There has been a lot to say, and I regret not writing this sooner. Nevertheless, here is the eagerly awaited (I assume) and always anticipated (perhaps) Part Two:
The last month in street performing was eventful, as the college crowd picked up with every football game and generally kept foot traffic high. For the most part, people have been friendly, although I have grown to ignore most of the unpleasant ones anyway. The weather got cold, but there was a warm spell in the middle that kept the buskers out and passerby in a slightly better mood. The last two weeks in the street live were both eventful but winter is coming.
Several weekends ago, I didn’t think I ever had to take so long to finish “City of New Orleans.” I have this habit of no matter what, finishing a song, even when I’m interrupted and play something else. Amongst other rituals, you can call it a habit, but I never liked leaving a verse hanging (high fives, on the other hand, I have no problem doing so). “New Orleans” went on and on and people kept coming, but I managed to finish eventually. A some point- it may have been during “New Orleans,” but maybe not- a young lady showed up with a group, and while they chatted among themselves, she talked to me for a bit. She was an architecture student at NDSU, and we were talking for awhile when one of the guys came over and said “Hey, you’ve got a boyfriend!” I assumed he was talking to her, as he didn’t know me at all. I tried to explain that I had nothing to do with it, and that street performers were not a nebulous black hole where various girlfriends disappear to a Bacchanalia of lust and debauchery because they heard “Wagon Wheel” one too many times, but I didn’t even get far enough to show them I didn’t have hooves for feet. The spell was broken, and I hadn’t even started on my bit about how feudal custom regarding the ownership of women and Puritanical laws which dealt with the conversing of a young lady between a man who isn’t the man she is “going steady” with were largely were looked down upon in the twenty-first century.
“He’s not my boyfriend, he’s just my friend” she said, I believe momentarily embarrassed. The guy didn’t leave her side from then on out, doubtlessly for fear that a gaping hole would open up under our feet and we would be sucked into a circle of hell for our horrible sins. For some reason, Spanish came up.
“Do you speak Spanish?” she asked.
“Nein, ich spreche Deutsch” I answered in the language I had learned for the sole purpose of courting women. No one says “Ich liebe dich” like the Germans.
They said something in Spanish, and I said something in Italian with a hand gesture that I’m pretty sure (looking back on it) was rather rude, although then again, what Italian gestures don’t mean “go to hell” at some point?
“Oh you see, my boyfriend and I have a special connection with him in Spanish” she said, as the other fellow laughed. With snide smiles, they walked off. I hoped their special connection was a bad night at an authentic taco stand.
However, while most of my songs are interrupted, or people, if they listen, only want to hear a verse or thirty seconds on the harmonica, or girls who have their friends come and chaperone them on their nights out stop by- every once in awhile, I do get to play something for a couple or a few people that actually like the songs. A taller guy with (if memory serves) tattoos and a leather jacket was out with his girlfriend the next day, and asked me to play something. I played “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” quietly and they danced for a bit with the same sort of pure lost infatuation that comes with being in love. Unlike Cougar and Grad Student, I don’t mind people like that so much, because they actually liked each other and liked having music so they could dance. Unlike Cougar, sex was also kept where it belonged: if not in their own homes, at least away from my guitar case. They thanked me and went on, and, I believe, left a nice tip. People like that I like playing for. I think in those cases, music actually serves a purpose, and makes a nice memory for them at least.
I was lucky enough to get one more set of good people in that weekend. About five young women showed up and, long story short, wanted to hear music. They were unattended, which was unusual. Most women in Fargo travelled with chaperones nowadays. There was the usual bit (“What’s your favorite?” “Do you write your own songs?”) and one of them, Brittany, wanted a song with her name in it. Considering most of my songs were from an era when “Brittany” wasn’t a name, I didn’t, but I did “Don’t Think Twice” again. About halfway through I checked to make sure they wanted me to keep going. They did. They were quiet and listened to the words. I was unnerved. A blond-haired girl in a white dress leaned against the wall in front of me, and did most of (if any) the talking. I finished, they clapped and yelled, and wanted another. We had been talking about Bob Dylan, so I did a Tom Paxton song (“The Last Thing On My Mind”) which they listened to. The whole thing. “Did you write that?” asked the blond girl. “No” I said, but I think I had never wished more in my life that I had. Women who liked listening to folk songs? This doesn’t happen anymore to ones under forty. I told them (in complete and utter honesty) that they had been my best audience. They had been. By God, they sat through two songs where I just fingerpicked. No one has ever done that yet.
“What are you guys doing out here anyway?” I said.
“Oh, we’re from Canada for the weekend” she answered as they were leaving.
Canada. Suddenly everything clicked. The politeness, the lack of a chaperon, the simple enjoyment of life without being completely wasted on a Saturday night. My worst enemies.
“Oh that’s why you’re here!” I said. “You’re shopping!”
For those of you who don’t know, North Dakota has it’s own border problem. No, there is no murmur of Mexicans stealing our jobs. It’s Canadians who steal our goods. Whenever the dollar drops, they get in large vans that can hold a hockey stadium, and then guzzle maple syrup schnapps all the way straight from Pembina and Crystal, through Grand Forks, and then finally arrive at Fargo, where they attempt to use their goofy Monopoly money as currency to buy products the hard working American businessman was trying to sell to honest Americans. Canadians. My best audience was my worst enemy, sprung from my only hated nation. Too early they were seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me, that I must have played for a loathed enemy.
“The shopping and the cheap booze” said the blonde Canadian. The party was finally splitting up, and they waved goodbye. “You’re loved in Canada!” she added. I wasn’t sure to make of that. I decided to keep it under wraps so I wouldn’t hurt my street cred.
The night was getting late, and I went to have my usual chat with Greg. On the way I met Sarah Bomb. Sarah was a short woman in her late twenties. She had different-colored hair every time I saw her, and glasses. She sold real-estate, but had gotten a degree in English because she said it was a degree you could get while stoned the whole time. Last time I saw her she played with Glen and I, but after announcing she had to “go poop,” so I hadn’t seen her since. We chatted a bit, and she told me I looked both Jewish and like Woody Allan, except for the child molesting part. I said thanks. I let Sarah be, and then went to go see Greg.
Greg was living out of his van at the time, but has an apartment lined up in Moorhead for November. He had played all over the country, and really liked living in New Mexico. I asked him about Fargo compared to other places.
He looked up and mused a moment. “There’s still a kind of innocence here” he said. He told me people were still nice here, and you didn’t have the kind of violence and sleaziness that was in other places. There were no gangs here yet. I had to agree. I was sometimes scared, but overall it did have a sort of innocence about it. Fargo hadn’t been marred by crime, gang wars, or much else. It was quiet, a “hick town on steroids” as someone from Kentucky once told me, maybe even getting “yuppie” but it wasn’t bad. Greg said it reminded him of New Mexico in some ways, that sort of western town: the “Gateway to the West” as it says on all the local cops’ arm patches. He said Moorhead was different (I agree) it was an eastern town, but Fargo was a western. I think he’s right. I could cite all the conversation’s I’ve had in my college class on “The West” but long story short, I do think Fargo is a western city more than an eastern one. It’s still wide and open (although that’s changing) and as Greg pointed out (or perhaps I remember it that way) there isn’t quite the attitude yet of one being necessarily better than another random person, although one could be worse.
Either way, with that I left Greg around two A.M. and walked back up north to Broadway, turning right at the Kinghouse Buffet, as always, to head back home.
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