This Month in Street Music, Part One: Hootie, Big Dogs, and the Sound of Silence.

      I suppose it would be about time to recount the last few weeks of street performing, the closing weeks of the season. The weather is dropping to the forties, and while I have joined the “Below Freezing Busking Club” last March, it’s an experience I don’t really want to repeat again.

I left off some weeks ago, and reconstructing from the notes and outline I took at the time, as well as my own foggy memory, that night went as  follows:

First, I arrived at my spot, and William was there. I don’t believe I’ve mentioned William before, as I saw him more last year as I was on the eve of moving to Washington, D.C. He left most of the summer, and I’d ask where he’d been, and he said he’d been all around North Dakota, but liked Fargo best. He was a middle aged black guy, a tooth missing, and he’d get really into the music. I mean REALLY into it. If he thought I didn’t have enough soul in it, he’d tell me. Often he’d sit on the corner, sway to the beat, close his eyes, and smile real big when I was playing, and loudly made noises in between the verses. Thus, I would sing something like “Your cheating heart” and he would go “AAAAAHHHHH HAHA” “Will make you weep” “Oh yes brother” “You’ll cry and cry” “HAHA Yes you will!” and so on. He would get almost violent about if he thought I was short-changing him on soul, fix me with a look, say “Look at me- I said Look. At. Me. Now you gotta….” Bill also liked barking. This included barking at women, children, and dogs. Bill would sit next to me and bark at his favorites, pretty women. I didn’t get many tips when Bill was around.

A long-haired guy named Jason hangs down by the Dempsey’s Nook about every night to chat with people. He’s ex-army, although he says he still might be called in. At any rate, he likes to watch people and tell what’s going on, and he told me about Bill and one of my street performing friends, Jordan. Jordan is one of the gutsiest street performers out there, and probably the guy I would most assume would make something of himself musically. He’s seventeen, and has long blonde hair. Actually, Glen told me of a time when a guy starting hitting on him, not knowing he’s wasn’t a girl. Jordan has a lot of good songs, including a particularly poignant one about a vibrating butt plug that’s popular in some circles. At any rate, Bill found him, and left a half-empty bottle by his case.  Jordan didn’t like that, because even if he was of age, you’re not allowed to have liquor outside, or especially if you are a street performer. Bill didn’t like that he didn’t like that, and insisted he take that. Apparently, adding this this situation, Jordan’s mother was there (presumably Jordan wasn’t doing the “Sex Toy” set that night) and she didn’t like it either and threw the bottle away. I was told Bill asked “Who do you think you are?” and she told him she was Jordan’s mother. Bill didn’t care, and fished the bottle out of the trash can, muttering curses, and by all accounts was pretty upset. I was told Jordan and his mom left, conveniently opening the spot to the Mister Meaner and the Machiner Guys, who often stand in the corner waiting for the spot to open and getting nervous and agitated when it doesn’t.

At any rate, Bill was in a quieter mood that night. He only talked a bit to me (“Oh yeah, I like that song” [several guys walk by without glancing at me without giving tips] “Oh, they were looking for rock and roll….”) conferred with his friend where the best looking girls were (his friend thought up by the Old Broadway, but Bill thought here or down the street in the opposite direction. His friend was correct, but they have no shot. If they go down to the Empire Tavern, their prospects would be better. It’s all about priorities) and barked at a white Shih Tzu  who was sticking his head out of the window. The dog wasn’t sure what to do. Bill has a really loud bark. He’s thinks he’s the Big Dog in town.

I could be mildly happy that some faith in human nature paid off that night. The young lady who had promised to leave me a check actually showed up with cash. She wasn’t as drunk, but seemed rather pleasant as she dropped off the bill before heading out with who I assumed was her boyfriend. I never saw her since, but it was nice someone actually came back as promised. Most obviously don’t.

Nothing else terribly much more of consequence happened that night. I gave a guy directions and got paid, generally worked the Bison crowd, and apologized when I couldn’t help a worried guy find his dad. That always happens at two in the morning. People lose someone and then walk around trying to find them as the bars close.
Sometime during that weekend (of which it was quite cold, and I didn’t stay out long) I think the next day, I began by talking to Jason and a guy named Lance, down the street. Mostly we just swapped cop stories, and Jason told me about my old “friend” Ed. Ed was the guy who I put under citizen’s arrest and testified against in court a few years ago, but that’s another story for another day. Apparently he wasn’t doing so hot, but when he wasn’t drunk and stoned I was told he was fairly nice and had potential. Jason also told of a ditzy girl friend of his who’s car stopped because of lack of gas, and she apparently had a can in her truck she didn’t think to use. She then stopped by with a guy from St. Louis she had offered a ride too. Jason said she liked those guys. The gentleman had decided to try working in Fargo, and Jason told him about lungs freezing out and eyes freezing shut on cold days. I tried to talk a bit about St. Louis, but the man was more interested in following the girl I think.

I later played my spot, and had the usual dancing college girl (sometimes a guy, but not usually) dance on the planters next to me. Later a homeless guy, a middle aged Indian guy with missing teeth came up on his bike. I had seen him around before, hanging by Dempsey’s. He wasn’t drunk, as far as I could tell, and told me that his friends took his money for beer, and he was trying to go to the gas station for fuel. I said that was too bad, and told him where it was. Two young guys, early twenties can staggering up, and one patted his bicep with a few fingers. “I’m all tapped out” he said. “You ever do heroin man?” The Indian said something to the effect of no, and that he was crazy. “No, it’s the best drug in the world….” Of the four people there, the Indian and I were by far the most sane.

The next weekend was more eventful. Michaela came back again, but about a week before, her appearance was foreshadowed. Two young men came up, and I was playing something and we were talking and generally getting along well. They liked my song, and one of the guys remembered me from a law class in school (As a brief aside, I don’t know why it is, but a lot of people seem to remember me from school. One guy remember me from a lecture hall in pre-freshman year five years ago, and another recently remembered everything I said from Dr. Silkenat’s history class a few years ago, which apparently was profound. It must have been, because I usually didn’t talk in class. You appear smarter that way). Anyway, one of the guys added I was friends with Michaela. “How do you know that?” I asked. “Oh, she Snapchatted you to everyone she knew.” This made sense. If anyone kept up with my posts, Michaela was the one who claims to have hundreds of pictures of me in her phone. “You’re friends with Michaela?” he asked. I told him there was a blur that comes by every once in awhile, takes a bunch of pictures, then runs off into the night. How did he know her? “Oh, everyone does” he answered. “She’s absolutely completely crazy. Great ass though.”

I had to wait about a week for Michaela to make another appearance. Like all her appearances (and Michaela herself), it was like a cannonball of confused emotional obligations that came and left with the pace of an iPhone obsessed hummingbird. She usually leaves one feeling like he was participating in a movie that’s about thirty seconds long. It happened when two guys were hanging with me, and one was really enjoying doing harmonies. They had wanted “Hootie and the Blowfish” but I didn’t know any songs by them. This particular guy was actually on key, and stood to my right, right leg out and arm raised, belting out the chords (and most of the lyrics) to “The Sounds of Silence.” I swear to God as I finished I thought to myself “You know, if Michaela comes by, I probably should warn these guys their time is up.” Why I thought that, I don’t know, except that I’m developing a sixth sense, but a few minutes later (after we had gotten started into “Good-Hearted Woman”) I put my head down, concentrating. A familiar voice (that I think relished the chance to do what she was about to do) suddenly sounded not two feet in front of me.


She did this sort of skipping in place thing as she said every syllable of my name. The other guys looked confused. Her posse showed up: Patient Boyfriend Matt sat to my right, while her friend, a blond-haired girl that was usually the sober one, stood behind her. I tried to continue a few bars while she did sort of a high step to the music before thinking “Oh screw it, might as well stop now” and so I did.

“Matthew! Ohmygod you’re here!” She turned to the other guys. “Matthew and I are friends on Facebook!” (One of the other guys said something sarcastic about that, but she ignored him) “I have like FOUR hundred pictures of you on my phone!”

“That’s not odd,” I said.

“Oh my god, let’s sing together!” she said. “What should we sing?”

“Well I was singing ‘Good Hearted Woman’ with these guys.

“I don’t know that one, what’s one we can do together?”

“Hootie and the Blowfish!” chimed in one of the gentleman.

Michaela apparently knew a song, and they all joined in a chorus of some song I didn’t know. I had lost the stage, but that was expected. Actually, I don’t think the metaphoric stage was lost to Michaela as much as it saw what was coming and surrendered faster than the government of France in 1940 when someone said “Look, a German!”.

Michaela still wanted to sing with me, and at this point, sort of shoved the guy next to me, who was about three feet taller than her, to the side.

We’ve been singing together longer” she informed him.

Bemused, he sort of stayed there, and maybe recognized what she was when he saw it. Actually, I have a feeling a lot of guys take the side-stage next to Michaela.

“What should we sing?”

I went through some of the songs I played, none of which she knew.

“Wait, what was that one song, we did it last time?”

She was referring to Katy Perry’s “Hot n’ Cold,” a song I had learned as a novelty to annoy my brother and that Glen once gleefully suggested I play to someone in time past I only know as “Katy Perry Girl.” I didn’t want to play it. On that occasion, she did a weird twerking soft-shoe thing, and quite frankly, I was didn’t feel up to playing while someone sticks their butt up to my leg.

“Come on, it was some sort of pop song….” she snapped her fingers. I told her I didn’t know. I wasn’t helping.

“Wasn’t it Katy Perry?” said Matt. I gave him a look and sort of cut my fingers across my throat to tell him to shut up. He sort of grinned, and her friend caught on. “I don’t think he wants her to know….”

“Thanks for the songs and the Hootie” said the guy had been singing with me. They realized they weren’t going to sing again, and had to get going, so I shook his hand and he left. I think Michaela’s attention span was starting to ebb too. It had been almost five minutes. She said something along the lines of “I got to go, you’re my favorite musician” which I think she says to everyone with a guitar, but maybe not. She said she’d see me again sometime, but Matt and her friend walked ahead and she stayed with me. She actually was moderately sober that night. I told her she may not see me, as this might be my last weekend. The weather was getting cold and the season was ending.

“Oh wait, this may be your last weekend? Oh, I have my mom’s wedding next week, I won’t see you then.”

Naturally, this was the part of the night where the selfies came out, but she delayed.

“Wait, we’re still friends, right?”

I crossed my fingers and held them up. “Like this” I said.

I told her about the guys last week who had known me through her, because I figured that would be the sort of thing she’d be happy to hear. I left out the bit where they called her crazy and said she had a “nice ass” as that wouldn’t fit any purpose anyway.

“See, I made you famous.” She seemed pleased. “Here, let’s take a selfie!”

I expected this, and protested. “No, you know you like it,” she answered.

That wasn’t true, and I tried to use the guitar to block my face. Somewhere on her camera there are some extremely awkward pictures.

At this point Boyfriend Matt came to see what was going on and to take her away. I can’t remember all she said to me, but it was something like “I love you, you’re the greatest guitarist on street….” I said that I was really glad she didn’t have a jealous boyfriend. That part was very true, I was eternally thankful to whoever is the god is of single men that Matt wasn’t the type that wanted to beat guys up just for talking to his girlfried.

“Pfiff” said Michaela. “You can take him, he’s weak.”

I think my jaw sort of dropped open, as for the first time I legitimately saw Matt’s face darken. I sort of felt bad for the guy, or at least, empathized with the awkwardness of it all. Michaela blew kissed as she left, and Matt sort of pulled her down the street. “I love you, I’ll never forget you….”

The last girl who said this then tried to jump over a fence and did a faceplant on the sidewalk, so this actually was a step up for me. And thus Michaela left and I continued the sound of silence.

Glen stopped by with the Mister Meaner people somewhere around midnight, armed with a one or two twelve packs. The Mister Meaner guy, a short bearded fellow in his twenties who had rings in his ears and a patched up jean jacket told me how he didn’t like Greg, and asked if I wrote my own stuff. “Sometimes, but really not often” I told him. He told me about the moral imperative of it, and that although people asked for stuff they knew, he played originals because he doesn’t care, and they really don’t either. He also mentioned Logan (who I am fairly sure was the aforementioned Diva, and likes to come by from time to time to give me dark looks) who gets his friends to come and give them twenties. He seemed worried I had been in his spot, but I told him truthfully that I didn’t want it, and that relieved him. “This is ‘your’ spot then?” “Yep, pretty much. It’s not bad.” He seemed cool with that, as long as “his” spot wasn’t taken. They left, Glen offered some apology for being drunk and they walked into the night.

Other patrons of the night perhaps weren’t as interesting. Sometime before Michaela, a older man with a happy disposition and a thick mustache came by. He was talking about coming from Washington state, where they were “pretty progressive” with marijuana out there. He had been in Vietnam, and was asking for a certain song, the name of which I forget, but I played for him. I think it was “I’ll Still Miss Someone” by Johnny Cash. Actually, I’m pretty sure of it now. At any rate, he told me a lot of other things too, but he talked very quietly and with a lisp, sort of mumbling, and I didn’t get a lot of it. He was pretty happy and pleasant, and wished me goodnight as he went on his way. In contrast, toward the end of the night, a young swarthy guy stopped by and saw me. There was another musician playing somewhere down the way, and this didn’t please him. “Oh God, another one?” he said, genuinely angry. “You know, I gave money to the last guy!” “You don’t have to give me any” I told him. “Here- you know what, I don’t have any ones-here!” he threw a crumpled five-dollar bill into my case. “It’s more than I gave the last guy!” “Thanks,” I told him as he stomped off into the night, muttering about the injustice of it all.

That night began and ended well. I got a dollar off the bat for hardly opening my case, and a young couple really liked the music toward the end. Unlike Cougar and Grad Student, their makeout session was much shorter, and they ended up laying on a bench staring into each other’s eyes, which is kind of corny but a lot better for me then having to separate two people. I finished my set.  And with that, they eventually went their separate ways (had they just met?) and I packed up and went home.

And that, Dear Reader, is about all for now, as I don’t want to make you read a minor novel in every post. However, I’ll continue the next couple weeks, leading to the present, in the next entry.