It was late and I was more sober and serious than the ideal, not having had a drink until after 11 p.m. and just having seen the Baghdad bureau chief off to the airport for his latest work trip through failed and failing states. Landing at a crowded party in a tiny apartment somewhere around East 12th, an open jar of applesauce immediately was thrust in my face. I calmly bribed a hostile drunk chick to let me cut in line for the bathroom.
It was a few hours later. The party had wound down. Out on the precarious fire escape, smoking cigarettes, we could see into the apartment across the street, where a guy with a guitar leaned out the window. One of the remaining guests yelled to the guitarist, issuing song requests for five minutes or so until he turned around and waved. This was seen as encouragement, so the song requests from the fire escape gained momentum. Across the street, two guys stepped out to a third-floor fire escape with their guitars and started playing.
A woman and her boyfriend walked past on the sidewalk below. She photographed the impromptu performance. They played "Beast of Burden" and "Sweet Virginia," the Troggs, Matthew Sweet, some later Beatles, a few songs that I didn't recognize. The woman on the street kept photographing. We applauded politely at the end of each song, trying not to make too much outdoor noise at 2:30 a.m. and therein wake the host's neighbors, which probably was a moot consideration at that late hour with a small acoustic show underway.
It ended after six or seven songs -- three guys with guitars, four of us on the opposite fire escape. Someone from our team yelled across and said that we'd buy them beer. It was time to go home anyway, so we left, picking up beer at the bodega a couple doors away.
It was decided that beer alone was insufficient reward. I pulled down a can of soup and a can of deviled ham. Flop came over with a bottle of Murphy's Oil. "They'll want to clean their floors," he said.
"Lucky Charms, too!" I hissed.
"What about Fruit Loops?"
"No. Lucky Charms."
Four of us arrived at the apartment of the guitar-playing strangers with two six-packs of beer, a bottle of Murphy's Oil and non-perishables. In all, they received $30 in supplies in exchange for a seven-song performance.
Flop later expressed disappointment that we weren't all invited to stay and hang out, but by that point it was past 3 a.m. and they had strangers in their apartment distributing deviled ham, beer and floor cleaner. We could've pulled out the Book of Mormon and they would've been unfazed. Post-3 a.m., my appetite for live jams was filled. It was time to move on. It was 2 1/2 hours until daylight and there was breakfast to order.