Short Story | ‘Busking Diaries’ by Lauren Vander Baaren, Illustration by Mark Reihill

Illustration for 'Busking Diaries' by Mark Reihill

I don’t know who I’m writing this to. If you read this, well, you must be worth a couple pages of paper.

I’m sitting on the corner of – no wait – nope, now I’m standing on the corner of 16th and Blake. The police man, in his most official police voice, informed me of the “No Squatting policy” of our dear old downtown Denver and that I would have to remain standing. “I’m just sitting,” I say to him, but he gives me that, ‘don’t you know who I am?’ look and righteously carries on his way. Thinking to myself that the overweight officer proudly perched atop his fearsome motorbike should probably take his own advice, I gather up my things and look to Mark for the next plan.

So I’m standing now, on that corner of 16th and Blake – Oh, but never mind, I’m told to walk; this spot apparently will not suffice. Putting my post-consumer recycled paper and Bank of America pen back in my bag, I scurry past the shuffling shopping feet and hurry to catch up with, Mark.

Mark and I are busking – or should I say Mark is busking. I’m standing politely beside. After moving from Vancouver – Canada, not the dinky copy-cat of town in Washington – we settled in Denver’s flamboyant neighbourhood of Capital Hill and rely on this busking business to supply our cigarette funds. We’ve found a new spot now. Armed with only a pen, paper and no instrument, I’m feeling a little out of place. Taking out the lemon-lime lollipop from Mark’s “Thank you!” jar, I resort to seductively licking the candy in hopes to get at least a perverts tip.

Mark’s belting out Green Day now, but he doesn’t quite know the words. Watching the puzzled looks upon by-passers’ faces as Mark repeats the same incorrect line, keeps my pen viciously moving across the page. “Do you have the time to listen to me whine, about something that I’ve just seemed to forget?”

Some foolish chap, gave me an ‘up down’ as his passed. No matter how enthralled Mark is in a song, he will never miss someone checking out his lady. Can’t find the milk in the fridge, but he can spot out any wandering eyes for blocks down the road. As Horny Eyes walked away farther down 16th, Mark followed close behind, still strumming his guitar until the lad realized the music sounded strangely close and turned around. “That’s right mothafucka! Keep walking!” Mark yelled chest puffed outwards, making it clear that Canada had not tamed my Detroit born boyfriend as I once prayed it would. As quickly as he had gone, Mark returned beside me, still strumming his guitar.

This gets at least a silver medal in ‘People Watching’ behind, of course, the Seattle Fish Market. It’s a little bit more Bohemian Rhapsody and doesn’t smell so much like Teen Spirit.

…Shit. My sexy sucker is finished.

No one wants to make eye contact with neither Mark nor I. Too scared they will see the anticipation in our pleading faces and be guilt-tripped into giving a few spare dollar bills for the tune. I find it a sort of power trip some days – much more intimidating people fearing my eyes. Other days I just think it’s rude. I mean really, even if you do meet my eyes and still don’t reach into your pockets, what possibly could be the worst to happen? What, you think I’m going to gouge out your eyeballs with the tip of my tireless pen? Or stuff my clever pages down your gagging throat after I take my little Canadian foot and shove it right up your ass? Run you down until you can’t run any farther, pull out my knife and take the money you forgot to put down in front of my singing boyfriend? What’s the worst that could happen?

A couple of skids are “quarrelling” over something they find very passionate. The word ‘skid’ as I am told, is a Canadian slang, but I’m afraid I am unaware of the correct identifying term in ‘American’. It’s usually meant to describe someone who looks like they live on the street, but in fact live in a trailer park with their momma, five brothers and sisters, and a new daddy every couple of weeks. They wear the multicoloured plastic bead necklaces and bracelets, along with a smudged wife beater, and paired with black cargo pants wrapped in dog chains. For some reason, the males always seem to have the longer hair, for the girls put it up in dated scrunchies and pinned back with colourful snap-in hair clips. Words of insult with meanings I do not even want to try comprehend are thrown back and forth until a police car sneaks down the “buses only” road. As soon as the first siren sounds, both of the retired emo kids – or whatever they’re called – quickly jump into a lover’s embrace.

“What seems to be the trouble here?” says the burly police officer, trying to look intimidating to the scariest looking people in a 100 mile radius.

“Uhhhh, nothing, nothing. No beef man, we’re all friends here, right man?” The pleading punk quickly looks to his ‘buddy’ who’s wrapped tightly under his chain decorated arm sleeve.

“Yeah man, errr, officer, everythin’s good, we’re like best friends no troubles here.” Whether it was the officer had got lucky the night before and was in a very good mood, or that he knew arresting these guys wouldn’t be a punishment at all, but instead a blessing; a safer roof over their head that night, and an alternative to going home. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure; it definitely was not the skid’s acting chops that got them off the hook. Nodding, and mumbling a few “encouraging words,” the cop returned to his vehicle, but not before eyeing our little musical performance with an expression that said, “why the fuck do people do that?”

There’s another man here busking with Mark now. I think his name starts with a D; Daniel…? Dave…? Whatever… Anyways, the corner’s gone quiet while they frantically try to brainstorm songs that they both know. Considering Mark only knows songs with the name, “Marley” in it, this may take some time.

“You don’t know any Bob Marley? Well, do you know any Ziggy Marley? No? Well, how about Damian Marley, come on man, you’ve got to know Damian Marley.”

In the midst of the musical interlude, I spot a group of serious Punk Rockers. Well, I shouldn’t say spot; more like my eyes are bombarded with the sight of sweet rebellion infested, screaming demi-gods. Shit, they’re cool. These leather-wearing, metal spike worshipers cease to explode my imagination with the temptation to also dye my hair neon-green – perhaps bright purple – and then next Monday change it to hot pink. The one in front, who appears to be the leader, has the biggest Mohawk I have ever seen. I’m wondering if this is how they decipher who’s in higher power when I realize I’ve been staring for quite awhile, and then quietly pray to God they don’t beat me up for it.

The cops keep clustering around our corner; I think they know I want to sit down.

Every now and then, for our viewing pleasure, drug-infused disciples of the damned, crawl out of the allies, following the sound of music; a moth to the flame. Being too fucked-up to remember to drop any money in our beckoning change box, their bodies, as if surrendering all control to song, start swaying. Their mouths; forming each word until finally, they find their own voice again. When I look over at Mark, I see him charming a new snake. I don’t know whether it was too much mo-town or heroin that had this man feeling the tunes the way he was, but whatever it was, I liked it. Suddenly, I’m blasted with a powerful outburst of a song I think I recognize, but not enough human-sounding words are coming out of his mouth for me to put it all together. Not sure if Mark is following anymore of this than I am, but I see him nodding.

“Ah, the Temptations, I love this song,” so I also nod, smile and agree that this strung-out black man screaming a soulful song is most likely the Temptations.

I think it’s about 4:30 now, starting to get cold and about to get dark soon.

“Last song,” Mark says to me, “we have enough for cigarettes.” Smiling, I think, ‘that was the best thing that’s come out of his mouth all day.’ I put my post-consumer recycled paper and Bank of America pen back in my bag and look to Mark for the next plan.

Illustration by: Mark Reihill

Lauren Vander Baaren is 20 years old and currently studying international and cultural affairs, as well as journalism. In the future she hopes to travel (a little further afield than Colorado) and write a book.

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  • John

    I wrote a comic novel about London Underground busking in the 80′s. I would be honoured to have the first chapter listed in your “Busking Stories” section. I can send you the file or you can have a look at the link below.
    Cheers John
    http://amzn.to/S3c00N