Saturday, May 5, 2018--Sunset Cabaret, Hollywood

We were finishing up the first week of a guaranteed one month booking at the Sunset Cabaret and we all agreed it was just about the best gig we've ever had. The money was good and the crowds were great.

A decade of playing clubs from one end of LA to the other taught us that crowds out on the west side could be downright brutal if they didn't like the band, but we'd found ourselves a gem this time. In case you're wondering, "we" are Jimmy Bishop, that's me, and the Temescal Canyon Band, the five guys who make me sound good. We play a little bit of everything—blues, rock, jazz, and even disco if the audience wants to hear it.

Besides landing the Sunset Cabaret gig, we had even more good fortune to keep us smiling. A month or so ago we released a new single, and after bouncing around just below the charts for what seemed like forever, Show Me Your Heart suddenly took off. We were half-way to the top of the Billboard Top 100 and climbing. That made us six of the happiest guys on the west coast.

The next fortune we encountered came directly at me and it took a while to find out if it was good fortune or bad. I noticed her at the club the first Saturday night we played there. She was sitting at the back of the room with some girlfriends and she didn't look like she was having a very good time. In appearance, she was a strikingly attractive tall blonde who would stand out in any crowd, but she was doing her best to make herself invisible—kind of looking down at the table except when we were actually playing.

For example, we did Show Me Your Heart next, and when I sang, "Show me your heart, that's a good start," she looked me straight in the eye with intense concentration on her face, as if she was trying to fathom some deep meaning behind every word I sang. We stayed like that, looking into each other's eyes for almost the entire two minutes and twenty seconds of the song. When the last chord faded away and the applause began, my new friend returned her blank gaze to the table and slowly swirled the ice cubes in her drink.

Since that was the last song of the set, I decided to go meet this enchantress. Into the microphone I said, "Thank you folks. We're gonna take ten minutes to recharge our batteries, and then we'll be back to keep the party rolling.

I stepped away from the microphone and as I turned to jump down from the stage, I saw my blonde and her friends leaving the room. I elbowed my way through the audience fast as I could and caught up just as the last of the five girls, a short brunette, got to the exit. I tried to step around her, but we crashed.  She turned, looked surprised, and said, "You're him! You're Jimmy Bishop."

"Yeah, but please excuse me. I'm in kind of a hurry."

Leaving the girl standing there with her mouth open, I flew through the exit and looked up and down the sidewalk. There were lots of folks on the Strip, but there was no sign of the blonde. It was as if she vanished into thin air. Her friend, the girl I'd bumped into at the door arrived at my side and stood there staring at me with an expression on her face that said she was trying to decide whether or not I was a raving lunatic.

I looked back at her and said, "I'm sorry for running into you back there, but I'm trying to catch up with someone. Actually, she was with your group—the blonde girl in the black outfit. Can you tell me her name?"

The short brunette continued staring at me for a long moment, and then shook her head slightly. "I can tell you her name, but it won't do you any good."

"Why not?"

"Because Ally—that's her name—is kind of . . . different. She keeps to herself and doesn't go out much. It took us all week to convince her she should come with us tonight. Just so you know, the argument that finally persuaded her was she would get see you in person. She is a fan . . . a big fan . . . of yours."

Noticing the girl didn't mention that she was also a big fan, I smiled, and said, "Well, maybe she would like to meet me."

"Mister Bishop, the thought of meeting you in person would absolutely terrify Ally. We would never get her out of the house again." After a momentary pause, she asked, "Tell me something. Are you playing here again next weekend?"

"Yes, we're here for three more weeks."

"Okay, I'll make you a deal. I will try to convince Ally to come back with us next week in exchange for your autograph."

"Hell, you get her back here and I'll autograph anything you want."

She grinned at me for a moment, probably considering possible comebacks to my rash promise. Finally, she said, "Just a photograph would be adequate. By the way, even though you couldn't care less, my name is Joanie. I'll see you in a week, Mister Bishop."

I watched her walk into the crowd on the sidewalk in hope Joanie might meet up with her friends, including Ally, but I was interrupted by Josh, our bass guy. He came out to find me so we could start the next set. It seemed my only hope of seeing Ally again now rested with Joanie and how badly she wanted my autograph.

During the next six days my mind kept returning to the back row of tables at the Sunset Cabaret. Ally came walking into my thoughts first thing in the morning and stayed long after I turned out the lights at night.

That she so completely dominated my thoughts was a strange and unique experience. No woman ever had that effect on me before. It was particularly weird because I knew absolutely nothing about her except her first name and she was beautiful. No, I also knew something else. I knew I was going to meet her . . . somehow.

When Saturday finally arrived, Joanie proved to be as good as her word. She and her four friends, including Ally, joined the audience around nine. We were just about to do Be Who You Are, and I got an idea. The microphone I use is wireless, which means it works pretty much all over the room without a cord.

Kevin and Donny kicked the intro off on keyboard and drums. When the rest of us jumped in, I watched Ally. She did the same thing as the week before, she looked up and watched me intently. This time I did more than look back.

Stepping down from the stage, I sang my way through the audience until I arrived at Ally's table, where I sang the song directly to her. I could see Joanie grinning from the corner of my eye. Ally, on the other hand looked horrified and her eyes got so full of tears they began rolling down both cheeks. Despite her emotional state, Ally was still absolutely gorgeous.

By the time we ended the song, she was covering her face with her hands, except for her eyes. They were still locked to mine. The crowd applauded and I bowed slightly to Ally, whereupon she jumped up and ran out of the room. I thought, "Good work, Jimmy. Keep it up and she won't let you within ten miles of her."

Acknowledging the crowd and feeling a very dark shade of miserable, I walked back to the stage. When I turned around, Ally's friends were gone. About halfway through the last set of the night, though, Joanie returned by herself. By the time we loaded our gear in the van, the club was empty . . . except for Joanie.

I walked over to her table and flopped into a chair. "I guess I pretty much blew that one all to hell."

Joanie smiled at me. She seemed to smile a lot. "Well, yes, but it wasn't entirely your fault. There are some things about Ally you don't know. I suppose I should have told you more when I realized you were interested in her, but some of it is kind of personal and I don't like to tell other people's secrets unless there is an important reason."

I nodded. "I understand. She's your friend and her secrets are none of my business."

She touched my arm.  "Mister Bishop, . . . ."

"Call me Jimmy."

"Okay, Jimmy. I think maybe some of Ally's secrets are kind of your business. You would never know it by her behavior, but I'm pretty sure Ally thinks you are a very special guy."

I almost laughed. "No way. That's just fan stuff. She loves our music and the idea of me being kind of a rock star, although I'm really not."

Joanie looked me straight in the eye. "You're wrong, Jimmy, very wrong."

"She ran out of the room in tears, for crying out loud!"

"Yes, she did, but you don't know why. I do. Will you listen to me for a few minutes?"

I slouched back in my chair and nodded. "Sure."

Joanie took a deep breath and sighed, apparently in preparation for what she was about to tell me. "Jimmy, Ally was orphaned when she was only about three years old. Her folks just dumped her off at the county child welfare center and disappeared. So you could say Ally learned about rejection early in her life."

Shaking my head, I said, "Oh, swell."

"But that's not the worst of it. While the county tried to find her folks, they placed Ally in foster homes. Because of some technicality, the county never put her up for adoption, and she ended up spending most of her life until she was eighteen being bounced from one foster home to another.

"That was bad enough, but on top of it all, the mother in the last home she was in abused Ally terribly. It wasn't physical abuse, it was mental. I'm guessing she was jealous of Ally's looks or something and for eight years the woman told Ally over and over she was ugly and worthless and stupid."

"Why on earth didn't the family send her back to the county if they didn't like her?"

"I sometimes think the foster mother actually enjoyed mistreating Ally, but there is another reason they kept her. There can be good money in foster parenting these days, especially if you have more than one kid in the house. In Ally's case there was an older foster sister, and when that sister finally got out of the house for good, she went straight to the county and told them how Ally was being treated. The county looked into it, decided the story was true, and removed Ally from the home."

By this time I was in a state of amazement. "Good! Thank God for the older sister!"

"Thank you. I guess it won't hurt anything at this point for you to know that I was Ally's older foster sister."


"Yeah, and to make a long and awful story shorter, Ally stayed on at the county until she was eighteen, and then they tossed her out. Ally came to live with me then and we found her this terrific job as a commercial artist's assistant. Ally has super artistic talents. Back in the bad days, she used to make herself feel better by drawing pretty pictures in a sketchbook. They were beautiful.

"Anyway, the bottom line to all of this is Ally's sense of self-worth—her self-esteem—is practically nonexistent. She honestly believes she's ugly and worthless. She is finally getting some help from a therapist, but she still has a very hard time accepting that she might be pretty and smart and that a good man would want to be around her."

I shook my head again. "Well, this is one man who definitely wants to be around her."

Joanie stared at me for a moment. "Even after hearing about her life?"

"Especially after hearing about her life."

Joanie smiled. "Jimmy Bishop, I think I like you. Now all you have to do is find a way to make Ally believe you think she's special and you want to know her."

"I don't know how to do that yet, but I will find a way."

That challenge was still on my mind the next day. I was supposed to be working on a new song. I intended it to be an "up" tune with a bouncy little melody. I had a melody that bounced, but the lyrics just were not coming to me.

I was sitting at my composing keyboard and about to throw my pencil across the room for the tenth time, when a thought hit me. Why not turn the melody into a musical letter to Ally? Then the lyrics came at me almost faster than I could write them down.

I spent some time smoothing out the rough edges by adjusting here and there, but before it was time to leave for the club, I had what I thought was a darn good little song. I gave it a title, The Way That God Made You, and set off to the club.

I spent a couple of days working out an arrangement and writing parts for the guys. We went through it a few times at our rehearsal Tuesday evening and the band seemed to like what they were playing. I incorporated a few of their suggestions, and presto, I had a brand new song for Ally.

The only problem remaining was getting her to the club so she could hear it. I called the cell phone number Joanie gave me and we talked about it. She warned me not to get my hopes up because she wasn't sure she could get Ally back to the Sunset Cabaret a third time.

After a lot of begging and pleading on my part, Joanie finally agreed to try one more time. She cautioned me sternly, though, not to try the same stunt I'd pulled the last time Ally was there. I pledged a solemn oath to behave myself and kept my fingers crossed for the rest of the week. Did you ever try to play guitar with crossed fingers? I can tell you it isn't easy.

Come Saturday night I'd just about worried myself into a nervous wreck. We went out on the stand, I took a deep breath and we kicked the set off with Show Me Your Heart, which was practically the band's theme song now, and we went on from there. I'm not sure exactly why, but we played a lot of blues that night.

By ten I'd nearly given up on Joanie getting Ally back to the Sunset Cabaret, and then they walked in, just the two of them. We had a packed house, so they had to settle for a tiny table off to the side about halfway back from the bandstand. Ally's hair was down for a change, but she was wearing black pants and a vest with a white top as usual. Joanie was wearing a smile, also as usual.

I'd made a few special plans for the moment when I would sing Ally's song for her, if that moment ever came. I told Josh, who usually stood to my left, I wanted to do The Way That God Made You, and then gestured to the Sunset Cabaret's stage hand. He understood my gesture and walked out onto the stage with a wooden stool and placed it on a spotlight mark.

I put the microphone stand where it needed to be and hopped up on the stool. Then the stage lights went down and a single spot lit me up on the stool. I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we are going to do a brand new song for you. We expect to be releasing it soon as a single, but we'd like to preview it for you and see what you think. It's called The Way That God Made You, and it goes something like this."

I raised my right hand and counted off four to give Josh and Kevin the tempo I wanted. They kicked the song off with a two-bar intro, and then everybody joined in and it was my turn.

"Your smile lights up a room. There's not a single thing that I would change about you 'cause you're perfect the way that God made you. The way that God made you."

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With the spotlight in my face, I couldn't see Ally or anyone else in the audience, but I felt her. I knew she was watching me with her intense stare. Mostly, I just closed my eyes and pictured Ally in my mind. I felt very peaceful and relaxed despite the fact there were at least a hundred pairs of eyes watching me.

I was so relaxed, that when the last strains of the keyboard and the bass faded from the room, I just sat there a few seconds with my eyes closed. Then the applause darn near knocked me off the stool. It smashed the mood all to hell and the house lights came up.

Now I could see Ally. She was looking at me with an odd expression that slowly turned into a smile. It wasn't a big smile, but it was a smile, and it was meant for me. I smiled back and in that moment a love was born to last two lifetimes, Ally's and mine.


Story and design © Steve Eitzen
Header Graphic & HPO Logo © HPO Productions
Character Photos: © 123RF Used by license
Cabaret sign graphic © HPO Productions
Sketch image modified from a public domain source
Music notation graphic modified from a public domain image
Music: @ Audio Blocks used by license
All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.