Saturday, January 19, 2008

Someone left the cake out in the rain

I remember the first time I heard that lyric. I was in my teens and carrying a guitar in a case covered with decals from states ranging from the east coast to Wisconsin from a road trip. My goal was to hit California - which I did.

I played my guitar at college campuses from the east to west coast one summer, traveling via a one way Greyhound bus ticket. I wanted to see the country. I remember deciding that playing guitar at campuses was the best and safest way to add to the money I'd saved, so I'd open the banged up guitar case with the worn red felt interior, strap my guitar on and start performing in a college quad, near the student center or wherever I thought students would congregate and want to hear music.

I played some Segovia and Bach, then some folk songs and eventually put a few blues tunes in. Once in a while I would wait until the crowd thinned out after classes began and just compose rather than perform. Students still wandered by, sat cross legged and listened and tossed money into the battered guitar case.

My guitar had a hole in the base of it. Its name was Oscar. I bought it at the Englishtown flea market and the seller, a grizzly 80 year old with one good tooth left in his lower jaw, told me that it got "banged around" on the delivery truck but it was otherwise new. Except for the hole. He was no guitar player, he said, so he didn't know what that did to the sound. I didn't say a word, just picked the unwanted, rosewood guitar up and began to play. I knew the moment I heard the first notes that I had something special. I paid him thirty dollars for Oscar and he threw in the worn battered case, that was luckily a turtle shell and built for traveling.

So a month later I was at the University of Wisconsin playing when a light rain began to fall. As usual, my guitar case was open, awaiting tips. When the rain picked up, I ducked under a nearby awning and as I huddled there, holding Oscar out of the rain as much as possible, I overheard a student say "Someone left the case out in the rain."

And I smiled, thinking of the other lyrics, the real lyrics. And began to sing them, running out toward the few students standing over the guitar case. We danced and sang "Someone left the cake out in the rain...I don't think that I can take it 'cause it took so long to bake it and I'll never have that recipe again..."

I can still smell the rain from that day, still see the students darting for cover, still feel Oscar's rosewood finish under the tips of my fingers. And, now that I think about it, perhaps leaving things out in the rain as a literal translation isn't a bad thing. Doing things differently can open up a whole new perspective and lead to joy. And maybe put us in a place where we're more open to challenging assumptions.