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.

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