For Free

There’s a guy who busks on the uptown side of the 6-train station on 86th and Lexington. He’s there sometimes at night—around eight, eight-thirty—and he plays hits from the sixties, seventies, and eighties, mostly, on his acoustic guitar. There are so many buskers in the subways these days—a bunch of them funded by the city, somehow—that I’ve begun to tune them out: the constant din of mediocrity and all that, despite everyone’s good intentions and massive need.

Anyway, this guy is different. There he is in his funky loafers and his too-big, caramel-colored winter coat, a black billed cap on his head. He has shoulder-length hair and long eyelashes, and he’s not too tall. Sometimes he looks sad, and on those days he plays sad songs: Last night he was playing a Beatles medley of Norwegian Wood and And I Love Her. The thing about him, though, is that, no matter how he feels or what he’s playing, he’s got something extra going on: He’s got very, very quiet, unassuming, heart-aching and heart-breaking soul. He can’t stand still—even just a little, he’s dancing. He’s dancing because he can’t help it.

I look forward to seeing him, and sometimes I’m disappointed when he’s not there. I watch the people walk by him, talking: guys in shorts with crewcuts and gym bags, ladies in hot-pink parkas and matching winter scarves, lost in their iphones. He’s like a shadow among them—an individual among followers. No one notices.

I thought of him today when I was having breakfast alone uptown. Two upper-east-side ladies were sitting in the corner of the restaurant, eating giant omelettes and toast. They had matching hair: coiffed and streaked and sprayed so that the dos looked exactly like beaver hats, without the tails. They had matching manicures, matching gold rings, matching big hoops in their ears, matching tans, matching extra pounds. I found them so fascinating that I couldn’t stop staring, and then one of them looked at me in mid-bite and blinked: she had egg in her mouth, and she took a bite of toast to go with it. She caught me, her lipsticked mouth full of breakfast.

I suck. I judge people. I love that busker and I think these ladies are just plain weird. I think the guys in shorts and the girl with her ipod are stupid. There. It’s all just so sad. Which means, I guess, that it’s all equally beautiful.

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