Red Beans and Busk, New Orleans, Day 3

Thursday made Tuesday feel like happy day in remembrance. Something about the niceness of New Orleans people makes bad days even worse – it feels like it’s all my fault, my lack of quality or wherewithal to cut through the mood-dampening weather to uplift others to get tips. I haven’t had as horrid a day since playing in Istanbul – and even that day yielded a few positive encounters.

To summarize the general feel of the pitches, I had the distinct feeling that people were taking from my performance but not giving. I tried so, so hard out there. I injected every bit of happiness I guarded into the cheery songs so that by the end of the day I had nothing left for myself. When you’ve plied this trade a while you can see the effect you have on others, see if you’re having a bad day performing. This wasn’t that, at all. Every passersby got something positive from me, I could feel it. But it was like the sucked it out and shared it with their buddy or girlfriend and gave me nothing back.

Before I set up I asked the shop owners, as always, and these similar no business souls were very kind. MauRiMa’s even sported a very friendly “Come inside! It’s warm!” sign to go with the smiling shop tender. Because the temperature without was listed on Accuweather.com as 27 degrees after wind chill. I wore a tee shirt, a long sleeve, a hoodie, a scarf and my peacoat over jeans and long warm socks to start off. After a few songs my fingers burned with that numb tingly pre-frostbite cold I’ve read about (but never known) and I donned Michelle’s cotton gloves. Further down the street a busker I’d seen around before whose statue act consisted of posing as a man walking his dog in midstride (an excellent statue act, one of the best I’ve come across but more on that later) tried to bear the chill but was soon defeated. Aside from myself only a very few buskers graced the streets.

I tried every tone I knew – slow sad ballads, contemplative chill indie songs, upbeat bouncy tunes, oldies, street surefires, foreign songs… nothing. Even Mad World yielded nothing. My first tip came from a kindly woman who asked me if I could feel my fingers as I cupped them around my mouth between The Boxer and Streets of London. I answered honestly without asking for pity and she gifted me $2 for good luck. My second tip came shortly after. Not long that, a brass band set up down the street and blew me out. I went to speak to them about it and they dismissed me with a “Oh, we’ve been here since 11. I’m sorry for blowing you out, man, the corner down the street’s a pretty good spot.” In the least apologetic I don’t care get out of my face you don’t matter to us what are you going to do, huh? voice he could muster.

Upon asking the antique shop owner down the street if I might play in front of his store he took stock of my look and gratefully said, “Of course! I’m surprised to see someone who wants to play on the street that isn’t a hillbilly. Tennessee must be empty right now because they’re all here.” I don’t know about the accuracy of the geography, but his statement rang true to me. I told him they seem to do better in tips than me and I couldn’t understand why. We commiserated and bashed dirty bohemians a while. It was nice.

I played in the sliver of weak sun in the middle of the closed off road for another pitch. My only tip came from a man on the job moving things back and forth from his car to the shop to my left. The workers at the Rib Room – the restaurant attached to the Omni Hotel across the street – cast encouraging and sympathetic glances out the window but their obviously moneyed patrons paid me no mind. No, let me clarify, they paid me no mind but they enjoyed my entertainment. It is hard to describe. Three separate old men at distinct times brought out video cameras to film me for whole songs without once looking me in the eye. Many of these same old rich folks snapped photographs. Couples smiled at each other and snuggled closer as I sang love songs, passersby lingered to either side in my peripheral facing away – none of them acknowledging my existence. I felt like a curiosity, a monkey in a cage, “Look! See that Asian sing! Isn’t it interesting and cute and talented? Let’s take a photo of it!” When a homeless man – the slice of society usually the warmest in words and expression – shouted “Hey Jackie Chan!” at me I felt like smashing my guitar on the street, screaming Fuck this Shit and walking in front of a streetcar.

Instead I went with the frustration and poured it out to the detriment of my cold ravaged vocal chords on two Radiohead songs. There There for the raw power and Exit Music (From a Film) for the emotion and the very appropriate lyrics. In the middle of this second one a dyed yellow haired black woman talked to me about music coming from the heart, sang me a short ditty about God filling her with love – me too cynical to really hear – and wandered off. Waiting for Kevin (the not my brother one) to pick me up later I heard a gaggle of youngsters who’d passed me talk about $100 bets they made. A group of three men in Jackson Square set about proving the fakeness of the “busker” sitting hunched on the newspaper box – actually a mannequin in silver – by punching it directly in the face. On seeing this low trickery with the tip jar in front I felt enraged enough to want a go at it myself.

Happily this Thursday was another cooking night for me. I fixed a beautifully plated catfish ensemble and recreated the avocado pasta I’d invented for Geoffrey in Vienna. Absorbing myself in chopping and managing five stovetops and an oven kept me too busy to despair, and the appreciative reactions of Mindy and her housemates soothed my nerves. Another day. Punch in, punch out.

Earnings: $4.00, 1.5 hours
Song of the Day: Exit Music (For a Film) – Radiohead

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