Boston Deaf, Day 1

Um, I’m an idiot. Or, as Crystal puts it, stubborn. As we all know well, I’m not entirely well but upon arriving in Boston (where my idea was to write and not busk so much) I promptly busked. Spoiler alert: it sucked. Predictably so, as the intangibles behind a performance become magnified on the street – slightly low energy translates into drastically lower funds, etc. Coming from Florida I’d forgotten how cold New England falls are, and ventured out to busk in a thin (but fabulous) button-down and white jeans. So I think I got a bit of a small cold. Not a big deal. But certainly, I’ve got some maturing to do.

I guess I just missed busking. Even though I made nothing, I rather enjoyed myself for my two short pitches (10.13.10). I got off the Red Line in South Station to acquire a map – the only thing I’ve been collecting from the cities thus far, although I’m missing one of Stockholm. Crystal recommended I try just outside of South Station – and the pedestrian traffic did look promising. I wandered into a costume/card shop in Fort Knox Square (square is rather an odd term for a very tiny, paved pedestrian triangle) and the flamboyant worker pointed me to the nearest CVS for my 1.5 liter water bottle. He also acquiesced to my polite entreaty to play facing his shop (not directly in front of the entrance, of course) so long as I didn’t suck.

After a month of no busking I started off very happily and energetically. Business people passed thick and fast throughout, but unfortunately never slowed. I got a lot of surprised smiles, but these were very fleeting. The average footspeed was quite absurd – they were all nearly jogging. After three songs one man paused long enough to drop me a dollar – but he, too, was in such a rush he literally dropped it, not looking back, and missed my case entirely. Luckily, the wind pinned my earnings (all of them) against the case. A girl working the flower shop across the way observed me coolly – I couldn’t tell her opinion – and after that third song I began to get quite cold. My chosen spot was in the shade of the Fiduciary Trust building, which channeled wind quite handsomely – not to mention the surprisingly significant wind created by the speedy passersby.

That’s one thing to mention: tall buildings. I’d forgotten about them in Europe, for everywhere I went the buildings remained at human scale – looking up I’d see more blue than gray. I wonder if the literally oppressive ambience – as they shade and thereby cool everything, as well as stagnate the air – contributes to more antagonistic attitudes towards buskers in the States. One man stopped and sat on the parapet down a few meters down during my first song. He called some of his buddies and by the time I left he and four friends watched me out of their peripheral while chatting happily away. They wouldn’t even meet my eyes when I nodded towards them graciously, however, and naturally didn’t tip me a cent.

I gave up and headed towards Downtown Crossing on the costume shop man’s recommendation. The plaza in front of the Border’s he recommended was occupied by another busker, however, and I knew I needed something of a rest before my next pitch, anyhow. I struck up a conversation with this busker, a young man named Nathan, who gave me advice on busking in general and why he does it without my asking for it – I suppose that’s our (busker’s) preemptive strike-like defense mechanism: we naturally start validating ourselves when asked by a passerby. It was strange to hear many of my own thoughts towards pedestrians voiced to me like I was one. He invited me to watch ten minutes of his pitch to observe his tip-flow, which ended up being nothing – after which we shared a wry smile.

I tried to take shelter from the cold inside the Borders, but the store was, hilariously air-conditioned so it wasn’t really any nicer. Nathan was packing up his guitar, so he walked me to the Public Garden. He’d made $14 while I was inside, which brought his day’s haul to $20. On the spectrum of buskers his is an approach much divergent from mine. While I try to scope out locations and intuit times, then give it my all in the two to three hours I sing max in a day, he’ll sing for seven hours a day, in the same location each time, so that inevitably he’ll catch a lucrative hour or a single generous tipper. He’s thrown his voice entirely, smokes and is struggling to defeat a heroin addiction. Extremely kind in a way I admire, clasping hands with beggars and exchanging smiles without guilt for not giving anything. I think his honesty and inner goodness must show in his performances.

The bridge in the Public Garden was claimed by a sub-par latin guitarist with an amp, so we headed back the other way and ran into Chun (who I was there to meet) almost immediately. I bid Nathan good luck and farewell. Chun and I walked back to the Park Street stop on the Common and I set up a pitch facing the entrances with my back to a large map. I think I shifted positions after nearly every song but all to no avail. The Bostonians passed largely oblivious, and hardly even noticing. I was rather cold so my voice (which already wasn’t great) rang out in poor shape, but I held my own in energy and quality. Night had fallen, however, so perhaps even my bright white jeans weren’t enough to distinguish me from the murk and warrant a tip. At the end Chun tipped me a dollar and we jumped onto the Red Line for a dinner at her flat.

Earnings: $2.00, 45 minutes
Song of the Day: I Will Follow You Into the Dark – Death Cab for Cutie

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