JAM with the Homeless Men

December 7, 2019

He was shaking his cup of change. “Shake shake shake shake shake shake shake shake.” He was shaking his cup of change all day. “Shake shake shake shake shake shake shake shake.” I walked by him twice a day, put a dollar in his cup, put a nickel in there other day. I walk past him today and he’s still shaking his cup of change. “Shake shake shake shake shake shake shake.” The homeless man across the street had a violin with only three strings. He played the thing to acquire the change the other homeless man shook all day. He’s playing a violin concerto to the passersby on the sidewalk in a fit of joy and grace. “Doo doo da, doo doo da, doo doo da, doo doo da….” He’s playing Tchaikovsky but he’s missing half the notes because he’s missing a string. Down the block a Vietnam vet with a sign saying “Help Me” is jammin away at a bucket with both hands, quick as The Flash. “Boom da da Boom da da Boom da da. Boom da da Boom da da Boom da da.” Two buckets. Both black. He has no sticks but he does have a brown dog lying down next to him. He’s banging on those buckets like he’s playing for a crowd of sixty. He hits a rhythm. The sidewalk walkers walk by with deaf ears. But I could hear. “Boom de doom de de doom de de doom.” He’s going faster. The rhythm is upon him. He’s in a state of trance and ecstasy. The man with the guitar is camped underneath his tent. He’s strumming along to a fall out song by Bob Dylan. “Do de do de do do do de do do de, Do de do de do do do de do do de, Do de do de do do do de do do de, do de, do do de, do.” His voice is cracked and he has no pick but he’s plucking the strings with a freedom that you know came from years of practice and dedication at a younger age. Another man sitting down on the pavement with both legs outstretched sang a song of the blues to a tune as old as the sky is blue. He sang and sang and preached and threw his arms out wide to reign thunder and lighting on the crowd of pedestrians. “I’ve Been Lovin You Too Long…” All I did was bring them together. The man with the cup of change. “Shake shake shake shake shake shake shake.” I walked him over to the man with the violin and together the music was half complete. Then I brought the drummer with his buckets to the same place. I walked quietly to the man underneath his tent and asked him to bring his guitar. I brought the singer of the blues to the party as well. He thundered and boomed to the tune of Otis Redding, if my ears recall. “I’ve Been Lovin’ You Too Long To Stop Now- doo doo da doo doo da doo doo da doo doo da- You Were Tired- shake shake shake shake shake shake shake- And You Want To Be Free-then the drums came in- boom da da boom da da boom da boom da da- Oh I’ve Been Lovin You A Little Too Long- Then the guitar came in- Do de do de do do do de do do de, Do de do de do do do de do do de, Do de do de do do do de do do de, do de, do do de, do- To Stop Now.” The gathered crowd clapped, applauded and whistled. A Homeless Band. I stood at the front with a stick, conducting this concerto of misfits. And instead of change the homeless men got paper. Passerbys threw twenty dollar bills into that cup full of change, hundred dollar bills as well, and while it didn’t change the music, it gave the men some money to spend. The man with the cup bought a golden goblet, and he kept his change in there. The man with the three strings bought another. The man with the buckets bought a pair of sticks. The man with the guitar bought a pick. And the singer bought an ice cream cone to clean out his lips.

Maurice Tawil

2019

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