Saturday, November 03, 2007

Beggars and Buskers, Musicians and Thieves, Part III

The Stand-Up Guy

I'm sitting on the two train on my way to pick up Georgia from daycare. The car is full, but not stuffed, and I've got room to read my book, so I zone out. Suddently, I hear a couple of guitars, a concertina and some familiar words:

Canta y no llores
Seben y crecen..."

It's the Mariachis.

Clad in jeans and straw hats, the Mariachis sometimes show up on the one, two, and three trains, and I usually bump into them in Harlem. They play a bunch of Mariachi classics, which I only know by sound, and one of them collects money in his guitar. I'm a pretty soft touch for the Mariachis, not only because I like loud Mexican music, but also because they are usually a welcome surprise on the train.

The Mariachis are part of the ongoing entertainment that runs on the trains. There are basically two types of acts: musical and vaudeville. My other favorite mobile musical act is the Drum Player. He is a black guy with dreads and a beard who claims that his day job is teaching elementary school. I sometimes see him on the four train. He carries a couple of African drums with him, which he plays with consummate skill.

There's one other act that I like a lot, but I only saw them once. They were three older homeless guys who performed a nice Doo Wop routine. I heard them at the end of their set, as they finished up, parted ways, and agreed to meet together the next day. I never saw them again.

The Vaudeville acts are pretty awesome, too. There's the tumblers and dancers, who are usually younger guys and kids. The tumblers do cartwheels and other feats, which are pretty impressive on a moving train. The dancers do breakdance routines, which, again, are amazing, given that they're trying to do their thing as the stops and starts and bounces along.

There's also a ratty magician who plies his trade on the four train. He has a moth-eaten red coat and top hat, but I think that the low-rent look is part of his act. He does some classic stage magic involving making doves disappear and reappear in inappropriate places, and the combination of his patter, his appearance, and his birds usually creeps out a few of the other riders. He plays into this by choosing one of the more skittish passengers as his unwilling assistant. This poor shmuck usually ends up uncovering a live dove or having a ball bounce surprisingly. It's a lot of fun, and I often give him a little cash.

Far and away, my favorite performer on the subway Vaudeville circuit is the Stand-Up comedian. Based on this guy's layered, dusty look, I'd say that he's homeless, and when he gets on the car, everybody tends to avoid him. He, of course, usually opens his routine with the standard "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN..." However, instead of giving a list of his miseries, he wanders through the train giving a Henny Youngman style act, in which he complains about his fat wife, who eats all his food. I remember one day when I was on the train and was seated just a bit down from a generously-sized matronly Puerto Rican lady. By the sour look on her face, I figured that she'd be a really hard touch. She and I looked at each other, and I could see her desperately trying not to laugh, as if she knew that laughing would give away the whole game, and she'd have to cough up a buck or two. By the end of the ride, she had broken down and was reaching for her pocketbook. I gave him a buck, too.

The best thing about the Stand-Up Guy is that he doesn't need any special skills. He can't play an instrument, and he can't tumble. He doesn't know magic, and he probably isn't a great dancer. His routine is so old that my grandfather was probably laughing to it, and it's been the exact same every time I've seen the Stand Up Guy. Yet, every time I've found myself laughing uncontrollably as I hand over my cash.

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