“So what’s ya name, boy? Where did ya come from?”
“I’m Robbie Lorenzo, and I needed to escape from Mt. Laurel.”
Who would have thought that I would be in some shady alleyway in Newark, let alone talking to some old guitar-playing hobo? Ain’t that an odd scenario? Here I was, a privileged Italian-American guy decked out in Vans, a Transit shirt, and a hoodie that costs as much as a tuxedo rental. This bum on the street had a trench coat filled with holes and a Wal-Mart beanie on his head. “Now that you know my name and where I’m from, why don’t you tell me about yourself?” I asked him as I did my best to hide my annoyance.
“Well, folks ‘round here call me ‘Lemon’ Johnson,” he said to me while tuning his beat-up acoustic guitar, which is missing a B string. Lemon? What kind of name is that? This guy must have lost his mind to be called that. “They call me ‘Lemon’ ‘cause life gave me a lotta sour ones, so I had to make some lemonade with them.” He stopped explaining and played a sweet blues riff on his guitar. Blues was never my genre of choice, but what he played sounded good, I guess. Can’t say my former bandmates in Newport Living or myself could solo that well.
I say “former bandmates” because I was kicked out of the pop punk band I fronted. Yup, I was the lead singer/guitarist of that band. We weren’t huge or anything. We recorded some albums, played some basement shows. The biggest thing we’d done was tour the Mid-Atlantic region with a couple of New England states along the way. So the bassist accused me of sleeping with his girlfriend, even though she was cheating on him with our manager. The manager blamed me since I was one of the last people she saw that night, despite us only saying a few sentences to each other as we happened to be in the same pizzeria. The bassist threatened me over the phone and told me not to talk to anyone involved in Newport Living. He’s now doing double-duty as the lead vocalist and the bassist instead of doing the occasional back-up vocals on our choruses. Screw them. If they want to run the band I started into the ground, then they can do it without me.
A week after the accusations and cussing, I felt like I had to escape my wealthy New Jersey suburban hometown and travel to Brick City for a change of pace. I was scared when I got there, since I’m not used to being in the big cities in the Garden State alone, but I was going to have to face my fears. C’mon, I’m twenty-four years old. I can make my own friggin’ decisions. I had walked around downtown, and then I’d ended up seeing that blues-playing bum on the street.
“That was a sweet riff, Lemon,” I half-heartedly complimented him.
Lemon just stared at me as if he knew I wasn’t being sincere. I apologized for my remark in fear that I would be shanked in a dirty alleyway.
“Hmph… you young’ins know nothin’ bout the blues. It’s more than jus’ playin’ the guitar, boy.”
Well, that was a little harsh. I didn’t know much about the genre, but he didn’t need to rub it in. I did respond to him though: “Okay. So what is the Blues about?”
Lemon grabbed a cigarette, inhaled it for a few seconds, exhaled all that smoke, and started to explain. I had a feeling that I was in for a long story. “It’s ‘bout suffrin’, pain, and misery. That’s somethin’ you know nothin’ ‘bout, kid.”
Suffering, pain, and misery? How dare he say that about me! “Are you kidding me, Lemon? I’ve been kicked out of my own band, been accused of sleeping around with my bassist’s girlfriend, and I’m talking to a homeless man in a filthy alley in Newark. How is this not suffering?!” I retorted to the destitute guitarist. Can’t say I was this enraged compared to being framed for an affair I wasn’t a part of, but I had to yell at the guy.
Lemon stopped what he was doing and started laughing. What was going through his mind? He went back to playing his guitar to play his music again. The homeless blues musician started to sing: “Killed a man in ‘Bama… jus’ for shootin’ up my girl…” Was this a true story? Wow. Couldn’t say my sorrows topped that. Shoot, all my old band’s songs were about breakups that didn’t happen, friends, pop punk music itself, and we had even done a song about hanging out while eating pizza. I stood silent as Lemon kept singing. “Ended up in jail now… all ’cause he done broke my world…” Made life in Mt. Laurel seem even more sheltered in perspective.
He stopped his playing as soon as I’d interrupted him. “What’s it to ya, boy?”
“Lemon…was all that stuff you were singing about true?”
“As true as the sky is blue, Robbie. The blues don’t lie ’bout that kinda stuff,” he said with such conviction. He then showed me a scrap of cloth with numbers on it and a picture of his late girlfriend. He couldn’t have faked that.
“Wow. I really needed to hear that.” I said to him. I gave Lemon a couple of dollars for him to use for some food (good thing he didn’t spend it on any bricks in this city if you know what I mean). “Lemon, it was great meeting you. I should start playing in Newark and jam with you next time.”
He smiled at me as I shook his hand and then left the alleyway.
So many thoughts were swirling through my head as I headed back to Mt. Laurel. I’m not going to bother with Newport Living anymore. That’s a given. Lemon inspired me to play guitar again, but in some new ways. My old band is too busy making money off of those spoiled teens who are obsessed with not being the “cool kids” despite their parents making bookoo bucks. It’s all manufactured sorrow to me after my exile to Newark.