Joseph didn't let too many people into his basement anymore. At one point in his life, the basement was his prize. He gladly let visitors down inside to see his walls of guitars and the recording equipment. Now it was like a graveyard, filled with hooks and empty guitar stands and an elaborately built home recording studio, complete with a glass panel so those in the recording section could keep eye contact with those laying down their tracks. Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust. Everything that could be removed and pawned was gone. All that was left now was the mixing board, the piano, and Betty.
It had been a magical place for a few good years. But there were only a handful of those.
If Joseph was honest with himself, he knew it wasn't for recording. Though there were a few sessions in the basement, it was mostly for himself to show off, to prove he had made something of himself. It was a place to bring women he met at the bar so they could understand just what kind of man they were with. Back then, the whole place reeked of money. The instruments were just a way of showing how much money there was.
He had loved the instruments though. There had been the Martins, of course. Half a dozen of them. Dreadnaughts twelve strings and nylon stringed beauties. Some had pickups and some didn't. Three of them he had kept permanently in open tunings for when he wanted to play slide. There were two or three Ovations that he didn't play but liked the look of. There was a rare old Gibson where the wood had aged just right after fifty years and was then at its peak.
On the other wall he had kept the electrics. There were a few Strats and Teles from the pre-Columbia days when Fender still made guitars worth playing. There was a Gibson custom triple pickup model with gold-plated hardware that sounded good no matter what amp he plugged it into. There were the Paul Reed Smiths that he bought only because Santana played them. A twelve string Rickenbacker that he worked out Beatles' songs on. There were Explorers and Flying V's and Teardrops and other oddballs that he never even played because they were uncomfortable and not his kind of thing anyway. But they looked good lined up against the wall.
On a third wall were the arch tops. Mostly Guilds, but a few Gibsons as well. It almost made him want to be a jazz player. Below those were his stack of amps and heads and speakers. Marshall and Mesa Boogie were his favorites, through there were others.
All of it was gone now. His Yamaha grand remained in the corner, but only because he couldn't figure a way to take it to the pawn shop. It all disappeared when the easy money went away. Soon he was left with nothing but the addiction.
"Is this where you bring all your girls?" Crystal said. Joseph was jolted back to attention. I've wandered so deeply into my self-pity I forgot where I was, he thought.
"Only the ones I like," he said.
She walked over to him and kissed him on the cheek. Her breath smelled of cranberry juice. She sat down on the floor and pulled a cigarette from her purse. "Are you going to play me something, or is all this shit just for show?"
"Now?" he said. "I'm a little sloshed."
She laughed. "I thought all you fuckers played that way."
"We do," he said. "But I'm at the point where I’m seeing double now. I'm not even sure if I know who you are." He went to reach out for her and she seemed to get farther away. Then he felt himself falling toward the ground.
He woke up many hours later in his own drool. Joseph opened his eyes. He saw a pair of red pumps next to his guitar. I guess she stayed the night, he thought.
Then he heard something. It was the sound of an out of tune piano. The girl was in the corner playing. She's good, he thought. Really good.
As he rose from the ground, she began to sing. Holy fuck, he thought. Holy fuck.