How I Relearned to Hate Improv, and Don’t Explain Zoning Ordinances to Drunk People: Music in the Month Of June

     The music world was quiet this month. One wedding, bad weather, another guy in my spot, and a carpentry job which required my waking up at five in the morning all combined to make it so my days on the street were numbered pretty low. Nevertheless, I got out a few days this month.

     For once, I was indisposed on the first Friday night, and could not make it to my corner. Actually, I could but the weather turned bad anyway. I had already (and successfully too) just put on my brother’s bachelor party, in which we ate dinner, drank scotch, and found a video game place that had older consoles to play, which excited the groom. I didn’t feel like working after that, and on some nights you’d rather be the crowd than the entertainment.

     Alas, however, I still had nothing to do an Saturday. Rather than reflecting on this at home, I instead got the guitar and went out. Then, I remembered I had forgotten something, went back home, came out again, and got stuck behind a train. But this wasn’t any old train. This was a special train, it was one that slowed down, stopped, than sat there for like, an hour. Then it moved again, but I had already long gone, having turned around in a driveway and found a pass under a bridge. The point is, over a half hour later, don’t forget your stuff.

     Upon arriving, my guitar, of course, was out of tune. So I fixed it up, while people shouted at me. At least three girls shouted that I was doing great. I wasn’t, but I make no secret of being befuddled by street women, and chose to keep working on a stubborn G-string (for the record, I was originally going with the also stubborn “D” but that sounded worse, so there you go. This is a family-friendly blog). Anyway, once I was all set up I started to play.

     Not much happened at first. I got a few tips as I was getting through my set, until on my third song, a guy in light-colored clothes and a white baseball cap sat down. It took me a minute to recognize that it was Marcus.

     “Hi, it’s Marcus, remember me?” he said.

     I said I did, and it was nice to see him again. Marcus had a lot on his mind. He hadn’t been drinking for awhile, as he had gotten a bit wild (there were stories of office parties and gambling) and was cooling down. His permit had also just expired, and he had never used it. He wasn’t happy about the fifty dollars down the drain. From there he effortlessly segued into asking me to play my guitar. I told him no, but tried to be nice about it.

     “You let me last time” he said.

      I reminded him that was not true, I had not “last time” but I had a long time ago. Not anymore. He said he’d give me a twenty. I said others had offered me fifty. He seemed surprised, and I said “Well, drunks you know.” I told him how if I did it for him, then everyone would want to, and he said he understood, nodding.

      But he still wouldn’t give up. Once again, he saw some people he knew on the street, and told them to come over and tell me to let him play “Classical Gas.” Some guy and two girls came over and told me to let him play “Classical Gas.” I still said “no.”

     “Just sing it” said one of the girls.

     I told her that was pretty impossible, as it was an instrumental. She looked disappointed. The other asked me for some band I didn’t know, and she looked disappointed too. I began to fall into my groove. This is more what busking nights should be.

     They eventually gave up, and talked to Marcus for awhile. The tips then dried up, since they were talking in front of me, but it didn’t last too long. They eventually left, and Marcus and I chatted about his job, life, and so forth. He’s in his last semester of college, and working for financial securities, or anti-fraud, of something of that nature. He talked to me more about working there (He says he’s a “who you know” sort of guy) and then offered me a twenty to play again.

     “Tell you what” he said. “I’ll throw it in either way.”

     I said “No” but he wanted to. He asked to play again, and I still said “no.” He wasn’t mad, but he told me just to say it once directly. Marcus said that he was using the fact that he knew me as leverage, and that I should just say “no” directly, at the beginning. I pointed out that sounded like what he said he did at work.

     That started him on another train of thought, the details I cannot remember, but ended with “But now I’m contradicting myself.” For someone who claimed he wasn’t drinking much anymore, he was doing a good job acting a bit like he was. Maybe he was just tired.

     At any rate, he said he had taken enough of my tips away from me, and got up to go. I did the rare move of trying to give him back his twenty, as I didn’t feel right taking it, but he said that was okay. He showed me the app on the phone with his budget, and said that now that he wasn’t drinking, he had the cash. I eventually said okay. He told me again to say “no” right away and people would respect me more. I tried to say that’s how I started, but then didn’t. We shook hands, and he walked away into the night.

     I finished my song, and watched a blond girl in line at the cheese-steak stand dance to it, and then sort of got her date to do it too (but no tip for me….) They were followed by some girls, who wanted to dance to “Irene Goodnight” and then talk. I think their dates, not knowing quite what to do, went to the bench and looked chill. Or at least as chill as one can look with a white shirt and a blue sweater tied jauntily around the neck. Fashion Philistines.

     One of the them, a round-eyed girl in a pink tank top, and wearing a Hawaiian lai, wanted to know if I could play “Wagon Wheel.” She was very pretty, and I wanted to. I laughed and said that it was the most requested song. She looked disappointed. I chatted with them for awhile, which only allowed one bleary-eyed guy to turn around and say “He wants to sleep with you!” I said sorry, and carried on. One of the girls wanted to show me how to play a song, and reached around up close and was showing me the chords. After a while, as their dates looked at everything but the scene in front of them, but could no longer look cooler and nonchalant anymore, they said goodbye and left. I still think I had a case for being cooler than Sweater-guy anyway.

     Now I have met my share of annoying people in this job, but they somehow keep getting better at it. One could say “I’m getting older” and that’s true. But I also want to use the opportunity to blame Millenials for being somehow worse. Because they are. At any rate, my case rests with “Improv Guy.”

Improv (has a crueler word been invented? It even ends on a “v,” like a jerk. Nothing ends on a “v” outside of Slavic names) Guy was a tall, twenty-something in a white shirt, cargo shorts, and a backwards white cap. He carried an unlit cigarette, which somehow didn’t stop him from trying to take a drag on. And he wanted to join me.

Improv Guy wanted to do just that- improvise. Over. Every. Song. In a sort of “90s Soft Jazz” sort of way, but without even the voice. And he was one of those drunks that zoomed in and got fixated on this one thing. I played and he tried to interject over every single break. I tried humoring him. I tried boring him. Nothing would work. He just said he wanted to sing about whatever was coming to mind, so after looking for readily available reading material, his song material consisted a lot about the Bank of the West, the Alerus Center, and sandals (“and there’s a gi-rl. She’s wearing san-dals”!). Dylan (either Bob or Thomas) he was not. He wasn’t even Elmo, who performed deeper poetry while singing one word on a piano that I suspect was dubbed in. And he wouldn’t leave.

There is a time, when a busker, where you don’t want to be associated with certain people. I finally realized this guy was so mentally challenged and focused in when he brought a pretty girl to sing with him. I was trying to play the guitar, he was trying to sing over me, and she was there. It didn’t work there. The girl was only there because she thought the clothing store had a bathroom inside. It did, but it had been locked for five hours. She asked Improv Guy for a light, before realizing, as I had, that his remaining neurons made sure he was sucking on a cancer-ridden piece of cardboard out of habit, not actually how it was supposed to be used. You know, lit. “You don’t have to do this” I kept telling her. Or “there’s a bathroom across the street.” I was trying to be a gentleman. Apparently, as the parts of my mind clicked together later that night, she wasn’t looking for a bathroom, she was looking for a date. I know this because she said “Well, if no one wants to take me to the Old Broadway….” The Old Broadway is where Improv Guy and his ilk spawned on the bathroom floors, and required dancing, so I said “no.” Idiot. She left, and then I did. Improv Guy’s friend (how do these people have friends?) said “Quitter” and Improv Guy sang something about me leaving with my guitar and my hat I put on. I loathed them so.

Thus I ended early, and went to talk to Damian, of the Mohawk. We had a nice chat, and it wasn’t a bad night. I did glance back at my corner about a half hour later, and the guy was still there. If girls, boredom, and alcohol couldn’t drag him away, I guess he was really committed to sign-inspired poetry.

And thus ended another night.

     The next Friday there was someone new at the food truck, Anthony didn’t seem to come out anymore, but nothing much else of consequence happened that night. It was slow, and I only stayed out an hour.

     On Saturday, the food truck broke down, and I watched the employees have trouble putting it back on the trailer. They couldn’t get the hitch on as they backed up, although they eventually were successful, and Fargo was without Philly Cheesesteaks that night. Boy chased girls, and a girl sat down next to me a minute before her friend called her away.

     A young, blond-haired guy with a white baseball cap came up to me while I was playing “House Carpenter” and wanted Metallica. I never listened to one song of theirs in my life, and said no. He wasn’t happy, but was also drunk, and I came out of the arrangement with two twenties, so I was okay with it, although I think I tried to give one back. I’m too nice of a busker, but as I’ve written, never argue with a drunk person, especially when they want to be generous. His girlfriend was there, and they wanted me to play “Johnny Cash” so I played “I Walk the Line” as they walked away.

     A few young guys threw in some money, singing “shoe-be-do-wo-bopp” in some sort of pseudo-barbershop quartet. “He sings for everyone, we’re singing for him!” they said as they tossed money in. I appreciated the gesture. Another guy simply threw in an expired coupon for an oil change. I was less impressed, but still automatically thanked him, and they cheered that. I found out about the expiration later.

     One sort of burly young guy (“fat” and “burly” are more interchangeable to guys in their twenties) with curly hair and wearing a tank-top and backwards baseball cap decided to be a vigilante. He asked me if “Tom Church” knew I was there. I surmised later that this person was the one who owned the store that I was playing in front of. I thought he was drunk and rambling, and was talking about Eric Church, the country singer, and told him that was below his paygrade. Then I figured out the guy was trying to get me off the street.

     For the record, after the stores close, the city of Fargo, much less the store owners, don’t care if you are in front of their shops, of which this one had been closed for about six hours. The man’s girlfriend was standing in the middle, and kept pushing him back. Eventually, she got him away.

     A girl with red hair and glasses, who I had seen walk down the street many times, gave me a flower, while another guy threw in a vampire action figure, for some reason. I left the action figure out. I had enough in my case already. A guy named Victor sat down on the bench in front of me, and was filming me and everything around, while a Native American guy met some Native American girls, asking what reservation they were from.

     At the end of the night, a young man and his bland-haired girlfriend came by, she asking me if I knew any songs by John Denver. I knew a bunch, and asked her favorite, which of course was “Country Roads.” She and her boyfriend were dancing, and they gave me a twenty, and she a hug.

     “You’re going to cheat on me with him” the boyfriend said as he was getting her away. She thanked me and they headed off into the night.

     Normally, this is where the night ended, and as far as street music goes, it did. I talked to Viktor, and found out that he was a journalism student. It seemed appropriate, as he was doing what I had done: waited long into the night to film B-roll. He had a whole plan, and I gave him my card, but although he said he’d e-mail, as in most cases I never heard from him again. I had heard that a guy was trying to set up the world’s longest jam in the basement of a bar some blocks away, and I went to check it out. When I got there, he remembered me, but it was filled. Damian, Yannick, and some others were jamming out, and there was no room for me. The man putting it on, Julian, said that we should come back tomorrow in the morning to keep it up. It didn’t work out, but that’s another story.

     With that I crossed back past my corner and went on home into the night.

 

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