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How to Play a Guitar, “What’s Your Name”?

My little boy asked me how I learned to play the guitar. And why did I do it? The question sent me back a decade to New York and another life…

I had to cross 57th Street to catch the bullet train to Brooklyn, where I went to high school. I was standing on the platform waiting for the train when he walked down the stairs and was only ten meters away from me. He looked down at the track so I didn’t get a good look at his face, but the brief glimpse I got when he turned was interesting. When the express train arrived we both boarded the same car, I made sure and tried to look casual. I sat in the back to watch him read a book as we headed downtown. He got off at 14th Street and as the train pulled away I watched it go.

The next day I was waiting again at number 57, watching him, and sure enough, he came down the stairs gently. I had already been there for half an hour, and by that time I had passed two express trains. We rode the train together again and I felt some kind of connection, although it was silent and he was completely unaware of me. The song “what’s your name” kept playing in my head, but I never had the courage to ask.

This went on for weeks and I finally worked up the courage to smile at him as he entered the station. And oh my God he smiled back oh man he knew I existed. My day went well, but he was sitting on the other side of the car reading his damn book again. I wanted to go up to him, but I froze in place. What to say? “Excuse me, but I’ve been watching you for a month and I think I love you”? That was really too silly.

So we went to the same routine every day, sitting in the same seats, never speaking but communicating with shy smiles every now and then. June is coming, school will be over and I knew I had to do something because I probably won’t see him until September, but what can I do? Buy her flowers? Oh yes, great idea. What would I say: “Forgive me, whatever you call me, but I brought you flowers because I don’t know”. Maybe buy him a card? No, that was another very stupid idea. All my ideas were silly because I knew I would never act on them.

Finally, on my last day of class, I decided to ask her name and maybe go somewhere. I got some backbone from my best friend after he finished teasing me, he urged me to at least talk to him. He was right; I was ready, nervous and scared, but determined. I watched the stairs and let the express trains pass, but it never appeared. Maybe your school is over by the summer. I wanted to wait longer, maybe it was late, but I was late for school and almost didn’t go.

Summer came and I wondered where he lived, what he was doing, did he ever think about me? What should I do to fill the long lonely summer? I started walking around 57th Street and Central Park almost every day. I drifted in my sleep, walked around the lake, walked among the trees and fields of the central park; and up and down busy streets full of expensive shops and hotels. Sometimes I’d stop and buy a hot dog for lunch while I was walking and who knows, maybe I’d see him somewhere doing whatever he was doing. It somehow made me feel better and closer to him; it is almost certain that he has walked the same streets before, and perhaps he will again. I started learning to play the guitar and asked my Dad for advice. I practiced every night until I could play “what’s your name” almost decently. I couldn’t wait for school to start so I could see him again.

September finally came and I was waiting at the 57th Street station again. I waited, released the express trains, and waited until I had to leave. I waited every day for the first two weeks, but he never showed up. I never saw him again; I know it was silly to feel that way, which is really nothing. “What’s your name” ran through my head every day until school all year. I actually got better at playing the guitar and singing that damn song and accompanying myself, I’m alone anyway. It gave me a strange comfort. I couldn’t really break my heart because there was nothing, but I still missed him.

I finally graduated and sometimes when I was walking around town I thought I saw it, but no, it was just a bad imitation. The following September, I went to college, and every now and then I remembered singing that song, playing the guitar, and wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t been so young and shy. There were so many distractions for me then, new college, new freedoms, new girls, a whole new chapter in life. It’s still a poignant memory for me, but I really couldn’t tell what she looked like anymore.

“Well, son,” I said, “there was this girl, you see,” “Dad,” said he, as irritated as a six-year-old can be. “Huh? Oh yeah, well one summer I was sitting around bored when grandpa came up to me and said, “…

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