The Guitar

"This journey requires two keys.                                             The first, you will find in a garbage can."

Saturday loomed big in the week if you delivered newspapers. The Saturday edition was huge. Just getting the bags on the bike was a chore. And the papers were unfoldable - too many sections, too many glossy inserts.

Saturday's edition also contained the weekend magazine, or at least it did after you’d hand stuffed it into each of 56 papers. Still, it had that full page, full colour shot of the NHL player of the week so I didn’t mind. But you had to watch that it didn’t slide out on you. There was nothing worse than getting to the end of your route and finding a weekender in the bottom of your bag. It meant you were going to get a call from the office saying that there had been a complaint.

"Mr. So and So just called and said he is missing his magazine. Run one over right away, and make sure you apologize" ... blah, blah, blah. And you can pretty well count on the fact that Mr. So and So lived right at the far end of your route.

Every kid knew that Saturday was going to be a bear. But at least today it wasn’t raining, which, as it turned out, was a good thing.

The Thompsons had a rambling wooden house that sat on a narrow lot. The basement was only partially buried in the ground, giving the impression that the building had three stories. It was one of those places that paper boys hate delivering to. It was overgrown, the walkways were narrow, and the steps were slippery. And you had to deliver right to the door otherwise the paper would get wet. Finally, to add insult to injury, they wanted the paper delivered to the BACK door which meant you had to prop up your bike, grab a paper, walk it around the right side of the house, negotiate the garbage cans and climb a set of slippery steps to the back porch.

Still, the Thompsons were nice folks. They always tipped me at Christmas, and they had a daughter who sported outfits that seemed to require all manner of straps - thin straps, lacy straps, frilly straps, to hold it together - a situation which was creating all manner of physical symptoms in me, and one that caused me to tie a lot of shoelaces and shuffle a lot of newspapers in their backyard.

This particular Saturday, I was running a little late. Slamming the bike against the fence, I slithered along the skinny walkway, dodged the garbage cans, scampered up the stairs and stuck the paper underneath the doormat that screamed "What, you again" in raised rubber ridges.

Just as I was starting down the steps, I spied something sticking out of one of the cans, partially obscured by sheafs of newspaper. It was a guitar neck, no doubt about it. There was no question of it being an entire guitar, the can was simply not big enough. But where there was a neck, surely there was a body.

I dug into the second can. Nothing. The third and last garbage can contained nothing more than regular garbage and I was about to give up when I noticed a large cardboard box underneath the steps. And there it was - an old arch top guitar body in what looked like fine shape.

I tugged it carefully from its cardboard nest, retrieved the neck, and matched them up, slotting the male and female parts of the dovetail joint together. It held just enough so I could stand it upright, heel against the side of the closest trash can.

There is something magic about an arch top guitar. If a Spanish guitar wandered into Italy, seduced a violincello, and the offspring combined the best qualities of both, the result would be the arch top. Every line of it seduces - the angled headstock; the nut with shining strings running through it; the silver frets set into a fretboard inlaid with mother of pearl; the hardwood bridge; the splayed tailpiece; the perfect angle at which the neck meets the body, and the piece de resistance: the carved top itself with the delicate "f" holes and tobacco sunburst finish. It is a magnificent piece of work.

With the parts assembled, I stepped back, looked at the instrument, and felt a strange tug in my solar plexus.

Mrs. Thompson answered the door in a T shirt, a pair of green pedal pushers and pink slippers with Donald Ducks on the toes. She always looked like she had been caught in the middle of something and the Pebbles Flintstone hair didn’t help much.

"Are you really throwing this out?" I asked, pointing at the instrument propped against the garbage can. "Why, do you want it?" she replied, removing her Winston. "Yeah, if you don’t mind." "Help yourself then hon, it’s all yours."

Paul discovers a guitar in the trash


Then there it was. Sitting on my bed as if it had always been there. I couldn't move it of course. The neck, while comfortably nestling with the body, was just a mock up. I really needed to re-attach the two parts. And for that, I needed glue.

The glue I found in the shed was peculiar. It was a brown nasty smelling powder that needed mixing with water; in correct proportions of course. Following the instructions, I applied the mixture, which had only grown more foul smelling as it fermented, to both surfaces of the dovetail joint and pressed them firmly together. Then came the wait. 'One hour to dry and 6 hours to cure,' it said on the label - the longest six hours of my life.

When the time finally came, I gingerly lifted the body from the workbench, and lo and behold, the neck followed. Then, grasping the neck, I held it upright and the whole thing felt like one. By gum, I had a guitar - a beautiful sunburst arch top guitar!

I raced up to the local music shop and excitedly asked the bemused proprietor what I needed for strings. He reached under the counter and presented me with the finest Black Diamond set money could buy.

I made every mistake possible in the stringing process, but finally six glistening strings ran from headstock to tailpiece. I’d never seen anything quite so beautiful. Plucking a string here, attempting a strum there, I started experimenting. Then I sat the guitar face up on my lap and, suddenly feeling my oats, gave all six strings a grand open strum...and the neck flew off, hitting me smartly in the side of the head. "You want to play me bucko? Ante up."

The first key wasn’t giving itself up easily.