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I stood on the downtown A train platform at 145 street on a rainy Saturday in NYC. I was so near my apartment but still had another half-hour scheduled to play on the trains, to earn my daily busking income. I was about ready to call it a day, but I resolved to ride one last time to Columbus Circle and back again.

Once the train arrived I stepped in and jumped right into Leonard Cohen's beautiful ballad about love, Hallelujah. As I played, a homeless man in a wheel chair talked loudly to women sitting beside him. He spoke with a heavy Hispanic accent about his homosexuality. The women looked disinterested at best.

"You think I'm homeless?" he then asked with remarkable insecurity. "I'm not homeless, look!"

He flashed a billfold of twenty dollar bills as purported evidence of homefulness. Nobody was convinced.

His chair faced opposite my direction, but he would turn his head about to steal a glance every few moments. Finally he interrupted my song, "can you play a song para mi esposa?" He thought hard, trying to remember the English translation.

"You want me to play a song for your wife?"

"Yes," he said, "a romantic song."

I thought long and hard about which song to sing. The only appropriate song I could think of was Cohen's Hallelujah. So I simply picked up where I had left off. I'm sure he was none the wiser, though he had been there the whole time. He was so thankful that he unrolled one of his twenty dollar bills and with a wide toothless smile he dropped it in my tip jar.

"Wow, thank you so much. I really appreciate that!"

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I continued playing, strategically ending as the train rolled up to the Columbus Circle station. As I squared my shoulders to the train door, the homeless man reached up and petitioned me to stay, to play more music.

"I'll give you another 20!"

"Well, you don't have to give me another... but since you were so generous, I suppose I could stick around, play another song or two. What's your name?"

Ivan asked me to play more romantic songs, but now about Obama and Michelle. I was puzzled, not knowing any romantic songs about the president. Other folks who came onto the train at 42nd and 34th street laughed at the scenario - a loud homeless man making rather ridiculous requests to a friendly subway busker with a guitar. Finally I thought to play Michelle by the Beatles, a song I had never played before but hoped to pick out in real time.

As I played, Ivan looked over his other shoulder to a young man across the aisle from me. He was close enough to hear and see everything and was quite amused at the scene. Ivan asked him where he's from.

Switzerland.

"My daughter lives there!" exclaimed Ivan, happy to have so quickly found a common bond. "She lives in Geneva. She's a lesbian."

Not sure how that last point was relevant, but apparently sexuality is a character trait of primary importance for Ivan. The young man across the way raised his eyebrows at me, smiling with the same look of confusion that I must have had as I took Ivan's bizarre requests. He also passed a $5 bill through Ivan.

As we approached Fulton Street in downtown Manhattan I finally dismissed myself once and for all. I had added at least another hour to my busking route and was pretty beat. We shook hands and parted ways.

It was a pleasure meeting Ivan and a joy to share some songs with my brother on the downtown A train. Looking forward to the next time!

By: Gio Andollo

 


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