Day After Thanksgiving
On my way to my permitted spot at the Times Square subway station, through the train window, I saw Frankie playing his guitar and singing on the platform at 59th street.
When I got to the spot at Times Square Michael Schulman, the violinist, was playing there. Near him was a small table and a friend of him was selling CDs from it. Michael plays original music and covers, and he dances constantly as he plays. He has flickering lights on his electric violin. He can determine what color the lights will be – red, green or blue – and he changes the color every few songs.
At 12 o’clock Michael and the friend were striking their set and I was setting up. All of a sudden I heard a loud band playing. I looked at the upper-upper mezzanine, where I thought the sound was coming from, to see who it was. I said to Michael’s friend: “why can’t I see who is playing?” Michael’s friend said: “I’m sorry for you – the store just opened”.
The new record store right next to our spot, which all the buskers have been dreading its opening, had flung it’s door open and put a speaker outside, blasting the music of some Spanish band. Just my luck that I would be the one scheduled to play when the store opened…
I asked Michael’s friend to watch over my stuff while I went into the store. I asked the guy who worked there if he could please bring the speaker into the store. I didn’t tell him that I know it is illegal for him to have a speaker outside the store – I’m sure he knows that… I explained that I have a permit to play and that I am not very loud. He said “if you’re not loud than I don’t mind it”. We all know that the store owner wants to drive the buskers away from the spot next to his store. The owner even called the police on some buskers while he was working on setting up his store. For 40 years, while this same store owner had the same store on the lower mezzanine of this station, he gave musicians a hard time. So, I had to be careful and diplomatic… I told the guy in the store that I’m acoustic, I don’t have amplification – I play the musical saw. He said that he knows that (I guess he had seen me before) and he pulled the speaker into the store. At that moment I saw that the store has another speaker hanging from the ceiling right by the door, facing out into the mezzanine… So I knew that the bringing of the speaker inside (and leaving it right by the door…) was not going to make that much of a difference in the loudness of the music the store is blasting… But I didn’t want to risk a fight with the store.
As I started to play I could barely hear myself – the music coming from the store was so loud. For a while I was considering giving up and letting Michael continue to play at the spot – he has loud amplifiers and he said he would have turned his speakers all the way up in order to out-loud the store. But I decided to hang in there, as this might be the last time I come to this spot.
A Chinese lady in festive Chinese dress was advertising the Chinese holiday show. With her was a young girl. The girl came up to me to tell me that she is Mingjun’s daughter! She said her father was playing cello somewhere in the subway today, but she doesn’t know where.
The 4 a-capella singers who sing on the trains were dismayed to see the record store has opened. They told me that they remember the same store owner giving them a hard time when he had the record store on the lower mezzanine (That store closed in 1999 after 40 years). They said we need to get his store to shut down.
Max, a young guitar player with long hair who was playing on the platform, came by. He used to play on the street, where he said he met lots of famous people such as Bernadette Peters and the Prince of Kuwait… He doesn’t want to play in the subway, he is just waiting for a record deal to come his way. He asked if we could play together. I was having a very bad time on account of the noise from the record store, so I thought ‘what the heck’. We played ‘House of the Rising Sun’ together.
My speaker (on which I play my back-up music) kept “dying” on me every now and then since yesterday. It would just go mute, and I would have to give it a shove in order to get it starting again. Max figured out it wasn’t the speaker, it was the chord going into the speaker that was faltering.
Max said he will be spending the entire day in the subway.
At 1:30 a miracle occurred – the store stopped blasting music out! I don’t know why. I kept expecting them to start their music again, but they didn’t.
One of the Gimagua twins came by with his guitar. He said he read about the record store opening in this morning’s paper and he came to check out if they were blasting music out.
Steven Clark, the Michael Jackson impersonator, came by to check out the store situation. Everybody said they hope this store goes out of business…
The Scientologists came with their tables and stress-test machines. They haven’t been to the Times Square subway station for a while. When their leader said ‘hi’ to me it took me a while to remember where I know him from… They were surprised to see that the spot where they used to be was occupied (by 2 guys from the Navy with a table full of leaflets saying ‘the adventure starts here’). So, the Scientologists set up across from me, by the wall of the ATM.
A girl with a loud voice was yelling ‘Free stress test!’.
The bell of the Salvation Army bell-ringer was coming loud and clear from the upper-upper mezzanine.
A hip-hop dance group of kids were hovering over me since noon. When I finally let them have the spot, no sooner did they set up that the police came and shooed them away because they had no permit.
A toothless and slightly drunk guy hovered over me as I was packing up. He wanted to tell me how every time he sees me I make him laugh. He works as a messenger, so he passes through the subway a lot. He showed me his veteran’s card and told me he fought in Vietnam. He said he’s been a failure all his life, and that he can’t get a positive look at life because he thinks too much…
This was an interesting day, what with the store opening and all the people, but it sure wasn’t fun. If the store continues to blast music out, I guess I won’t be playing at this spot much. That makes me sad, because it used to be my favorite spot