Maybe I had you all think that Hobart was all lovely. There’s another typical Tasmanian in direct contrast to the vegetarian composting ones I’d mostly encountered. The ones who called out “Speak English” and stole money from me. Apparently the term is “bogan” or the equivalent of an american redneck/hick. My Monday was filled with them.
I walked down to the Elizabeth St. Mall for a pitch in the same Soundy’s Lane to find the recorder player from the market playing in the middle of the mall. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that a recorder is probably the most annoying busking instrument in the world. She “improvised” – loud and cutting to all corners of the mall, and even to the end of my lane, many many meters away. Now, I hate to play in other people’s soundspace – I like to be heard without interference but obviously today that would not be possible.
I played as far down as possible within the tunnel to still take advantage of the acoustics therein. Not long after I began, a woman requested I sing her a love song she didn’t know, and I obliged with I Will Follow You Into the Dark, which threw her off a bit with the “someday you will die” bit, but she enjoyed it enough to tip a second time. A group of young men passed and said something in a mean way but neither she nor I could catch the words so I didn’t bother about it. In general, however, the passersby weren’t in a requesting mood.
Their mood seemed to align more with being assholes. Right after the woman left a pair of girls passed and asked in that awful sarcastic you’re a beggar we’re using you for our amusement voice “Can I have a dollar?” and burst into giggles. Obviously it didn’t particularly matter if I responded. I did, denying their request politely and told them succintly that it wasn’t that funny. They looked at each other, laughed some more, and assured me it was. A bit later on, three rough looking men performed the same skit, though with distinctly less forgiveable fun and quite a bit more maliciousness. One made to swipe something, another took a menacing step, the third made the comment. I felt so pissed and rattled I asked to no one in particular “Is there anyone kind in this city?” though I knew, of course, kindness abounded.
As if in answer, though, the nice girl who’d shushed her friends in the tunnel a few days before happened to pass. She stopped her friend, telling her “He has an amazing voice,” requested Flake. Her friend was favourably impressed, and the two listened rapt, such that I sang right for them, ignoring the continuing “Do you have a dollars” of passersby. They didn’t tip but took my card and left me at balance once more. The rest of the pitch went somewhat uneventfully, ended by the councilman at three after forty odd minutes.
My second pitch still sits unfavourably with me. I set up once more outside the sweet shop in North Hobart. After an hour of playing there I’d earned all of two dollars. I felt the slowness of the day and used it to sing some songs I hadn’t in a bit of a while. People parked in front of me, listened out the window, lingered to the side… but mostly passed right on by, heads down New York style.
The freshness of the hurt has faded, of course, but more than just bogans being rough or assholes what really rankled was the racism. I encountered more in that hour than I had in all my time since Poland. All young men, yelling slurs across the street, mock tipping me with sneers and looks of “you don’t belong here.” Some made odd noises with the usual “Speak English” despite my singing no foreign songs. Some passed menacingly, but I felt safe enough what with the window to the shop unshuttered and patrons within the shop.
And then one pair: “Fuck off to your own country!” they said as they crossed the street. I was so taken aback I thought I heard them wrong, and asked “Eh?” and they repeated “Fuck off to your own country.” turning about for a moment to emphasize their malevolance with a glare and stomp. I tried to finish Sound of Silence. I’d sung up through the fourth verse. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t remember the words, couldn’t remember the tune, couldn’t really think as everything felt sort of white and foggy. Not an angry fog. Not at all. A despair. A sense of helplessness against that, a hopelessness. Feeling so keenly alone without any ally. Those who know me know I don’t much cry. Those words and the cold, absolute nonsensical hatred he delivered them with cut me to limbs all shaking and I shivered to a seat on the bench behind my case, knuckles on my eyes, elbows on knees. Like middle school not a personal sadness but something much larger and so cutting deeper.
After composing myself a little I went in to the shop to thank the lady for letting me play outside. Usually I keep my troubles to myself, but I felt so utterly stripped it tumbled out a little. Still in a daze I felt aware of the customers shocked sympathetic looks but I didn’t give them time to say or do anything, just trying to keep strong, keep the tears in, try to feel safe for the long walk back.
And so when I closed Megan’s door behind me, I started immediately on the best kind of calming therapy. I began to caremelize some onions, slicing apples thin, put brown rice on boil, made a sauce of capers and moroccan seasoning, blanced some broccoli and chickpeas…
Earnings: 14.60 AUD, 1.7 hours
Song of the Day: Flake – Jack Johnson