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"The Last Chance"

I was playing piano at the Last Chance Bar. 
It's on US 1 in Florida City, 
the last saloon on the United States mainland, 
before you head down into the Florida Keys. 
Next stop: Key Largo.
Misty had picked up a gig at the Redland Tavern, 
a couple of towns up. 
She had told her Miami Beach agent she could play the Hammond organ, 
because that's what the job called for, and we were broke. 
When she got there, the owner showed her to the Hammond, 
up over the bar. 
After about a half hour of panic and excuses, 
Misty confessed that she didn't even know how to turn it on. 
They had a piano with an Organo attachment at the side of the room, 
and they let her play that. 
They were nice people and she's a great pianist, 
so she stayed on.

I canvassed every bar up and down US 1, 
and at the Last Chance they had an old upright piano. 
I bought a beer and just sat down and started playing. 
I played mostly boogie and blues, 
and the few customers seemed to like it. 
You could say I got the job by popular demand. 
The salary was low, but the tips were pretty good.

Misty and I went all out and rented a small house in Homestead. 
The house had a screened in front porch. 
From the street, you could look in the windows, 
through the living room, and into the kitchen. 
I'm telling you this for a reason. 
One evening, on our night off, 
we were both in the kitchen. 
Misty was by the stove and sink and was visible from the street. 
I was sitting at the table, to the right of the kitchen door, 
and could not be seen. 
We heard the porch screen door creaking slowly open.

We looked at each other, 
and I raised a hand signaling her to stay where she was. 
I sneaked silently through the living room 
in a half crouch to the front inside door. 
I heard the screen door still opening. 
I jumped onto the porch and slammed the screen door, 
catching the guy's arm in it. 
He was outside, his arm was inside, 
and I held it hard, bracing the door with my foot. 
I said, "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT?" 
He said, "Food". 
We both knew Misty was the food.

Right then Misty came to the living room and said this: 
"You hold him and I'll go get the 45". 
I said, "Go! I'm gonna blow his head off!" 
We didn't have a gun, but he didn't know that. 
He took off like a shot, leaving his sleeve in the door. 
Misty's a creative thinker.

We had taken on more than we thought, renting the house. 
We forgot about the utility bills, deposits, etc. 
We were worried.

The bartender at the Last Chance, 
who was also an NCO at the Air Force base in Homestead, 
said he was exhausted and needed a night off. 
I told him I'd take his place on a Sunday night, my night off. 
He said, "Can you tend bar?" 
I said, "Sure. No problem." 
Well, the electric bill was overdue!

I learned to tend bar on the job the next Sunday. 
A man came in who looked even more depressed than me. 
I got talking to him, 
and he told me that everything he touched turned to money. 
He was rich, but had family problems that were getting to him. 
I took a shot. 
I said, "You should be in my place. 
My wife and I are about to get our power shut off and get evicted."

He said that he could give me the money, 
but it wouldn't make me happy. 
"Money never does." 
I said, "Don't play with me. We're desperate!" 
He wrote me out a check for $120, 
which is equal to about three or four times that much now. 
The check was on a Key West bank. 
We worried for several days, but it CLEARED!

I never told the regular bartender about the huge tip. 
Why make a grown man cry?

I never saw the rich man again. 
I heard that he owned a major string of truck stops. 
If I ever did see him again I'd tell him this: 
"The money REALLY made us happy! 
At least for a little while."

I've never seen a problem that money made worse.

Copyright  April 9, 2001 by Jack Blanchard. All Rights Reserved.

 

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