Friday evening, with out-of-town visitors, part of a small crowd enjoying the 4-to-6 P.M. set at the Spotted Cat Music Club in New Orleans; solo piano player banging out a dandy and wide array of ragtime, standards and some great stuff I can’t even classify. Our visitors (and us) enjoying the music and the moment.
We are sitting on a bench not fifteen-feet from the piano player, a guy maybe thirty, thirty-five; he has his back to us, we cannot see his face – but that’s part of the fun. Watching someone attacking the ivories with his kind of gusto is a big part of the experience, his emotions conveyed as much by the rocking of his body and hat-clad head, and the flexing of his shoulders, as the music flowing from the ancient upright.
To my right stands a tall, bearded guy of about fifty. He has been there awhile, but seems less invested in the music than the rest of us. As the piano player launches in to another tune, the tall guy heads for the door to our left, passing between our vantage point and the piano player. He stops at the doorway, turns around…and flings a fistful of coins at the back of the piano player.
As the coins clatter against the piano and the wall behind it, the piano player abruptly stops, turns and yells, “Hey, man? What the….?!”
“You were messing with my girl’s show the other night!” the coin thrower yells. “Who do you think you are? You don’t get to mess with my fiancée when she’s on stage!”
The patrons all turn toward the man in the doorway, yelling at the bewildered piano player, who has now stood up and turned toward the man.
“What the f*** are you talking about, man?!”
“That was my fiancée on stage you were messing with the other night! She didn’t deserve that s***! What is wrong with you!?”
By this time the manager of the joint, a feisty woman about five-four has come around from behind the bar; she is telling the coin-thrower to leave and the piano player to ‘leave it alone’ as the two men have inched tentatively toward one another, shouting back and forth. The coin thrower ignores her forceful command to ‘get out’ yelling over her and pointing at the piano player, throwing in the surrogate-mother of all bar fight rejoinders:
“What the hell are you, man? Some kind of misogynist?!”
This momentarily brings everything to dead, puzzled silence.
“Misogynist!!!??? Misogynist???!” is all that the incredulous piano player can muster in response.
“What? You can dish it out but you can’t take it? You are a misogynist!”
Coin-thrower is still in the doorway, the manager standing in front of him, preventing his return entry, as he turns his attention toward the club patrons, pointing at the piano player and yelling, “This guy is a misogynist! A misogynist! Don’t tip this guy anything – he is a mis-og-yn-ist!”
With that the manager steps forward, backing the coin thrower onto the sidewalk, calmly but firmly advising him not to return, as the piano player stands by the bar, muttering under his breath while some people at the bar (including a woman who I take to be his significant other, or at least a friend) are offering him encouragement, telling him to ignore the guy, patting him on the back.
The manager watches down the street for a moment, making sure the coin thrower is well on his way, before walking back in to the club, shaking her head. The piano player, visibly shaking but calming down, takes a hit on his bottle of beer, stands before the piano, takes a deep breath. He is shaking his head and I hear him murmur a confused ‘Misogynist?” before he sits down purposefully on the piano bench, announcing himself ready to play with a loud but steady ‘Okay…now where were we?”
With a flourish he launches right back into the middle of the song he had been playing, and finished out a lively set without further incident, and a steady flow of bills into his tip can.
We hardly missed a beat.
Now that’s showmanship, New Orleans style.