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…”
Old Crazy Guy: The BLLLLLLLUUUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSS! CAUSE…"
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.