Saturday, May 7, 2011

In The Land Of The Blind: An Essay On The Player King Of The Parking Lots

'Neath a warm mid-day sun and cloudless sky, Baron and I were busking in a shopping mall parking lot, visible to all the people shopping at Extra Foods and to the majority of people buying booze from the liquor store. And then the ne'er-do-well happened by. Cap-a-pie he was rumpled, wrinkled, and smelly. His black cap was crooked on his head, and he had fresh spots of mustard around his unshaved face (probably squirted from hot dog he’d purchased from ladies selling dogs and drinks for a toonie in front of the grocery store). He wore a filthy dark coat partly closed with a couple of middle buttons, and his too-long dirty and baggy pants covered his worn out black and white sneakers.

Watch this guy, I said to Baron, who was playing on his cajon. He’s going to grab our coin. If he makes a move, just kick the case out of his reach. There is no way we’re going to have some punch out right here in the middle of this parking lot.

And sure enough this freeloader wandered over to us, stood within a yardstick from our pitch, and gave us a momentary sneer. He was so close we could smell his breath as he wheezed and mumbled something (derogatory I'd imagined), after which he turned and staggered back to his business of pan-handling in front of the liquor store. Within minutes some staff from the liquor had again shoo'd him away from their entrance, and then he glared again at us.

I know he’s coming over here to grab our money, so get ready, I whispered to Baron. Sure enough. He stumbled back to our pitch, leaned right in toward the two of us, almost losing his balance … then tossed some change into our buskpot!

This was Projective Psychology at its finest. And here I thought I was conceitedly above stereotyping and classism. Rather than being a bandit, this cadge was a brother!

Busking in a parking lot is certainly lucrative both in coin and in the study of human behaviors. Empirical evidence has taught me that in a shopping mall parking lot there are fundamentally three groups of people: the shoppers, the staff, and the solicitors.

Shoppers are continuously arriving and departing. They drive up in cars and trucks and motorcycles. They ride in on bicycles. And some just walk in. A few of them toss coins as they enter the lot, and many toss their coins as they exit.

Staff members from the shopping mall seem to be always milling about. They are helping customers unload groceries from carts to cars. They are sweeping the sidewalks and they are picking litter off the pavement. And some are shooing away the pan-handlers.

Solicitors, too, are ever present. Rain or shine, there are always people selling hot dogs and drinks for local sports teams or school bands heading to Europe. And there are always people plying for money in front of the liquor store. Sometimes there are guitar buskers, and oftentimes there are pan-handlers. Very few are like me. I quite enjoy being in the centre of the parking lot, as I’ve always enjoyed the rich conversations of grocery shoppers who seem very willing to fling coins my way. (On a busy day, every two minutes coins are tossed into my banjitar case – when the time between coins extends beyond five minutes, I usually roll up the mat and move on.)

Here are a few Psychological Candies to crunch from my buskapades in parking lots:

  • Be among those who make you smile. I always smile at people who give me money. And I cannot help but smile with my beggar brothers in solicitation, those canaille and cadge neighbors with whom I often share the same spaces and crowds.
  • Value what you do. It’s not beneath me to busk in front of a liquor store – I've just never done it (yet). Simply, I quite enjoy the richness of conversations and coins elsewhere; parks, sidewalks, and mall parking lots.
  • Find purpose. I busk, not only for myself, but for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA Saskatchewan Division). Such busking really is a win, win, win situation. I’m happy getting paid to practice my banjitar playing. The people passing by are happy getting bargain entertainment. And the CMHA is happy to receive my donations.

Busking is really a bask in sunny and simple pleasures. In my busking alterity, frailing random riffs on my banjitar in the middle of a shopping mall parking lot I am, for that hour or so, the self- crowned monarch of my buskingdom. Compared with the hundreds of passers-by, I am the best banjitar player on the pavement. (Sure, I know there are better pickers out there, but they are not in my parking lot, and if they were, they’d be but one in a thousand amid the pedestrian traffic.)

Comparing my status with the mall staff, some have expressed they would rather do what I do than what they are presently doing. (I do know that buskers represent a certain charismatic and romanticized wanderlust of a life that most people only dream about.)

And comparing myself with the other solicitors in the same general area, I am regarded, not only as a brother, but as an apotheosis of sorts – though I could be delusional in this regard! I do know, from my busking experiences, that I am perceived as being more approachable to chit-chat than those in their work suits walking briskly and importantly down the business sidewalks or across the pavement of the shopping malls.

And to embiggen my status as parking lot busker …

In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king (Erasmus, 1510).

In my buskingdom, I am truly the player king of the parking lot!

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