Friday, April 11, 2008

One Night Only

I was beginning to think I would never play the Sherbrooke Metro again, at least not on this trip. Someone had warned me that it's much more difficult to sign up and play in the winter months (I know it's Spring here. I got the memo late.)

Three times I set my alarm, got to the station early, but never early enough, apparently. So last night, I set the alarm for 4:45, and there I was in the station at 5, all alone, list in hand.

As you recall from last Fall, Campers, you gotta get up early, make two sign-up sheets with the date and hours listed; put your name in a slot, and then affix the lists to the metal music sign at each station.

And even then, it's not always a guarantee. Last year I put up a list, and came back at noon to find that someone had thrown it away and made their own list--a cardinal sin in busker circles. This afternoon, in fact, I found one of the sign-up sheets missing, and other torn halfway down the middle, but there was my name in the 5:30 spot. (Oh, I'm not a busker, by the way. That's a stupid name. I'm a guy who sometimes plays his guitar in the Metro station.)

I tossed some coins into the flute case of the guy on duty when I arrived, to his surprise, and was ready to go--no set list, no music stand, no song notebook. Just a person and that person's guitar.

I'd actually learned new songs this time around. And the guy who sings on the streets of Dublin in last year's Irish film, "Once," was wrong. You don't have to play familiar songs to attract coins to your case. The guy who was playing today at lunch time was noodling jazz/rock guitar improvisations through too many effects pedals with his eyes closed. To me it was nauseating. But there was money in his case, quite a bit, in fact.

But I began with two originals, the one about that girl, and the other one about that girl. It was slow at first, really slow. I was beginning to fear that this would be the only set where I made no money.

Twenty (!) minutes in, a little girl accompanied by her father, dropped coins in my case, and five minutes later, the same scene repeated itself. I almost thought it was the same little girl.

And then something odd happened. A tattered, toothless, dreadlocked hippie approached me, and started to look at the list. He stopped me and asked in French, "Are you on this list?"

"5:30. There's my name."

"I really need to busk. Can I have your spot?"

He seemed surprised when I said no.

"Oh man, I really need to busk....," he said, and then tossed the sign-up sheet on the ground, stomping away angrily towards the exits.

And then he was back. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, smelled him coming, actually. As he walked by me, a little too closely, he spat on the floor, in front of me, and kept walking.

Did he just spit at me? Okay, I think he was just making a point. Had he actually spat on me, it would have been International Incident time. But off he went, to convince someone else to give up their spot.

And then money started to fall. Old women, twenty-something baby chicas, business guys. I was pleasantly surprised.

Remember last year, when I said you could theoretically sing just one song for the whole two hours? Um, maybe you could actually sing five or six. People seem to really like that song about that girl, and the other one about her. And then maybe you do two or three they recognize immediately (but not the Eagles. Never the Eagles).

And then "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

I remember very clearly and distinctly. Two trains arrived at once, and a bus had just discharged passengers into the station from St. Denis. Perfect storm. Okay, they're approaching from both sides now, and from three directions.

Start in that split-second quiet moment. They hear it, and they notice, and then suddenly, they're one quickly moving group moving in and out of the station from east to west across my vision. They slow down, they step aside, they maneuver towards me. Coins fall. I metamorphisized from jukebox to guichet. Something about that song, I guess. Plus you have to make eye contact.

Ssssh. I played it twice. And then the song about that girl. And the other song about that girl.

It's 4:34 a.m right now. Hmmm.....

This Just In....

Amtrak found my wallet. Last week. I didn't get a chance to tell you. Whew. UPDATE: That's Roop there. He handed me a cardboard box, and said, "Which is these is your wallet?" Just like that. And now he can be seen world-wide. (Shh... Don't say nothing. He said his boss told him not to talk to the press.)

A House Guest

Yes, It's been a while. I know you are, but what am I....?

Okay, so imagine you have a house guest. Your house is fairly large, and he has never visited before. So, every day he comes to you, breathless, with a new discovery.

"Dude, if you walk down that hallway, there is another bedroom!"

"Hey, is that a kitchen??!"

"Bro, there is a whole street outside with people walking around, and stuff like that...!"

You get the idea. It's a bit how I felt recently, after visiting with my new friend Phillipe-Andre Piette, he of Le Journal Montreal. He contacted me after my last posting, which I'm beginning to think resonated with a lot of people. (A lot of nut people as well. You'll notice I had closed the comments section here. I had to, after the gates of WackadoodleTown were breached and every nut person with a salacious suggestion or conspiracy theory or spam sandwich decided this was their chance to finally reach out to me. But the comments are open again. This blog's gonna be here for a while, anyway.)

Anyway, I was seeing new bedrooms everywhere.

Phil and I met in the Square here, and then off we went to his chic urban home, smack in the middle of the Hochelaga ghetto, high above a Dollarama, near Maissonneuve. His comfortable second floor loft, which he shares with his girlfriend, was all exposed brick walls and stereo equipment—works for me.

More and more I learned—and am learning—that it's a pretty small percentage of Montrealers who live like I have been, and very few who pay anywhere near what I am paying for a home here. It's a bit like moving to LA, and the first place you find is in the Hollywood Hills, and you're startled when no one you meet lives anywhere near you. ("Dude, there is a WHOLE CITY outside!")

Thus my eyes were opened (again) as Phil and I drove through the city, east to west, and he pointed out the sights and neighborhoods at least in a small radius out to Olympic Stadium (I know, I know, that is barely east.)

Up we drove then to the winding curves of Westmount, to the view from the summit, down across The Boulevard, and eventually down into Outremont and Rue Bernard to L'Assomoir Bernard, the hip resto bar where Phillipe used to spit fire for the bar customers. (Did I get that geography right?)

We shared tapas at the bar, ate dinner, watched his former compadres juggle drinks with a flourish, (you know the drill) and watched the pretty girls. (Oh wait, that was me.)

Leaving the bar, I noted the Metro stop and thought, "Another neighborhood I have to discover." Ah, that will happen in September.

A few days later, I headed off in the direction away from the Sherbrooke Metro to stroll St. Denis across Sherbrooke and Rene Levesque down to Vieux Montreal.

"Dude, there are people going in and out of stores there, and everything!"

Call me Magellan.