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In her spare time, Miss Sugar, my trophy wife, makes jewelry. We just got back from an event in Denver called 16th Street Fair. It featured various vendors in tents on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver.
On the 16th Street Mall, there are two or three pianos spaced a block apart, outside so anyone can play them. Our booth was right by one of the pianos.During the day, we were entertained by four pianists — Phillip, Billie, Michael and Franco. Each was very talented. Each had an interesting story. We made friends.
Phillip told us that he is homeless. He smiled a lot. He has a quick wit. For instance, when Billie and Michael were sitting on the bench together and playing a duet, Phillip quipped, “Ebony and Ivory.” Sugar gave him a rattlesnake bracelet. He was very grateful.
They had a plastic cup on top of the painted piano, weighted down with a rock, into which passersby occasionally put in tips. They shared the same tip cup. They did not keep track of who was playing when a particular tip came in. They would wait until there was enough money, then someone would go get cigarettes to share. Other times, they divided the money. Phillip had a good day on Friday. He said he went to McDonald’s three times.
We learned that Billie is from Texas, like Sugar. It turns out that they graduated from the same university, where he got a Masters degree in Jazz Performance. Billie said his cousin wrote “Amarillo By Morning,” a George Strait hit. He played with Chris LeDoux. He also told us that he spent time in prison. He was in prison when his wife died. He too is homeless. He told me he likes to sleep in the woods. He was drinking out of a brown paper bag. He started singing louder and his speech got more slurred as the day progressed.
Franco did not say whether he was homeless, and, of course, we did not ask. (Billie and Phillip had volunteered that information.) Franco told me about his artistic inspirations. He is not just a musician, he said. He also paints, he said. He told me that he is very particular about his appearance. He carries a hand-mirror in his bag. I know that because when Sugar gave him a manly pendant of rough turquoise, although grateful, after looking at it in the mirror, he explained that he could not wear it with the outfit he had on and hoped that would not hurt her feelings. He said he liked it and might hang it on something. Then he asked if she would replace the chain with a leather string, which she did. She had four choices of colors of leather. It was a big decision for Franco.
Michael was a newcomer. He did not know the other guys. His hair was in neat cornrows and he was wearing a nice Hawaiian shirt. He just stopped to listen to them play. Phillip asked Michael whether he played and if he wanted a turn. He did.
Michael played classical music like a concert pianist. He told us he had tried out for X Factor when the show was in Denver recently, but they would not let him play the piano. They wanted him to sing instead. He was disappointed that he did not make it.
Sugar guessed that Michael had been playing from a young age. He told us that when he was born, his hands were deformed. His mother started him on piano lessons when he was only three. She thought it would help straighten out his hands and give him dexterity. It did.
The second day, Saturday, Phillip was the first to arrive. He was happy. It had rained Friday night but he was not sleeping in the rain. He had called a buddy who has a place, told his buddy that he had money from tips and would buy him a couple beers if he could crash at his place.
Billie was not there on Saturday morning but Michael came back. Apparently he had fun the day before because he brought a friend, a young woman, and they were later joined by another young woman who had a guitar and also sang. She had a beautiful alto voice. They had met at X Factor try-outs. They sang some gospel songs. Michael told us that he plays at his church. I don’t think that he is homeless. The woman with the guitar told us that she had moved to Denver just weeks ago. She came from Newport News, Virginia. I commented that Michael Vick is from there. She said, “Yeah, but I don’t like what he did to those dogs.”
Franco did not arrive until late in the afternoon on Saturday. He patiently waited for a turn to play the piano. Billie never showed up on Saturday.
I am glad that Denver has pianos outside on 16th Street. I appreciated the talent of the entertainers. Sugar and I made some new friends. Phillip asked when we might be coming back for another show. Sugar told him there is one in August that we might come to. He shook my hand. Sugar hugged him. It was sad to say goodbye after spending two days together, laughing and joking around.
At the end of the day, Michael told Sugar that he made $30. The lady with the booth next to us said that he earned it. She said the folks who just hold up cardboard signs bother her.
If I was homeless, I would probably have to just hold a sign. I am not a musician. However, I can juggle three tennis balls, a little trick I picked up in my youth as I spent many hours at tennis courts waiting for matches. Sugar, on the other hand, could be a street entertainer. She can sing and play piano — the signs of a misspent youth, and now she is learning guitar. She can do face-painting and make balloon animals too. I would have to depend on her many skills if we needed tips to buy food. We could buy more food by not buying cigarettes and booze.
On our way home, Sugar commented, “I miss Phillip. Also, I hope Billie is okay. I worry that he did not come around today.”
The Lord knows of every sparrow who falls from the nest. We just met some wonderful people who have fallen from their nests.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.