Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winter Weltschmerz: An Essay on Regina Spring

Weltschmerz. Chapfallen, I gaze at the Impark snow below from my 6th floor kitchen window. These last days near Winter end I’m tholling it, save for the bestirring of my blog, of course. This morning I need to advert to my blog, I need to anticipate Spring.

The green of Spring is truly the catharsis of our white Wintertime clime. The coming of Spring serves up a caboodle of adventure in my downtown of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Following is a cook’s tour of just five sunshine delights that shall burst from the salvo of Springtime .

First. I get to peddle my phat green bicycle with the fat black and white tires around and around Wascana Park. Wascana Park is the second largest urban park in North America. (Stanley Park in Vancouver is larger; Central Park in New York is smaller.) Wascana Park is where a daily colubrine of people walk their Fidos and Towsers, where laughing children feed the honking geese along the shore, where the Harley riders gather and parley by the fountain, and where the steel statue of our Queen rides nowhere while seated high upon her horse.

Second. I get to go for Good Earth Americano Decafs with my nephew, Brad, to languidly sip in the outdoor Fred Hill Mall. In Winter we always talk hockey (Brad used to scout for the Chicago Blackhawks); in Summer we talk everything but hockey, especially including American and urban politics and the lively daily downtown bands. The pedestrian only Fred Hill Mall is a collage of consumers and bouquets spread out upon red and grey cobblestones. And now having a newly constructed Downtown Plaza conjoined to both the Fred Hill Mall and Victoria Park, downtown Regina is dazzling.

Third. I get to stroll over to the Mercury Café for some smothered golden fries to be somothered in vinegar and ketchup and washed down with a vanilla shake. The Mercury Café is a replication of a 60’s diner, its red and silver décor presenting a nostalgic gray and white photo of the 13th Avenue Safeway past (looking quite like the Safeway present). To find the Mercury on 13th Avenue, just look for the shining rocket on the rooftop.

Fourth. I get to lift weights at the University of Regina whatever time I choose, every day. We have been lifting weights at the university since my son was 15 years old (he’s soon to be 31). In Summer I have at least 50 days vacation, and so committing to such a lifting regimen is simple (simple not to be considered synonymous with easy).

Fifth. I get to busk! Wherever there's a ruck of consumers is where I'll be: the Extra Foods parking lot on Broadway Avenue, the Safeway parking lot on 13th Avenue, the Value Village parking lot on Broad Street, the Shoppers parking lot on Broad Street, and of course, Victoria Park, the Downtown Plaza and the Fred Hill Mall.

The esemplastic power of my Springtime imaginings has temporarily cured my Wintertime Weltschmerz. I shall now, in raised spirits, retreat to my studio of Buskology (my living room) and pen a summer song, of which I already have the snappy title, Braylon’s Sombrero.

And to part, as we affectionately bade our farewells in the buskerhood ... Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

ENTER THE DRAGON LADY: An Essay on Eviction

+3 degrees. The air was crisp, the sky sunny, and I decided it to be a perfect day for a busk. En route to one of my favorite buskingdoms, EXTRA FOODS on BROADWAY, I stop off at B Sharp Music to purchase a guitar case for my little nylon-stringed guitar. Craig, the owner, gives me a smokin’ deal. With my little guitar, I set up at my usual buskspot in the parking lot. Within moments I decided that the nylon strumming is not audible enough for the big space of my consumers. I switched back to my steel-stringed and ever reliable banjitar, and it was right away business as usual.

The first character to march into my Chaucerian Parade was a ten year old boy, John.

Can I play your banjo? asks John as he hands me five dollars’ worth of coin.

Of course, I reply, but you don’t need to pay me.

My dad said to give you this, he said.

I wrap my banjitar around John and provide him with my thumb and finger picks. He plunked for a couple minutes.

I have to go, he said, our taxi is here.

I walk over to the taxi with John and offer the coins back to his father.

No way, replies the father, I wanted him to get a chance to play the banjo and he did!

Next, joining the parade is an employee of EXTRA FOODS who stops to chat.

May I take your picture? He asks.

And can I get your phone number? He asks. Would you play your banjo at birthday parties for just five minutes or so. I think that would add joy to anyone’s birthday, he says.

For sure, I reply.

And then my Chaucerian parade ended with the ambuscade of the DRAGON LADY!

Here is the conversation.

You need to leave, she stated.

Pardon me?

You need to leave! You’re not welcome here!

I’ve permission to be here, I reply, unaware of the identity of this virulent young lady.

I’m the assistant manager. You do not have permission to be here. You need to leave.

I’ve permission from Randy, the manager, and from his regional manager.

That’s not true. I would know. Leave now.

Ma’am, I’ve been busking here at least fifty times over this past year, with permission.

Well, I am the assistant manager today and I’m telling you to leave the property.

Being a buskologist, I’m thinking there’s a song from The Band here:

I packed up my bags, went lookin’ for a place to hide,

Looked back and saw the dragon and the devil standin’ side by side.

Demeaning, denigrative, malevolent, virulent (used once already in this essay), caustic, acrid. These are a few words that sprang to my woolgathering mind as I was being evicted from the EXTRA FOODS parking lot on BROADWAY AVENUE by such a jaundiced management groundling, who autocratically determined my expulsion on a power whim.

Upon reflection, I’m thinking as an assistant manager, she had at last found a bully pulpit on which to expound her power, unwittingly providing an enervating buskapade on which to write about (not that she will ever read it). And if perchance, DRAGON LADY, you are reading this, I am always the hero in my blog entries; but more importantly for you, please, please heed these simple heuristics as you claw your way to the top in your grocery bag future and no doubt many to come pickle wars: Be nice to people, Any negative behaviors you exhibit will only succeed in begriming your employer, and Not all people are not LIARS!

Upon more reflection, I am thinking that she is a textbook display of Projective Psychology (calling me a liar, that is) and this is but a madcap moment, an imagined display of power whilst prioritizing her duties, viewing the underlings from her first rung of the corporate ladder. I do hope, for the sake of those still scrubbing the public relations decks beneath her (for example, Corey, Mohammed, Alfie, and my favorite philosophical security guy from Windsor, Ontario), this does not represent her every day mordant manner in the workplace.

(Readers, can you detect that I’m still angry, and have you have noticed my use of UPPERCASE LETTERS!)

I shall allow myself some introspection.

Methinks, All’s well that ends well. I shall stroll over to Extra Foods this next week and meet with the amicable manager, Randy, and trust that all my permits shall be resolved. Methinks, too, this is just another reminder of how those disenfranchised victims who have been stricken with a mental illness, are dealt with in every public moment of every miserable day by the majority of the general public who truly believe, just like that DRAGON LADY believed, that all are canaille and cadges, and ought to be denigrated with authority.

Unlike the middle class faux busker that I am, who can resolve such a social issue efficiently and expediently, there are for real, wandering sidewalk souls who are forced to beg on the streets, with nary more than a collective whispering voice, feebly appealing to the apathetic urban wilderness of the unaware, who don't care and are ill informed.

(Alas, not all members of the buskerhood are as fortunate or articulate as I. Alas, not all members of the buskerhood are such middle class misadventurers as I. My singular voice is quite like my steel-stringed banjitar; whereas, their collective voice is quite like my little nylon-stringed guitar.)

While ingloriously exiting the parking lot, I walked a hundred feet over to say hello and good-bye to my longtime friend, Dylan of the buskerhood (who showed up in my last blog). Dylan was strumming in front of the BROADWAY LIQUOR STORE.

Dylan and the SECURITY GUARD were there as they should bechatting, laughing, and sharing a smoke break.


[Meanwhile back at the busk ... Just two days after this post, Randy, the EXTRA FOODS manager assures me that I'm back in the saddle. All's well that ends well ... especially when packing a banjitar!]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ten Sense Bootstrapping: A Vade Mecum on the Business of Busking

Plus 1 degree. Dylan, my buddy from the buskerhood, came over for a quick visit. He had just finished his busk and was in the neighborhood. Though it is Winter, Dylan has been busking every day.

I’ve changed my strings to nylon, he said, it helps to keep my thumbs from getting so cold.

And that has been my problem! My thumbs freeze and I cannot thrum. The cold steel strings on my cold steel banjitar very much limit my length of play. (I doubt my banjitar would tolerate nylon strings – though I could switch to an acoustic guitar for my Winter buskapades.)

Dylan’s sole source of income is busking and his niche is the main entrance of liquor stores. Cap-a-pie Dylan wears both a bandana and a toque over his shoulder-length jet black hair, sports golden earrings, has his Canadian tuxedo (blue-jean jacket) collar turned up, extended from beneath his thick black leather jacket. He wears either mitts or gloves that have been cropped at the knuckles (a Dickensian look that helps keep the hands warm). Dylan always wears blue-jeans and high top runners. Not quite dressed for the cold, he says that as customers enter and exit, with every swing of the liquor store he’s enveloped with a gust of warm air.

As a performer, Dylan is a contradiction. In his band he’s a heavy metal lead; as a busker he's an acoustic strummer. Busking is his business, and Dylan knows very well business is not big for a heavy metal busker with an electric guitar and amp in front of the liquor stores.

Busking is a business, and business acumen is necessary for busker success. And so, for those of you who are buskers, this vade mecum will be a reminder of what you’re doing, and for those of you wanting to be buskers, this could be your first operator’s manual.

Ten Senses for Busker Success:

1. Target your audience. You cannot be all entertaining to all types of people. Decide on your niche. Strangely, you’ll discover that narrowing your focus will broaden your appeal. My focus has been strumming my banjitar in certain shopping mall parking lots, and as a result, I’ve been recognized in several places elsewhere as that banjo-busker in the parking lot. I must admit I quite enjoy the notoriety!

2. Dare to be different. Guitar buskers are everywhere! Since I’ve decided to pack along only my banjitar, my business has increased. I’m no longer just another Bobby Dylan wannabee. My consumers enjoy banjo music, at least momentarily whilst walking to and fro the parking lot on a grocery shop.

3. Be a team player. Yes, as contradictory to busking as this seems, being a team player is important. Get permission from the merchant closest to wherever you may busk. In so doing, you’re establishing a business arrangement with another vendor for presumably, a win-win situation. It is hoped that the atmosphere for consumers shall be enhanced while they’re en route to that other business to which you’re entertaining within close proximity.

4. Speed up your act. A quick set-up is imperative for both busker and consumer confidence. Try not to bumble around on a busk. Know your stuff and set up accordingly and efficiently. With facile, grab your instrument, toss your seed money into the case, and play. This should take one or two minutes at most.

5. Give thanks. Greet every potential customer who walks by with a nod of your head. And every time a consumer tosses some coin into your buskpot say thank-you out loud.

6. Be consistent. Once you’ve established yourself as an entertainment fixture on a certain sidewalk or street corner, give performances in a manner to what your consumers have become accustom. Customers who are comfortable will toss appreciation to where they get the same musical flavors from the same spot they enjoy at the same time every day.

7. Smile. People toss coins your way because they like you. And remember, in reciprocal fashion, you like them!

8. Exhibit passion. Establish your twenty-song playlist with pieces you love! Whether these renditions are covers or originals, you pick them because you love them and play them, then, with passion.

9. Sell soft. Show fervor. Never hector.

10. Leave your comfort zone. Be temerarious. Every once in a while, go elsewhere to busk. This could mean tramping hither to different buskspots within your same municipality, or taking buskations thither to wherever. Self-inflicting little anxieties keep things fresh and in perspective.

From a buskologist point of rime, let these 10 senses be the tramontane dime of corporate America, and keep in mind that ... learned people know the rules -- the wise busker knows the exceptions.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

He's One in a Hundred: An Essay on Schizophrenia

B is a seasoned sidewalk bongocero. As buskmates, I strum my banjitar and B thumps his bongo. His habit is to sit cross-legged on the sward or curb, depending on the pitch, follow my lead and pound his unique beats accordingly. As a percussionist, B’s abilities are one in a hundred. Statistically he is one in a hundred in another way – B has schizophrenia.

B’s affliction is a textbook case study. At seventeen he was stricken with schizophrenia. Over the next few years B quickly became a transmogrification of his former self. Even though he was an A+ student, B dropped out of school. At home he refused to follow house rules, cavorted with new acquaintances from his newly developed drugships (his closest friends had long-since abandoned him), and exhibited such bizarre behaviors that he was committed on several occasions to the Psychiatric Adolescent Unit of the local hospital. When he turned eighteen years of age he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and by the time he was twenty-five, had been assigned to the Psychiatric Ward over a dozen times.

From ages 17 to 25, B was delusional. His life was a blurred line between real and imaginary experiences. A few examples: He thought he could smash television sets, re-make them into modern art pieces, and sell them for millions of dollars. B could also telepathically connect with anyone within his range of visibility. B was also convinced that his father was his fakey dad, and that his real father lived in another world. B was obsessed, striving for immortality, longing to soar forever in the universe, an afterlife so desired after his transitory existence on Earth.

And B was hallucinatory. He would chuckle along with his imaginary friends and he would frequently receive secret signals from characters on the television screen. B would constantly be chatting to some of his usual invisible visitors, one being an identical twin (but female) from another planet. B was walkative, and would flounder the streets frequently, both day or night, and yell at cars, imaginary people, even trees. Oftentimes in cadge-like fashion, the broken B would pan in front of the liquor store.

During those years conversations with B were incoherent, or as described in the industry, salad. His words would be made-up, mostly in portmanteau fashion, and strung together in muddled perfection (sensible only to him). And during other conversations, in episodic fashion, his correct use of grammar would be gone, replaced by someone who was analphabetic, benighted, dark, and seemingly untaught.

To say the least, B was in bad, bad shape both mentally and physically. During that time B was institutionalized in either a group home or an agency managed apartment. (B shall be indebted forever for the support of the staff at the Phoenix Residential Society, under the directorship of Carole Eaton.)

That was then; this is now.

These past years B enjoys living in his rented downtown apartment. He works part-time for a landscape company, lifts weights at the university on a regular basis, and is both the conguero and bongocero for The Grand Trunk Troubadours (a community service band) and Seahorse (a buskband).

Busking, in a significant way, has become part of B’s catharsis, relieving the stress of his past and present condition. Though his percussion cantillates are sometimes full of repine, B is a man on the mend. B, indeed, is one in a hundred, and together we have shared a hundred buskapades on a hundred different pitches, and this is what I know:

B’s life is not unlike that of any protagonist's in a novel of the Bildungstroman genre – that used-to-be blurred line of his between real and imaginary, becoming brighter and brighter, moment by moment, pitch by pitch.