Monday, November 16, 2009

The Subway Drunk

In the 42nd Street subway station on Friday a two-piece band was set up, an old black man sitting down with an electric guitar and a younger, white man standing up with one. There was a banner on the wall behind them that said, "Mississippi Delta blues." A drunk man hovered unsteadily nearby. There seemed to have been an altercation.

"Dunno what he's drinkin'. But it's a bad sip," said the old bluesman.

The drunkard staggered ponderously, like a movie cowboy with an arrow in his back. He was bland, soft-featured, overweight; in his early sixties maybe. His mouth hung slightly open, expressionless. Thick glasses further obscured his personality. A cipher. A zombie.

The old man raised his arm a couple times, as though the drunk were about to topple on him like a building.

"OK, ladies and gentlemen," he finally said, turning on a drum machine. "Here we go."

The machine stopped. There seemed to be a problem with the machine. The drunk man swayed and lurched. He seemed to want to say something.

"OK! Here we go," said the bluesman again. He restarted the drum machine. And then it stopped again.

The drunk was a few feet away now. A ship progressing out of harbor to the sea.

The old man strummed a few sharp chords on his guitar. The drum machine was going good now. He started singing a song about a woman.

The drunk shuffled into a music store. I saw the wary faces of the employees behind the counter as he stood before them, waiting for nothing.