BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
In Gary Rink's eyes, Bakersfield is filled with musical saints and rock 'n' roll angels.
A week ago, Rink, one of the southern valley's most prolific and talented bass players, was having a bad, dissonant, minor-key kind of day. Despite insurance, medical bills for his wife, Cecily, had piled up in the two years since she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
With the cancer in remission for four months, the news has been good on the medical front. But the cost of recent care became more than the couple could handle.
Money got tight. The rent came due. Something had to give.
Not unlike a character in an O. Henry story who pawns his prized watch to buy his wife a Christmas gift, Rink decided to sell his prized guitar in an attempt to catch up on the bills and save the family from a devastating financial blow.
The 32-year-old owned another bass, but the German-made Warwick five-string electric thumb bass, circa 1998, he'd named Thelma was a gem that held rich sentimental as well as musical value.
"It has well over 2,000 shows on it," Rink said, "on stages in Nevada, California, Los Angeles -- in every genre, from metal to jazz to country to musical theater."
It's traveled with Rink from Rhode Island, where he attended Brown University, to Bakersfield, where he has made his home.
"You create a bond with an instrument like that," he said.
Last week, after much soul-searching, he sold the guitar for $1,000 to Guitar Center, where Rink works days as a sales training manager.
After letting the guitar go, the professional musician found himself at one of the lowest points of his life.
When Rink went on Facebook to say a brief, simple goodbye to Thelma, he had no idea of the reaction it would trigger.
"It didn't take long," said Dustin "Catfish" Meridith, a local musician who, after learning of Rink's plight, started a Facebook page to raise money to buy back Rink's bass.
Save Thelma, the page said. And they did.
"A sea of musicians and music lovers began responding," Meridith said. "Within eight hours we raised $900."
But it didn't end there.
Rink had to turn off his cellphone at work after musicians began calling to ask how they could help.
Not only did Guitar Center agree to sell back the bass at zero profit, store managers allowed people to drop off donations at the Ming Avenue store.
Meanwhile, as dollars continued to roll in, local rockers Blonde Faith were determined to help.
At Sunday's monthly Cattle Call jam at O'Henning's Bar in Oildale, the event morphed into a fundraiser as core band members Kevin and Tamera Mahan took up a collection.
Musicians and fans in the audience were dropping fives, tens and twenties into the kitty and Mike Henning, the owner of the bar, contributed $200 to the cause.
"That's the great thing about this community of musicians," Kevin Mahan said. "We take care of and care about each other. It's like a big family."
By the time the gig was done, they were thrilled with the result: They had another $470 to add to the nearly $1,200 raised through Meridith's Facebook page and direct donations at Guitar Center.
Not only did they gather enough to buy back Rink's beloved Thelma, they were able to provide an extra cushion for the struggling couple.
"We get spiritually connected to guitars," said Catfish Meridith, himself a guitarist who could easily relate to Rink's sorrow over the loss.
But Meridith refused to take credit for the success of the fundraiser. Kevin and Tamera Mahan were equally adamant that credit for the sudden spurt of fundraising go to the larger community of musicians and fans.
It was about collective action, they said, not individual heroics.
Rink was beside himself.
I'm not used to a lot of good things happening to me all at once," he said. "But in one week, I've gone from an all-time low to an all-time high."
Is it possible for a bass player to mourn the loss of his guitar? Is it possible for him to rejoice in its return?
The look on Rink's face as he held his beloved Thelma provided all the answer anyone might need.
"This story is about this town," Rink said.