The Vagrant Dude
Posted by sacbut on February 16, 2011
I would practice almost every day on the “A” train. Second car from the end, right side of the train, I would find a seat that felt “right”. The ride from Washington Heights to mid-town is about a half hour of practice time. To Brooklyn, I figure I could blow about an hour. This method seemed to work out really well, and I would continue this ritual for years.
“Stardust” almost always was my opening warm-up selection. I noticed that in most situations, this particular song would win the approval of the other passengers in the car, and transform me from “the annoying subway musician bum”, to “the guy over there with the funny horn who ain’t really hurtin’ nobody.” I could then go to my scales and exercises in the comfort of my newly acquired invisibility.
The only time that I would open my eyes was when I had to reach for 6th position. I didn’t want hit anyone with my slide. In that instant, I would notice people that I had seen before, and People I hadn’t It was distracting a bit, but the rehearsal went on.
The only Person that would grab my attention was this one vagrant black man. He wasn’t unusually noticeable in appearance or odor, but he always seemed to get my attention. When he entered the car at the front, his left hand extended, he asked everyone for a donation without uttering a word. Then exited the car at the back. His level of disconnection always blew me away. “How can anyone become that far removed?” I thought to myself. Like I mentioned before, this routine went on for years.
At times, my thoughts would drift.
Money problems, the gig tonight, the lack of a gig tonight, my family and friends, being alone, why I torture myself with this music thing.
“Do you like J.J. Johnson?” a voice said one day. I looked up, and it was this vagrant dude! I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been seeing this guy for years, and I had never heard him say a word. I don’t know why I assumed he couldn’t speak, but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to mention one of my favorite players.
“JJ’s my main man!” I told him.
“I can tell you like Curtis Fuller too,” the guy said.
“Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say.”
I dropped some change in his hand and we talked a bit about music.
“Alright, it was nice speaking to you. I’ll see you soon.”
”Yeah, I’ll see you around,” I said.
The next time I saw him, I said hello.
There was not a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. He looked through me and kept on walking. I had to laugh to myself.
I tried to acknowledge him again on other occasions, but I always got the same reaction.
Months passed. Maybe a year.
On the train, my thoughts would drift. Money problems, the gig tonight, the lack of a gig tonight, my family and friends, being alone, why I torture myself with this music thing.
I looked up. It was the vagrant dude.
“You know, you should always play music because it makes people happy,” he said. He gave me a half smile, the train stopped at 59th street, and he scurried off the car.
I never saw him again.
© 1997 Ritual Ltd.