Saturday, November 26, 2011

Two Thumbs Down: An Essay On Brrr Busking

November 22nd. It is warm for the season but not for busking. I decided to busk on 13th Avenue and take advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures (plus 4 degrees C). My pitch was a lambent portion of the parking lot near the Safeway west entrance and in front of the adjacent bagel shop. I bundled myself in my high visibility orange Helly Hanson ski parka, and deposited hand warmers in the hip pockets. These warmers, I thought, would keep my frailing fingers toasty. My plan was a simple one: Strum for a minute, squeeze the hand warmers, strum for a minute, squeeze the hand warmers, strum squeeze, strum squeeze, and so on.

For a few minutes it worked, but by my fifth one-minute set, my plucking thumb was achingly frozen. Without a thumb, strumming sucks.

Though it was cold and dark and my thumb was numb, a couple of customers made my busking evening sweet. First up was a familiar stranger, Janice the pan-handler. Janice is thirtyish and asks for spare change all around the downtown Regina. Even in such regard she is bubbly; she is pretty; she is gracious; she is momentarily fun to be around.

Chatting with Janice, she always tells her story. She shares space, a rented apartment, with four other people, none of whom have regular employment. Her job is to pan-handle all day long. She has a thirteen year old boy whom she hasn’t seen for twelve years. She has a three month old daughter who has just been taken away by Social Services. Janice always mentions that she’d been drug free for over a year. And lately she’s always stating that she been handing out resumes to many, many places. She is doing this, she says, because she really wants to regain custody of her children, but just for the weekends. Of course, from a buskologist point of view, Janice’s story of repine tends to gloze over her present afflictions.

I’ve chatted with Janice on Broad Street, on Victoria Avenue, on Scarth Street, on 13th Avenue; these streets and avenues make up the borderlines of her pan-handling territory. My guess is that Janice resides somewhere near its centre and orbulates this working area on a twice or thrice daily routine.

On this particular evening, Janice, dressed cap-a-pie, had a blue toque pulled down over her forehead, her torso wrapped in a long brown woolen parka, and high black Arctic boots laced on her feet. She had just one complaint – her fingers were cold! (I gave her my 99 cent gloves I’d just purchased at a dollar store.)

Ironically, this same evening, one of my favorite people, Carole Eaton, Executive Director of Phoenix Residential Society, stopped and chatted. When I first met Carole, we were attending a Reality Therapy (RT) conference held at the Regina Inn. The founder of Reality Therapy, Dr. William Glasser, was the keynote. I remember his address. Dr. Glasser analyzed in RT fashion, the main characters from the movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was currently playing in the theatres at that time. Employing my Sherlock inductive reasoning skills, the year would have been 1994. (Carole, by your own admission I know you’re reading this blog, and so please correct me if I’m wrong, as my memory is often hazed by romantic nostalgia.) Carole Stewart is both a practitioner and instructor of Reality Therapy; she is also a university instructor in the Department of Psychology. Carole Stewart’s professional generosity and brilliance is quite in contrast to the collected view of her dim and purblind colleagues seated in the Chamber of Commerce.

The Phoenix Residential Society is a registered and highly reputable care-giving agency that provides an array of programs for the needy – people as Janice the pan-handler. The Phoenix Society has specific programs to accommodate people just like Janice: Phoenix House (a group home), PALS (a supported apartment living program), and Westview (a residential treatment program for those clinically assigned with the Dual Diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse). The Phoenix Residential Society has more programs than I’ve mentioned, but it is these three especially for which I am most familiar.

Carole Eaton and her staff provide more than just room and board in peoples’ Lonesome towns. Carole and her staff are the laborers digging ditches for those in despair; Carole and her staff are the sailors scrubbing decks and setting sails for those whose hope is far beyond the horizon; Carole and her staff are the unsung saviors for many who wander the streets.

For reasons whatever, Janice is not a consumer of the Phoenix Society services. Because the Saskatchewan winter is not conducive to a pan-handling lifestyle, I can predict that before summertime arrives, Janice will have deteriorated in both her social demeanor and her personal health. Staying in Saskatchewan, she will suffer loss of hale, fade away into a sickness of sorts. To survive she will have to head west, first to Calgary (where she’ll find it uninviting), then on to Vancouver (where she could perish on East Hastings) or Victoria (where, given the politics and climate, she could last a considerably longtime).

Oh, so woe is me -- my cold and aching thumb. It is here that an asterisk is necessary.

* My thumbless winter busking could very well mean plying my trade two thumbs down on my penny whistle.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Nom de Plume: An Essay on Doppelganger Distinction

Thinking of a stage or performance name? Just what’s in a name, anyway?

Sometimes names can comical.

When I was growing up there were several families of Lebanese ancestry in our community, whose surname was Gader. In one of the Gader families there was an Alligator (Ali Gader). When I was in university a friend of mine named his first born, Just an ol’ bean (Justin Noel Bean). When I was a swimming instructor at the YMCA I once taught a kid whose father’s full name was Oscar Plosker.

Sometimes names can be commercial.

Throughout the 60’s Marion Morrison continually would shoot ‘em up to save the American Dream, most oftentimes as a cowboy, sometimes as a soldier. The Duke's stage name was John Wayne. Richard Starkey’s drumbeats changed the planetary music scene. His stage name was Ringo Starr. Robert Zimmerman walked folk music into the American forefront. His bully pulpit name was Bobby Dylan.

A nom de plume is usually employed by authors to either disguise or distance themselves from their writings. When pseudonyms are employed by actors, it is usually for distinction, and so it is the same with bands.

Just the other day Trent, a frequent buskmate, and I were woolgathering some imaginary band names. Within minutes we had the colorfully connoted, Roy G. Biv, and its spin-off, Refraction. (Roy G. Biv is the mnemonic for remembering the order of the bent refraction of colors that is the poetry in all rainbows: red, orange, blue, and green, indigo, violet.) Trent is the lead guitarist in a band called Random Groove. As for me and mentioned several times in previous blogs, I’m in a few bands, The Grand Trunk Troubadours, Friday Harbor, and Seahorse.

I am thinking that most musicians, who choose to play in bands, have constantly churning in their psyche, a vast wordrobe of imaginary nicknames.

A musician friend of mine, Brian King, was the lead singer in the whilom Winnipeg band, Billboard Heroes. He is currently singing in a Vancouver Beatle tribute band called The Bickertons (they squabble lots). Brian has for years, in his head, been carrying around the imaginary perfect band name which he literally picked off the ground one day and proclaimed, Fancy Gumbox!

Trent and I are planning very soon to hit the road with an Indian Drum Group called The Kawacatoose Boys. The Kawacatoose Boys originate from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. The Kawacatoose First Nation is named after its first chief, Kawacatoose, who was considered lean in physical stature. This sidequest callithump of gigs we’re planning in collaboration with The Kawacatoose Boys is to be called The Lean Man Tour.

What’s in a name?

Well mount up, Pilgrim, and take a listen ... Riding with a pseudonym under your saddle gives you a galloping opportunity to freely express and explore your doppelgangerness, in a persona that can be fashionably disguised and very distinct from your normal and sometimes boring sorry self.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget: A Poppy Day Essay On Skinny Expressions

I am thinking of getting a tattoo. A tattoo, I think, will add grit and mystery to my busking persona. I’ve got my banjitar; I’ve got my playlist; I’ve got my buskspots; I need a tattoo.

The first tattoo I ever saw was on my Dad’s left bicep. It was a portrait, a head shot, of a girl donning a sailor cap. The name, Norma, was printed beneath – My mom's name is Marlene. All my friends and anyone I knew who ever saw that tattoo were impressed. My Dad had guns for biceps, no doubt resulting from the heavy lifting in a Macdonalds Consolidated warehouse where he had labored for thirty years.

My Dad left the village of Vanguard, Saskatchewan, Canada, to join the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. Overseas, my sailor Dad, got his tattoo while on drunken shore leave at the Port of Barcelona. My Dad served as an Ordinary Seaman on the anti-submarine war ships, the HMCS Restigouche (Destroyer), the HMCS Antigonish (Frigate), and the HMCS Aggasiz (Corvette). Basically, his emerging adult years were spent chasing German submarines in the North Atlantic. My Dad returned home with a war chest of medals.

After the war his namesake nephew, Jackie, too, needed a tattoo, just like his Uncle Jack’s. Instead of getting a Norma, he chose Mickey Mouse. Jackie was fifteen years old. Jackie flexed this tattoo on his left bicep until he was 72 years old. At 72 his newest girlfriend did not like men with tattoos and so Jackie snuffed out Mickey with three laser treatments. Jackie is alive and well at 78, but Mickey Mouse no longer hangs on his arm.

And I know exactly the tattoo I want and where I want it. The very first time I had to officially identify my busking-self, I used the name Seahorse. I am thinking I’ll have a larger-than- life seahorse inked on my left side, starting with the head on my shoulder and ending with the tail on my left bicep. Like Norma, my seahorse will be donning a sailor cap.

I can easily imagine the perceived mystery and grit of being one who is tattooed. I shall represent that sense of alterity that many of us so desire. Being tattooed I shall no longer be just another button-down busker pounding out tunes in the parking lots. A tattoo shall surely enhance that ever present busker charisma. A tattoo demonstrates one who is doughty, not pouty. And finally, I can finally be that desired doppelganger of me, myself, and I.

Today is Remembrance Day. When I was a kid we used to call it Poppy Day. My Dad’s pop (George Child, my Grandfather) is buried in the Veterans’ section in the Regina Cemetery. I never met my Grandfather. He died in 1931 when my Dad was just ten years old. I’ve seen pictures though, one where he is on horseback and armed with a rifle, when he was a cavalryman of the British Dragoons in the First World War.

Fittingly, my Pop, Jack Child, is buried in the village from where he went off to war, Vanguard, Saskatchewan, Canada. Beneath a sketched sailor cap on my Dad’s headstone it reads:

Home is the sailor, home from sea.