Let's call him Bentley, names changed to protect and all that. Every week, he's at the coffeehouse open mike playing originals on an old, slightly out-of-tune acoustic. Bentley's about sixty, maybe as young as fifty, but it's hard to tell. His white hair is cut close, with a carefully trimmed beard. When he plays, his hands and his voice both shake. He never smiles. Instead he stares straight ahead and sings in a voice that is thin and urgent. Some people have a stage presence, but Bentley doesn't, and you feel uncomfortable with him while he performs.
Bentley's dad comes with him each week, in a polo shirt, white tennis shoes and a grey meshback cap. He is every little old man I've ever seen, and where Bentley always seems like a bitter ball of shame his dad has a blast. When I finish my three songs and sit down, he taps me on the leg and says: "You done good. That's what the sergeant use to say. That was the highest praise that sergeant ever had to give you. You done good."
Bentley doesn't know what to play for his third song. His dad rasps out: "Play 'Doo-wah-diddy'" and then cackles to himself. "It's my favorite song," he confides to us. Bentley looks at the back wall and begins the song. He sings:
"Pickin' and a-hittin'/I'm playin' my guitar/Hopin' and a-dreamin'/that one day I'll be a star."
When he repeats this at the end of the song, Bentley's father (who has been singing along during the chorus) calls out, "You are a star, Bentley!" with a total lack of self-consciousness. His son does not react.