting and broken and missing things, like spouses and love and children and teeth. I somehow understand that pain.

Everything points to God. Even our suffering.

Jesus suffered the most. He gets it. And I’m quite sure it was He who wrapped his loving arms around that toothless woman.

He wants to envelop you, beautiful friend who is suffering. Allow Him to fully embrace you. There is nothing He cannot handle. He is the lover of your soul. He is the ultimate healer.

After all, He
“rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.”
~Psalm 68:4-5

Father’s Day

My chosen industry is difficult, wonderful, unforgiving, inspiring, fleeting, and absolutely beautiful. If given the chance — just to be SEEN, even for a moment — you may land the role of a lifetime, or walk out the door, empty-handed.

As artists, our passion and drive keeps us striving for more.

I’m settling back into community in New York, and have been working hard to pay my bills. I’m still living out of a suitcase. In fact, I just realized I will spend the rest of the year, living out of my suitcase.

And, I actually haven’t sung much. I love singing more than anything. Even more than writing. I miss singing.

I may present myself as “having it all together”, but I have to tell you, friends, starting over — no matter what age — is not easy. I’m happier than ever, but life has also never been more difficult.

This Sunday — Father’s Day — I have been given the opportunity to sing at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, at the 5:00 and 7:00 services on the Upper West Side.

Tim Keller will be preaching. I LOVE me some Tim Keller. It’s kind of a dream come true.

I’m not posting this to advertise, but to declare how good God is. He knows my heart. He knows how much I long to sing.

And He saw fit for me to sing for HIM, on Father’s Day.

Epiphany

Toes

Lounging on the grass at Sheep Meadow in Central Park. Baseballs, frisbees and soccer cleats whiz by. Lovers lie, quietly entwined upon blankets; families picnic, loudly. Chatter, music, laughter and life abound.

Suddenly, it hits me. I notice the corners of my mouth are turned upward, in ever so slight a sly grin.

It’s not about what I do. It’s not about finding a man, furthering my career, bemoaning the decline of opportunity for motherhood or wanting anything more than I have this very instant.

It’s about who I am.

And, this very moment, I am exactly who — and where — I’m supposed to be.

Serving the City

I am sitting in the corner chair in my subletted room in Harlem, staring out the window.

Hurricane Sandy destroyed one of the two, rendering it filthy and unable to open, but the gentle breeze flowing in from the north side of the room provides enough refreshment. The open window also amplifies the street noise: horns honking, emergency sirens, trash truck operation and accelerating taxicabs. Perhaps the most fascinating sound of all is people, yelling.  The residents of Harlem yell, shout or scream all of their communication: greeting, curses, conversation and confrontation.

It’s just how they do.

There is no relief from the bright color in the room.  The curtains, bedding, accessories, appliances, picture frames — you name it – are all one color.  When the sun rises in the morning, my room is flooded with a blinding hue of hot pink.

My 26-year old roommate’s cat, Captain, has descended the windowsill after observing two men yelling — and laughing — across the street.  He now lounges across the small sliver of sunlight that warms my toes and the wood floor underneath. Captain appears peaceful, calm and sweet. Dare I rise from my chair and walk past him, he will attack me, mercilessly dig his claws into the flesh around my ankles, and sink his teeth into my Achilles.

It is never pleasant. Yet, somehow, I still feel compelled to pet him, refill his food dish and shower him with attention whenever he demands it.

Two doors down, at Peaches ‘n Klean, my laundry is fluffing in the dryer. The sexually ambiguous person who manages the place is either folding socks or eating a platter of takeout whenever I enter. She (he?!) dresses in a long-sleeved plaid shirt, oversized, fatly cuffed denim pants, and steel-toed boots. Her (his?) short hair is always slicked back behind a stiff-billed baseball cap, and her (his?) eyes are hidden behind Transitions lenses. For some reason the lenses remain dark.

The only reason I assume she (he?) is female is the presence of rather large, droopy breasts behind her (his?) shirt.

Sexually Ambiguous regales stories to her employees, but mostly for the benefit of anyone who will listen. She yells tales of her brother attending high school with Jackie Robinson, brags about how she knows Aretha Franklin — “She ain’ lost weight! Las’ time I saw her, she was all dressed up in yellow, lookin’ just like Big Bird!” — and what she will eat for dinner when she is “done foldin’ dese damn socks.”

“I’ll tell you what I’s gonna do, ” Sexually Ambiguous shouts.
“I’s gonna git me a can of spinach, cut up some damn garlic, sprinkle a little pepper and olive juice on it, and mix it all up real good. MmmmHMMMMMMM!  Shit’s satisfyin’.”

I am the only one giggling in the laundromat.

*****

It’s the end of April, and spring is finally here.

I never truly understood why people on the east coast so eagerly awaited the arrival of the season until I moved here. It’s always spring in California. I think it glorious, yet terribly monotonous.  You see, after a long and bitterly cold winter, with blinding blizzards, stinging rain, icy wind and slushy, dirty snow, even the slightest hint of sunlight on one’s face brings a flood of hope. Change. A feeling of accomplishment. Relief.

Winter is behind us.

Most trees and flowers have burst into full bloom, displaying a brilliant arrangement of color, pattern and texture I have never before experienced. Only a few trees remain bare, or struggle to produce budding flecks of green upon their branches.  Perhaps they are afraid to open up. Some days, winter seems to return with a vengeance, and we all question if this new season of warmth, breeze and comfort is here to stay.

This past week, however, each morning has proved faithful. The sun warms the east, even through cloudy skies. The birds chatter, chirp and sing noisily. Winter coats have been sent to the dry cleaner, and there is sudden, massive exposure of very pale limbs.

I realize how great of an accomplishment it is to have survived the winter. I secretly hope the more figurative winters of my life are behind me. At the same time, I’m not afraid of them anymore. Like all seasons, they come and go.

*****

As I begin month four in New York City, I am still living out of a suitcase. I’ve attended several auditions and haven’t gotten a single callback.  Hell, I’ve even accompanied myself on the piano, and still haven’t managed to raise an eyebrow or impress the people behind the table. I am not discouraged yet. These things take time. And politics.

Not all is in vain. I have finally secured steady work, teaching voice, piano and musical theatre students at a school in Brooklyn (just wait for their dating advice!). On the off-days and weekends, I cater.

One of the very first catering events I worked in the city was in February. My job was to serve hor d’oeuvres at a very large, extremely expensive and increasingly drunken party for Fox Sports. In attendance were sports celebrities, executives and employees of the company. (I am happy to report Troy Aikman accepted my offer for a crab cake on a crisp, fancy blue napkin!) As the hours dragged on, I became discouraged. I escaped to the bathroom for a moment, sat on the toilet with my head in my hands and felt sorry for myself.

“LORD!” I whined. “I did not move to New York to be a servant! I’m here to make a difference! To pursue my dreams! Not serve people!”

As soon as the prayer left my lips, I realized how ridiculous I sounded. As clear as anything, I heard the following:

Oh, but you are here to serve, Leslie.

I lifted my head, laughed and brushed away a tear.

“I got it, I got it. Good one, God.”

****

Month four proves I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I am so glad I took that leap of faith and moved here. God is beyond good. Maybe I’m not a big Broadway star, and maybe I never will be.

I can’t believe I’m saying this — but — it doesn’t matter.

I think I finally believe God will grant the desires of my heart, because they’ve changed. At the same time, God has answered my prayers in the most loving, faithful and gentle way, all the while guiding me towards the next adventure.

The greatest adventure of all?  He’s asked me to serve.

This city.

And, for the first time in my life, I am completely content.

Alone and Smiling

Yesterday, I spent the entire day alone.

I woke up alone, ate breakfast alone, worked alone and took myself to dinner, alone. I sat at the noodle bar at Momofuku in the East Village, next to two men who were also alone. Not a word was spoken between the three of us, even though we occasionally elbowed one another as we reached for our water glasses, or picked up splintery, wooden chopsticks to resume eating.

After I finished my exorbitantly-expensive-yet-delightfully-delicious bowl of ramen, I had nothing else to do but head back to the apartment in West Harlem. I had long since thrown out my plans to hit the gym, but the thought of hurrying home to be alone for yet another evening was almost too much to bear.

I decided to take a walk. It was quite nice out. The rain had stopped, the sky was clear and 44 degrees actually felt comfortable.

I made my way towards Union Square, passing by quaint, candle-lit restaurants packed with couples and parties of friends, enjoying their meals with full glasses of red wine.

I began to notice how many other people were out, walking. Each person had a place to go, with such purpose.  People briskly passed me by, chatting on their cell phones, heading to yoga or home from the grocery store. Couples kissed on street corners. Some argued. Businessmen closed one last deal before entering their apartments. Women in heels hailed taxicabs. Children either played with toys, or slept in plastic-covered strollers. Dogs in sweaters relieved themselves.

As I walked and observed, the street numbers kept growing.  Soon, I had gained twelve blocks. Fascinated by the life around me, I continued on foot.

I decided to conduct an experiment. I would look at each person who passed, and try to make eye contact. If they met my gaze, I would hold it. If they stared back, I would smile.

I know. It’s totally creepy of me.

At first, it was hard to grab anyone’s attention. Most New Yorkers walk with their heads down or eyes glued to their cell phones. Granted, if it’s cold or raining out, we bury our faces in thick scarves or protect them with gigantic umbrellas.

Soon enough, people’s eyes began to meet mine. Almost instantly, however, they would break contact and look down, or away, towards traffic in the street.

I kept walking and searching faces.

At 5th Avenue and Bryant Park, I noticed a little red-headed girl with bouncy curls, holding tightly to her father’s hand. I surmised they had just come from the ice skating rink. I smiled at her sweet face, and then made eye contact with her father. Almost instantly, his face erupted into a beam of gleaming, white teeth. It was the widest, proudest smile I have seen in a while. I couldn’t help but feel my own smile grow, and, soon, tears sprang into my eyes.  

I started to feel less alone.

At East 42nd Street, across from Grand Central Station, I noticed a very attractive man in a business suit. I singled him out and stared him down. He felt my gaze, met it with intensity, and flashed a warm, almost-flirtatious smile. I blushed and hid my teeth.

I wanted to run after him but didn’t. It was enough just to be acknowledged. (All right, I may or may not have placed an ad in NYC’s “Missed Connections”.)

Still, street numbers grew. I strolled past the infamous Apple Store, horse and carriages, joggers and dog-walkers in Central Park, towards the Upper West Side. At times, I forgot my experiment and transformed into a woman with a purpose. As I quickened my pace, I became frustrated with slow movers and tourists (as all New Yorkers do), but ultimately remembered I had no reason to hurry home.

At 66th Street, across from Lincoln Center, I walked by a homeless man on my right, who was pushing a very heavy shopping cart. Two very expensive-looking, fur-clad women passed us at the same time.  The man boisterously called out to them.

“Hey, babies, how’s about ten dollars?” His voice mimicked that of Louis Armstrong’s, and I could tell he had a sense of humor.

I burst out laughing, and whirled around to watch the exchange. The rich ladies ignored the man, but his eyes met mine.

“That’s exactly what I was thinking!” I shouted to him.

He grinned, and opened wide his arms. “You gots to try, don’t ya? You have yo’sef a lovely evening, young lady!”

I beamed again.

“You, too!”

Sixty blocks and five miles later, with my heavy bag still slung over my now-aching shoulder, I decided to board the train at 72nd Street and ride the rest of the way up to West Harlem.  I slid my Metro card, pushed my hips through the turnstile, hurried down the stairs, stuffed my ear buds in and sat down in an empty, orange seat on the 3 train.

With music softly playing, I scanned the crowd. Slowly, subtlety, people began to smile at me. I almost forgot the Cheshire grin, still affixed to my face.

Eventually, smiles faded, and we returned to ourselves. Yet, somehow, I know we all felt a little less alone.

.

New Me in New York, Part Deux

I’ve been in New York for two weeks now.

Even in winter, it’s everything wonderful I remember: towering architecture, flashing marquees, glowing stage lights and bright, yellow taxicabs; crowded subways and quaint cafes filled with people from all walks of life. The bustling noise and busyness is always offset by a quiet, wooden park bench, and the harsh wind and cold, made warmer by the coo of a lone dove perched on the fire escape.

I love this city with all my heart.

I’m staying in my friends’ apartment in West Harlem, while they are away for several weeks. A couple of months ago, while I lay sick in my bed in Pasadena, I declared over social media I was going to allow people to love me this year. Almost immediately, I received a phone call. My friends responded with, “Come to New York, stay in our place and pay what you can. And by ‘what you can’ — even if we don’t get a dime, it’s okay.”

I burst into tears, accepted their more-than-generous offer, and started packing.

Here I am, and I even survived – I’d say frolicked in — the big blizzard of 2013.

I heart blizzards.

I heart blizzards.

There is always beauty after the storm.

There is always beauty after the storm.

It’s hard to not project into the future, however. I started looking for apartments so I can live on my own, but quickly got discouraged because I can’t afford it. I’ve been auditioning as much as I can, but nothing happens overnight. I need work, and badly. I want so desperately to be able to support myself and really make this happen. I am determined to not have to move back to Los Angeles, with my tail tucked between my legs, and nothing to show for my time here.

I’ve been given a second chance and do not want to fail.

*****

I’ve lived in New York City before. I moved four years ago, on February 13, 2009.  X accompanied me on the plane ride out, for I didn’t want to go alone. I was still reticent about the decision we had made – and prayed for – together, but somehow I knew it was a huge step forward in my life.

We arrived at JFK and lugged my three tattered suitcases through the subway, towards Morningside Heights (Harlem). The same couple housing me now had offered their couch for a couple of weeks while I waited for the room I had rented in Queens to be available.

As we crossed the threshold into my friends’ tiny apartment, I immediately felt at home; peace.

X and I sat down on the blue, velvet couch and sipped homemade coffee with our friends. We all marveled at how I had finally arrived in New York, with a job, and an opportunity to shoot for the stars — at least for six months. I complained about having to swing the off-Broadway show I was in (I want to go back and slap my entitled attitude!), and worried about how I’d manage a six-month separation from my beloved husband.

The answer was simple: we’d endure. It was only six months. The potential opportunities were worth the possible struggle of loneliness and separation.

Yet, those six months – February to August, 2009 – were the cruelest, saddest and loneliest times I have ever experienced in my life.

“I love you more than anything, Leslie,” X reassured me, after we had finished our coffee, and were waiting on the curb for his airport cab to arrive, to take him back to Los Angeles.

I kicked a chicken bone out from under the heel of my boot and brushed the tears from my eyes.

“I hate the thought of not being with you,” I cried. “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and your unwavering support and encouragement means the world to me. I could not do this without you. I honestly couldn’t have dreams without you, because I think you believe in me more than I believe in myself.”

“I support you one million percent,” X replied.  “I will hate being away from you, too, but we’ll make it work. After all, we love each other and are most important to each other.”

The cab arrived. My husband hugged me, slid his tall, thin frame into the back seat, and drove away. I would see him in New York just once more in the following six months. Little did I know then, I had already lost him.

*****

Four years later – I have gained a whole new me.

As I have wandered the city these past two weeks, I know I am different.  I feel it.  I may be alone, but alone doesn’t necessarily mean lonely. I have bigger dreams than I ever had the courage to dream before.  I feel calm. Humbled. Confident. Expectant. Excited. My future has never been more unsteady or unsure, but I know it will be all right.

I am not worried about failing.  Just by being in this vibrant city this very moment, and every millisecond that follows — for however long I am able to remain – I have already succeeded.

On the Road Again, Part Two

Brian Setzer meets me at baggage claim.  His beautiful wife, Julie, accompanies him.  I see Julie first, wearing a bright smile, kick-ass pink cowboy boots (a gift from her husband) and a leopard-print hat.  She throws her arms open wide and envelops me in an embrace.

“Awww! It’s so good to have you here!” she beams.  “Welcome to Minnesota!”

Brian is standing behind his wife. He’s wearing 501’s, brown boots and a simple jacket.  A red bandana is loosely tied around his neck and his signature pompadour is piled high on his head. I rush to him and he gives me a huge hug.  He smiles and plants a kiss on my cheek.

“Hey, sweetie! How ya doin’?  It’s great to see you!”

My baggage comes through the carousel and Brian immediately picks it up. He carries it up and down several escalators, out the sliding double doors and into the frigid parking lot.

Setzer loads my 51½ lb. suitcase into the back of his Cadillac Escalade with ease, and slides into the driver’s seat.  Julie takes shotgun and I happily bounce in the leather bucket seat in the back, chuckling to myself.

My airport shuttle service is a rock star guitar legend.

It’s not too far of a drive to Mr. and Mrs. Setzer’s downtown Minneapolis abode. They casually turn over the keys to their furnished downstairs loft, where I will be staying the next four nights.  They are eager to take care of me.  Almost immediately upon arrival, Brian — “The Meat Manager” — fires up the grill, rubs his favorite seasoning blends on three farm-fresh pork chops and details how he best likes to serve them. Julie is busy preparing vegetables and setting the table.

I offer to help but my job is to relax, and be served.

Julie happily pours me a glass of rich, red wine as she and Brian both busy themselves about the kitchen.  I glance at my surroundings.  Brian’s daily crossword puzzle sits next to me, almost complete.  Behind me in the open living/dining room, three shining Grammy awards are carefully positioned on the wall above a credenza, topped with anything and everything vintage and vinyl. It’s refreshing to see records, for a change. Grammy certificates and medals adorn the surrounding walls, as do pictures of Brian and Julie with beaming family members.  I kick off my shoes, take a sip of the wine and let my toes sink into the plush leopard print carpet.

I’m family.

The next few days are simply delightful. Julie and I work out with Adam, her personal trainer, and enjoy a trip to the day spa.  I cannot recall the last time — if ever — I have had a full day at the spa.  Julie treats us both to a massage, facial, manicure and pedicure.  We select matching sparkly, red nail polish.  We decide pampering ourselves in the best way to kick off life on the road.

After all, we are much more than background vocalists in The Brian Setzer Orchestra.  We are Vixens.

Brian calls Julie on our way home from the spa and asks her to pick up a few items for dinner.

“Oh, Brian’s going to make his famous ribs!” she exclaims.

Indeed, Brian happily makes our main dish every single night.  We enjoy his ridiculously delicious ribs, rib eye steak, and tilapia.  I barely lift a finger or shell out a dime, which is strange to me, since I am usually focused on earning my keep, not overstaying my welcome, or being a financial burden to anyone.

And I am often gently reminded of how happy Brian and Julie both are, having me in their home.  I dub myself “the perfect third wheel”, eventually relax, and allow them to care for me.

It feels so good to be loved.

One night after dinner, Brian disappears upstairs, into his man cave.  Julie and I relax by the fireplace and geek out on “Words with Friends” and “Draw Something”.  Sounds of a serious game of pinball float downstairs, as does laughter (conversation with Brian’s longtime manager).

And then, Brian picks up his guitar.

I am instantly drawn to the music.  The guitar has a rich sound, and Brian’s playing is better than ever.  (How is that even possible?) I find him sitting on a bar stool, sipping tea and messing around with some jazz chords.  I lean up against one of the vinyl snake skin chairs, careful not to disturb the framed, platinum Stray Cats record hanging closest to me.

“Hey, Les, do you want to see one of my favorite guitars?”

My heart skips a beat.

“Of course!” I almost shout.

Brian excitedly leads me into a large walk-in closet, where there must be at least twenty guitars in their respective cases, just waiting to be played to their fullest potential by their very capable owner.

He pulls out a 1950 D’Angelico, the very guitar used in the recording of The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole.  Brian bought the guitar from John Collins, who played with Nat from 1951 until King Cole’s death in 1965.

“One of the coolest things about this particular guitar… “ Brian leans over, digs in the case and pulls out a tattered book of matches. He tosses them to me.

“…are those. Nat King Cole’s book of matches he used at one of his last gigs.”

All of the sudden, I am keenly aware I am holding a museum artifact.  I carefully inspect the well-preserved cardboard, covered in palm trees and recognizable retro script.  I open up the flap and notice exactly 25% of the matches are neatly torn off.  I imagine Nat King Cole using them, one by one, to light a cigarette (or four – he was an avid smoker), and then stuffing them back into his pocket.  Perhaps he only used them at that particular gig.  And, somehow, they were passed from one music legend to another.

How I am holding them in my hand at that moment is a wonder.

Brian sits down the purple velvet couch, and I position myself next to him. The gigantic green Gretsch guitar fixture above us provides the appropriate amount of ambient lighting.  Minneapolis twinkles in the distance.

Brian quickly tunes the old guitar, and begins to pick at the chords in the famous holiday song.  Almost immediately, I am overcome with nostalgia.

It’s as if Nat himself is in the room.  But he isn’t.  Someone has to sing.  I take a breath and begin.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire –
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.

Brian nails the classic guitar riff, and then adds his own. He smiles at me, urging me on, and I continue, gaining confidence.

Yuletide carols, being sung by a choir
and folks dressed up like Eskimos.
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow, will find it hard to sleep tonight.

I start to improvise a little, and Brian follows suit.  We both are wearing smiles on our faces as we make music together. I’m cherishing every moment; every lyric; every lick.

History is being made.  At least for me.

They know that Santa’s on his way,
he’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother’s child is gonna spy,
to see if reindeer really know how to fly.

The guitar soars. Brian’s fingers fly across the strings. I control my voice and bring it back to a simple, straight tone. I can almost hear an orchestra swelling in the background.

And so, I’m offering this simple phrase
to kids from one to ninety-two.
Although it’s been said, many times, many ways,
‘Merry Christmas!’ to you.

We finish with reverence.

“Wow!  Nice vocals!” Brian nods, approvingly.

I grin and take the compliment, for my multi-talented boss does not have bad taste.

We’ve done Nat proud.