It’s Almost Memorial Day, And I Can Remember Not Being Here

     Saturday was low-key as well, for reasons I mentioned in my last post. Coming along the street, I saw a middle-aged bald guy sitting on the bench, starting at the sidewalk. He had his head down, and looked like he was going to be sick. I thought that he’d leave by the time I came, but he was still there. He didn’t say anything. For a swarthy skinned guy he looked pale, and just mostly started at the ground. I hoped it wasn’t going to be one of those nights where I was going to be able to guess what he had been drinking.

     Tips came out about even, but somehow were also more disappointing. I hate to say it, but sometimes, I wish people would not tip at all. For example, one younger guy listened for awhile, then proceeded to tip two pennies into my case before going off, all with the air of a much wealthier man who had just slipped the host a Ben Franklin to get a better restaurant reservation. Now, I’m not saying this man is cheap, and I suppose some might say I should be thankful for everything, and in a way I am. I always say “thank you” and the like, my manners are not compromised. And perhaps, of course, two pennies is all he had on him, I wouldn’t know. But getting two pennies for a is tip has all the satisfaction of getting those minuscule credit card points for every dollar. You know they’re worth something, but in actuality they mostly just sit there and give you the false sense that you are slightly richer.

     Anthony was setting up his food cart. It was slow for him too. From Anthony I learned three things about what became known as our mutual enemy, the Other Food Cart. First, that they served clam chowder, hotdogs, and something else I can’t remember (but sounded unappealing in the heat). Second, that they had trouble parking their trailer, and left in on the street for awhile before the cops moved it along, and finally that they probably had set up too close to him, as the city gives out spots and they were only a street length away. But oh well. We couldn’t do anything about it, so we just were content to give a few dark looks in their general direction. At least their generator had already warmed up today. As we both had dead time, we talked awhile, and Anthony told me about how he still made money doing this on the weekends in the middle of winter. Even then he made a good profit, and operating a food stand at two in the morning in the middle of winter in Fargo impressive. He was definitely a hard worker.

     The guy on the bench started waking up, going from “listless and about to throw up” to “moderately coherent and amiable.” In other words, he was still drunk out of his brains, but too tired to stand up and be a real jerk about it. He occasionally yelled at me to play Johnny Cash, but I ignored. A young lady bought one of Anthony’s cheese steaks and sat on the other side of the bench from him. She of course was almost immediately surround by at least two guys. A middle aged one, with a beard, glasses, and a cigarette, was particularly aggressive and she looked like she didn’t want to be there. I thought she’d blow him off, but he eventually got her number and they walked away together. However, she must have given him the slip at some point, because I saw him calling out to her to “wait up,” but later he was walking alone. As often happens. Eventually the drunk guy on the bench ambled off too, but came back and took turns listlessly wandering around the street, sitting on the bench again and talking to everybody, and finally just meandering away for good.

     A girl with her friend asked me to play the harmonica, and I indulged. I fingerpicked “Don’t Think Twice” for the solo, and she told me how she had learned “Georgia On My Mind” just by fingerpicking for hours and going section by section. She said her dad said she had to practice hard to be good at it and made her do it, and now she fingerpicks better than her boyfriend, who strums. It apparently makes him frustrated. This was impressive, mostly because she learned the opposite way than most guitarists. She also was probably better than her boyfriend, but I didn’t tell her that.

     As I was playing, a balding guy in about his thirties came by and sat down quietly to listen. He looked familiar, and I saw that it was Peter, who the reader may remember I had met several years ago (“Vigilance, Banjos, and Teenagers”). I said “Hey, aren’t you Peter?” and he was, and that he was really surprised I remembered. He apologized for being drunk that night four years ago and getting weepy, but I said that was okay. I was surprised myself that he remembered way back when too. He seemed more low-key and morose tonight, and we chatted a bit (it’s always good to see friends on the street, you don’t get too many), caught up on life and the like, and then eventually he headed off. He was looking for food tonight, as he said being drunk basically killed his diet anyway. We said our goodbyes. I stayed on my corner, and he headed off for the pizzeria down the street. I was sort of sad to see him go. I think he was a kind soul.

     Sometimes I get high schoolers come by, who don’t know what to do with me but try to act cool anyway. Some curly headed kid from Moorhead high (he wore the t-shirt) came by towards the end of the night and asked if I’d play “Bob Dylan” but immediately said that he “wasn’t going to pay me.” I was in the middle of a song, and I said I’d finish this one up first. He asked if he paid me whether I’d play Bob Dylan, and I said I might move this song along a little faster. He walked to the side, turned around, and looked through his wallet. He only found twenties. I said “Don’t worry about it” (which was my way of being polite and saying “Okay, well, you’re not going to pay, just enjoy the music or go on, but don’t keep pestering me for songs”) and he said “I won’t.” He then thanked me for my hair though. I got a haircut the next week.

     Some nights aren’t eventful, but that’s okay. Not long after that, I packed up, and quickly said goodbye to Anthony, as one to two-thirty in the morning is his rush time. I went down the street to see if Greg had come back yet (he had not, I wondered where he got to lately). Past the hot-dog stands, the late-night crowds, and the guys trying to corner girls for their last shot of the night, and watching the break-dancers across the street was Peter. He was holding a cardboard box in his hand, and had obviously gotten his pizza. I went to say “hi” and we chatted for a bit. He thought the break-dancers were pretty good. He said once he sobered up he was heading home on the motorcycle. I asked him if he wanted a ride, and he said thanks for being concerned, but he knew what he was doing and would be okay. We said “goodnight” again and I headed off into the night.




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