Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Forget about fingernails raking across a chalkboard. This was rusty tines of an old metal rake gouging themselves deep into the slate of the soul. It was enough to send the undead, screaming in terror, back to hell where the wailing and gnashing of teeth would be a comfort to their decaying ears.

And then, in a $5 instant, the discordance rang with near perfect pitch and clarity. A song wonderfully recognizable and truly worth taking the time to stop and enjoy. Exactly one hundred and fifty seconds after it started, it abruptly stopped. For thirty seconds, there was silence.

Suddenly, the ear-splitting rail tore through the air, looking for another soul upon which to deeply rake itself. This time, it took only seven seconds for another thirty-second respite.

He carried on like that throughout the day. Alternating between the peal of perdition’s Dogs of Dissonance, the sweet sound of silence, and the hail of Heaven’s Dulcet Doves. Although seldom in that order.

Here was a homeless man who thoroughly understood the genius of marketing and the value of keeping one’s word. He started singing badly. Very badly. Very, very badly and very loudly. But for a buck, he would stop for a half-minute. If someone dropped in another buck during the silence, he would extend the quiet time another half-minute.

But the genius behind his cardboard promise, was his ability to sing beautifully, with strength and feeling. For exactly 2-½ minutes, whereupon he would immediately stop, even in mid-note. Unless someone had dropped another $5 in his sidewalk hat, whereupon he would continue through an additional 2-½ minutes.

It was, as it turned out, a very lucrative way to earn a living. He said he averaged $300 to $400 a day on non-holidays. From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, he averaged between $500 and $700 a day. All cash.

He wasn’t actually homeless. Although by dress and demeanor, he allowed passers-by to make that assumption.

Why did he do it? Simple. He enjoyed his independence, the daily interaction with people, and his minimalist lifestyle.

And I couldn’t really argue with him about that.

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