A Hook Hand and a Wobble Knee

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February 27, 2008
By Posted in Union Square Subway Station | No Comments »

The trains were screwed up today – I had to take a train going away from Manhattan in order to transfer to a train going to Manhattan…

from the train to Manhattan

When I arrived at the Union Square subway station there was a guy with a lot of Duane Reed bags and a newspaper in his hand sleeping on the bench by the Music Under New York busking spot.

I noticed that the mysterious advertisements on the walls were changed to disclose what they are about (it’s the cool little European cars for two passengers, which were so popular in Paris when I was last there).

A guy who set down on the bench to listen to a few songs came over to tell me his thoughts on the musical saw: “what is great about it is that you can take an instrument of destruction and turn it into something beautiful”.


A thin guy knelt in front of me and closed his eyes. He then started to dance to the music. I noticed that he was very wobbly. He told me his name is John and that he is a bass player but he is not playing currently. He told me that he had a damaged knee and was given a wheel chair, a cane and a lot of medication. He threw all of that away.
I congratulated him on his resolve to walk.
He hung around for a while, swaying to the sound of the musical saw. He then said to me: “Don’t let anybody use you”.

Leon, the refugee from Eastern Europe, was on his way to class at business school. As usual he had a big smile on his face. He hopes to graduate this summer. I must remember to invite him to my free concert at the Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts Library – Leon used to be an orchestra musician in his country.

The guy with a hook hand was around today. I’ve seen him many times before. He told me that he lives on the street and in the subway. Once a week he goes someplace to get cleaned up. He said that come May he will be 52 years old. At that point he plans to go back to Montana. He said he heard the musical saw on TV in the 1970’s, on a Country channel. He said he used to play the banjo before he lost his hand.

A guy who hung around for a long time listening to my music told me that he is an artist. Turned out he does needle work. He showed me a book of needle work patterns he just got, where there are two patterns he would like to combine – one of a head of a deer, the other of a green undulating pattern. Very neat. He said it takes him a few months to complete the thousands of stitches required for a piece of art. He has a hard time finding buyers for his art because one can get real cheap needle work from China. To survive he works as a waiter.

The guy with the hook hand came back. He told me “I see you by a lake or a pond, nature, and birds flying around, and the birds like your sound”. Interestingly, and unbeknownst to him, my resume photo is basically like that…

my resume photo

Steve and Mary Kay Dawson, the owners of the Musshel & Westphal musical saw company, came to see me. That was such a treat and honor to meet them! They drove all the way from Wisconsin to NYC, and tonight will drive up to Albany. Like Steve said – when you are from a small town in the middle of nowhere, you get used to driving.
The Mussehl & Westphal musical saw manufacturers have been around since 1921, and are a musical saw staple. I always recommend this musical saw to aspiring musical saw players. I used to play a Musshel & Westphal musical saw in the subway until I got a ticket from an undercover police lady, for $150, saying that the teeth are a weapon… Meeting the people who run this historic company was very exciting for me. They are a major part of the history of the musical saw.
The needle point artist was still hanging around, so I asked him to take a photo of Mary Kay, Steve and me.

Mary & Steve of Musshel & Westphal

The guy with the hook came up to us as we were talking, and he joined the conversation, telling us he used to work in a coal mine in the 1970’s until he got fired in 1980, for drinking. He used to make $12 an hour, back at a time when a pack of cigarettes cost 75 cents and rent was $150 a month.
John, the wobble knee guy, joined the conversation, too, and the needle work guy spent some time with us as well. It was pretty jolly.

I suspect the wobble knee guy is homeless (like the guy with the hook hand). They were joyously conversing on the bench.
Later on Arnold, the delivery guy, came by. He told me that he and Albert, another delivery guy, were talking about how I wasn’t there in February. They were wondering what happened to me. When I explained I spent time with my father, who is 85 years old, Arnold told me about his father who is 89 and lives down south.
After talking with me I saw Arnold talking with the guy with the hook hand. It’s so nice how all the different people who spend a lot of time on the street (buskers, delivery guys, homeless, pick pockets, etc.) all know one another and are friends. It’s a privilege to be accepted to their circles. They don’t talk to just anybody, they are very selective. But once you’ve been accepted into the street family, there are always people watching over you on the street, so no harm comes your way. I feel very blessed to have so many “body guards” in the subway.

Blackwolf the Dragon Master, a.k.a. the Central Park Wizard, told me that he will be making his first appearance of the year in the Easter Parade. He is waiting for the weather to get nicer so he could resume his performances. He is pondering what to do about St. Patrick’s Day – this year it falls during Holy Week, so he might not do his usual leprechaun act this year.


By the elevator going down to the train platform a guy with a red carrying cart said he enjoyed my music. On the elevator he told me that he is from Trinidad & Tobago. He’s been here for more than 10 years now – his whole family moved here. He has a girl friend who is from Puerto Rico and this week she will be meeting his family for the first time. He works as a delivery guy and also has a job at a car garage.

Elevator in subway

On the platform somebody was playing Mozart’s ‘Turkish March’ but my train arrived so I couldn’t see who was playing.
On the train a guy realized he got on the wrong train. I explained to him that it would be easier for him not to get off at the next station but rather at the one after that – transferring to the downtown train would be easier. So, we struck up a conversation. Turns out he is from Boston. A girl sitting across from us joined the conversation.
And New York City has a reputation of being an unfriendly town?!

friendly commuters


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All compositions and arrangements
by Scott R Munson