The Quiet Nights of Lunacy

     As I’ve written before, Memorial Day is often a break for the nightlife and street music scene in Fargo. The college students are gone, presumably broke and humbled, but will return in September. Of them my busking mentor, “Homeless” Herb Stone, used to say business was good in the fall because they all thought they had their parents’ money to spare, and thus were good tippers. Memorial Day is also the time that annually sees Fargo become a ghost town. The people who afford it go to lake cabins, and the people who can’t try to figure out which friends and family members will let them go to theirs. The remaining street pedestrians, including the ones with nowhere to go and the ones who have to work at one of the few places still open, stay and drink. Thus about late May is when the ratio of “average weekenders” gets tiled more toward the crazy. The heat brings them out, and the lack of anywhere else to go keeps them in.

     On Friday night, I didn’t have too many people. The most annoying part was a new food stand, just across the street. I arrived there about 11:45, and heard something like a jackhammer which was the engine to their cart starting up. Mercifully, when a car or large group would go by, it would be muted, but sadly traffic was low. I told myself I’d give it fifteen minutes, and twenty later they stopped. One of the employees would come by me throughout the night to get her drink out of her car parked nearby, sit for awhile and drink it, then return it to her car.

      An older guy walked by, carrying a grocery bag full of something in bottles or cans. He was tall and skinny, had a baseball cap and glasses on, and was missing teeth. He sat quietly next to me while I played “Irene Goodnight” and one or two other Hank Williams songs. He then asked if I could play “Orange Blossom Special” but I couldn’t remember all the words. I instead played “A Boy Named Sue” and he liked that one, giving me a silent thumbs up. By and by he asked me to watch his stuff and walked over to the bar to go to the bathroom. I hate doing that, especially if there is alcohol there (I don’t need any reason for the cops to stop) but it seemed like an okay night so I let him without any fuss. A middle aged lady stopped by, with the sort of bewildered but coherent look that comes from drinking enough to be inebriated but not enough to be stumbling around. She sat down on the bench, and when the guy came back they cozied up there and talked for awhile. They were a pretty polite audience.

     Most of the crowd had been okay. There is usually a theme: some guys will yell for a heavy metal cover (usually Metallica, but tonight it was Slayer) and the girls will ask for John Mayer. Always John Mayer…. My standard answer when asked if I “know them” is to say “Not personally” and most of them don’t bother to stop after that. At any rate, I got a request like that from one girl coming up the street, answered the usual way, and then she said “Watch out for the crazy guy.”

     I was about to ask “Which one” but as usually happens, they make themselves known. A Native American guy I had met before, although not by name, came up and down the street, weaving- but not stumbling- from side to side of the sidewalk. He usually hung out with some other guys down the block, and tonight he had the same bright green “UND Sioux” sweatshirt on that he always did, although the night was hot. We had usually had a good relationship in the past, or at least one in that we were okay with the other one being around. I think I had played him some country music on request once. At any rate, he came up weaving and shouting along the sidewalk, something about that that the girls had conned him out of some money, and he’d find them, and all other sorts of declarations. He stood there at the corner yelling at them, and screamed that someone had taken his money and he was going to call the cops (or something), and he’d get it back.

     As he walked by, the man hadn’t noticed me yet, and as his back was turned I looked down at my own case full of one dollar bills, and realized that this wasn’t a great position for me to be in at the moment. I furiously began to hide them, and he trotted back and sat down on the bench, occasionally yowling at passerby about fraudulent and deficient financial issues. He looked at the old guy and lady still on the bench said they were probably “in on it” too.

     At this point the old guy got up to get his bag that was still beside me, and I handed it to him. “Headed out?” I asked. “Yeah,” he answered saying something about it had gotten way too crazy. I didn’t blame him. Guys like that usually have good instincts, although it wouldn’t have taken a specialist to realize it was time to go, and a paranoid guy declaring that the world owed him money was a probably a pretty good sign of lunacy even to a novice student of human nature. In a past year I might have waited Sweatshirt Guy out, but I have since learned that there was no point to that. I thanked the older man for listening and said to have a good night, and then packed up myself and went down the street. I figured I would see if anyone else was around and give this guy a few minutes to cool off before I tried again. If he was still there, I was headed home.

     Turns out Damian was down the street, the same guy I had mentioned in posts before. He goes by another name, but I can never remember it so I go by his real one. He usually has a mohawk, but today had smoothed it down and was wearing a newsboy style hat. He almost looked conservative. He brings out a stool and sits on a corner. Damian likes folk songs, but tends to do a lot of punk stuff, although his guitar is acoustic. We had met off and on for four or five years now.

     I told him why I was there, and he said the guy had come down the street earlier pretty mad about money. At least Sweatshirt Guy is consistent. Damian and I were chatting about that sort of thing for awhile, and in the meantime Bob, a guy who was hanging around Damian and came over to introduce himself to me, was there too. Sometimes, guys like that just like hanging with musicians for the night. Bob eventually disappeared, Damian was on a break and smoking, and we were joined by Kassie, who was clear to tell me it was spelled with a “K”. She was a blond twenty something musician with hip glasses. She leaned up against the lampost and smoked a cigarette while we talked. I still don’t know if that was her name, because I heard about three others in the course of one conversation, but it’s what I was going with here. She was one of the few female musicians who plays music around, and the only one I know of who plays on a street corner here, although I had only met her that night.

     After awhile Bob reappeared with plastic bags full of food and Poweraid for Damian. Damian was a little embarrassed, I think, and tried to give it back, but Bob was very adamant. Damian didn’t eat pork anyway, so he gave the ham sandwich back to Bob, who didn’t seem too concerned. We talked for awhile, before Kassie wanted to find a beer and I wanted to try my corner again, so we said goodbye.

     Sweatshirt Guy was nearer to Damian’s corner now, but at this point was just staring off into space and presumably contemplating the mysteries of the universe and loose change, so it looked like I was in the clear. I made it back to my spot, and played the rest of the night, which was at this time about forty-five minutes. A few guys, including a bearded twenty-something really got into it, and I got a few more tips, but other than that nothing much happened.

      And so ended another Friday night.




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