I Finally Sell Myself On the Street

I’ve been in D.C. for the past week, a city that I haven’t seen since childhood and which as an adult find that I absolutely LOVE. (If I win the PowerBall, write anything that sells or get adopted by Zsa-Zsa it is the city that I would move to in a heartbeat, be that as it may.) I have lots of stories from the short time there (my favorite probably having to do with the Iraqi Embassy and a Cindy Williams imitation) but the OP:

For those who haven’t been to D.C., its leading import would seem to be deranged loquacious homeless people. You see them on every street corner talking to angels and demons and celebrities and other folk who best evidence would indicate aren’t there. (I think the city should fund a grant that would give them all headsets so that at least they’d LOOK like they were having a conversation.) You’re panhandled on every street corner and a few straggling troops of the armies of coat&tie-wearing-in-103-degree-temperature-power-broker-wannabes opt to buy a few seconds off their time in Purgatory by throwing change in their general direction.

There was one very old black guy that I passed every day on my way to the Metro. Some days I gave him some spare change and other days I walked on by, but he was almost always singing and had an amazingly good voice for a cheap liquor reaking homeless gentleman. Hold onto him as he becomes significant in about another paragraph. (BTW, according to The International Museum of Spying, homeless people are one of the favorite guises of spies as they can go anywhere and stand for hours in one spot and be generally ignored, so it’s not inconceivable that the next guy who asks you for some spare change could in fact be wearing “Ask Me About the Time I Killed Allende” T-shirt under that ratty army surplus jacket.)

Between handouts from my conference and souvenirs I had twice as much luggage to take back to Alabama as I came to D.C. with (and I don’t travel light to begin with- after all I might need that Australian outback hat or the dogeared copy of Sammy Davis Jr.'s Yes I Can! while I’m there) and airlines are getting much more strict and expensive in how much you can carry, so I opted il home a good bit of my haul. Knowing I’d just get hot and sweaty carrying a 30 pound box three blocks to the Post Office (and not having showered yet), on my last morning in town I put on a soiled T shirt and some baggy shorts in need of washing, and rather than prematurely take the innocence of my last clean pair of socks I just put my suede walking shoes on my bare feet. I looked pretty unkempt and still had bed head as I’ve been packing all day and was a bit unshaven. I took my package to the P.O. and walked back to the hotel.

So, walking back to the hotel I see the old singing black guy, who asks me for change. I tell him politely “None to give, sorry” and he says “Well you can sang with me!” I chuckle and walk on, but he’s persistent “C’mon! Sang with me! It won’t cost you nothin’!” and then he belts out “They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway! They say there’s always magic in the air!”

I’m about level with him now and he starts clapping his hands in front of me “But when you walkin’ down the street!” C’mon Brother! Sing with me…"

The suckingest part of being Southern is that when an old person asks you to do something eccentric you’re genetically obligated to humor them. So I belted out “and you ain’t had enough to eat…”

The two of us in harmony/melody: “The glitter rubs right off and you’re nowhere!”

“Hey you know this one! You good! Keep singin’…”

I walk a couple of steps closer to my hotel while he yells with a demented smile that I swear is more happy than mocking (he is after all having to amuse himself somehow while planning the assassination of the Libyan consul) and he yells “Keep singing man! That’s how you’ll keep happy! Keep singing!”

I smile and wave but he yells “Keep singing my brother! They say the girls are something else on Broadway… Sing with me man! You’ll be happy you did!”

So the genes strike again. “But looking at them just gives me the blues…”


Me: "how you gonna make some time…

Old Crazy Guy: [several yards behind me now]"Make some time… when ALL-YOU-GOT ALL YOU GOT ALL YOU GOT IS…

Me: [it’s lodged in my head now anyway and I don’t know one damned person in D.C. and it’s oddly addictive] “one thin dime… and one thin dime won’t even shine your shoes…”

And the kindly she-yuppie passing me reaches out her hand to me. I don’t know why I extended my palm to take whatever she was offering (just a reflex) but she deposited two quarters and a dime and continued briskly walking into the subway and my long term memory in some order.

So, I’ve now received my first $0.60 as a professional singer. (Reminder- I looked pretty mangy that day- but I like to think that it was the singing.) And I have to admit the crazy old man was right- it did make me happy.

Of course the paranoid part of me thinks that the she-yuppie was my salvation, that the crazy guy is doomed to sing for eternity on that street corner until he gets a replacement, and I was only a few bars away when she distracted me. Either way, the coins are going into the frame with the Susan B. Anthony dollar I got with my first paycheck back in the days when Reagan was the president and all of the Rat Pack yet did live, and I came back to the univeristy with one helluva idea for a scholarly article on “Cost-Recovery in Academic Development Travel”, but I’ll save that til I get the Power Point).

I also got kissed by Rip Taylor this trip. On the whole I’d much rather sing with the deranged old black guy than get kissed by Rip Taylor, but I’m sort of glad I got to do both.

First of all, this was wonderful. You are a good kind man, sir.

Second of all, there is definitely a short story in the idea that he was seeking his replacement, and if you don’t write it I might.

Thirdly, I want an explanation of being kissed by Rip Torn.

Rip Torn I recognize. Who is this Rip Taylor guy though?

Oops. Of course I meant Rip Taylor. :smack:

Hmm…choice of being homeless and singing for money, or being kissed by Rip Taylor…

“I knew a man Bojangles and he’ll dance for you - In wornout shoes…”

Gah! It is who I thought he was. Except I thought him dead.

I would opt for the singing as well; ol’ Rip strikes me as the sort to take advantage of a situation, the Lothario.

We were singing in DC too this Saturday (I was the short Greek guy with a metal guitar, she the tall, pretty brunette lady) busking on Dupont Circle.

Did you happen to see us?

Was this at the time of the Pride parade?

I don’t think so – I don’t remember seeing any parade. We were there from around 3:30 to 5:30. There was a dog show for charity on the opposite side of the park from where we were playing.

Just want to say this is one of the more interesting OPs I’ve seen in a while. And there has to be some good karma in singing a few bars with a kindly old homeless man.

No kidding. But then I’ve come to expect the unexpected from Sampiro.

"“Keep singing man! That’s how you’ll keep happy! Keep singing!”

Heh, the smile this generated extends clear across the country.

I love this story! I’m sitting here just grinnin’ from ear-to-ear!

That story made me happy, Sampiro.

And now I have to find that damn song and listen to it, else it’ll drive me crazy all day.

I would’ve given the old man the money, but aside from that, great story.

was on the Night Before Gay Pride (when all through Dupont, not a breeder was stirring, not even the ghost of L’Enfant) I met a former student who’s now out of school and living in outer greater suburban metro DC (i.e. 100 miles away). He’s only recently come out and he’s in the Over the Rainbow phase (gay Dopers will recognize it- it’s that phase when everything you read, listen to, watch or think about is gay themed if at all possible).

Well, I’m used to Alabama gay bars. Other than B’ham and Atlanta, most 50,000+ population cities in the Deep South have exactly one (1) gay bar and, having no competition, those charge covers even on weeknights, charge whatever the hell they want to for their drinks and then said drinks are the only thing in the bar weaker than the drag queen’s talent (never much got the point or the appeal of lip synching drag queens I must confess- for that matter I don’t really enjoy gay bars as there are two things to do [pick somebody up or dance] and I’m not particularly good at either]). D.C., having competition, is different: there was no cover at any of the bars we entered even on the Friday before Pride and the drinks in the bar we ended at were $3.50.

I rarely drink- in fact I drink just enough to not call myself a teetotaller. It’s nto because I have a problem but because ordinarily I have an extremely high tolerance- I’m not what you’d call delicate very recent pic and I come from a long line of Irish alcies, so by the time I’m good and toasted I’ve either spent $90 or I have alcohol poisoning. I get really drunk about once every five to seven years.

I checked the calendar last week. I don’t remember the last tie-on but I do know that Clinton was president.

My default drink of choice is Vodka and cranberry juice, which usually means a shot of bottom shelf Vodka, or just enough to give a slight kick to the cranberry juice. The drinks at the bar where we ended up were $3.50. Now in the gay bars that I’m used to, this would be a splash of bottom shelf Vodka in an ocean of cranberry, but here… we’re talking a glass of Absolut with just enough cranberry juice to baptize a medium sized cricket (and that’s if you’re a sprinkler rather than a dunker). Four of these in a pretty short amount of time and I was flying. Another one or two and I was feeling the gravitational pull noticably diminish.

So, Former Student (who is as wasted as I am) and I decide to walk back to my hotel, which is somewhere between 3 and 18 blocks away and we remember that it’s at the corner of a street with a letter and another street with a number so that should help. It was a trek worthy of Homer during which I think we briefly solved the problems of overpopulation and nuclear detente but unfortunately didn’t remember how the next morning. But the highlight, and the reason I include it, was a mutual and instant decision to hold hands and skip while singing the opening of the Laverne & Shirley theme song:

*1, 2, 3, 4
5, 6, 7, 8,
Schlemiel, Schlmazl,
Haßenpfeffer Incorporated! *

The hysterical part is that at the end of “Incorporated” we noticed a decidedly unamused fellow in a qaffia leaning on a red brick bland old building. He didn’t even crack a smile when I greeted him in my best Dudley Moore’s Arthur (I don’t remember what I said, but that one usually kills- that and Robert Preston as The Godfather are the only two impressions I do flawlessly [well, Topol doing a hemorrhoid cream ad I’m told is pretty dead-on, but probably not a good idea for an already pissed looking Arab [pardon the redundancy]). He just walked away.

The sign on the building read


To two very drunk small town gay southerners this just seemed to be the funniest bit of absurdism in our life thus far, even funnier than seeing the dwarf Greek Orthodox priest walking a dachshund earlier. Perhaps you had to be there, but the juxtaposition of gay pride apparel, a 70s sitcom, an Arab and the return of the embassy of a wartorn country just all added up to a moment that instantly took refuge in whatever citadel of my brain will be the Constantinople of my consciousness should the outer borders and hinterlands ever fall to the Franks and Turks of Alzheimers. Hmmm. You shoulda been there.

Then I went back to the hotel and turned down sex from a cute 22 year old because I felt it would be taking advantage- if that’s not a lesson on why not to get drunk I don’t know what is.

I totally need to travel more often.

You found a bar in D.C. with $3.50 mixed drinks? Yeah, I’d probably kiss a dude for that.


Omega. (I couldn’t tell you where it is, but it’s a red brick building somewhere off 17th St.)

Actually, the most I paid was $4.00. (Alabama, the same drinks would have been at least $4.50 and probably more. and not as strong.)

And if you get Dude-kissed while there, you’re doing better than I did, alas alas. :wink:

Sampiro, this is one of the best stories I’ve seen in a long time. I wish I’d been there. It makes me want to go sing show tunes on the street. But I sing very badly, so I wouldn’t make much money. On the other hand, maybe I could get people to pay me to stop singing. :smiley:

Love the short story idea. Someone should do that. Or a short film.