September 01, 2006

rod 'the bod' and god side-by-side on the r train

Every now and then, I encounter the same busker in the last car of the downtown R train. As I step onboard, she's usually about a verse or two into a very slow and soulful rendition of "Always and Forever." I hate that song but I love how she wraps her voice around it. Each note starts out with a pleasant nasally tone and is finished off with a delightful rasp. Her voice is ragged and worn. There's a lot of mileage on it. She has indeed lived a life.

She's elderly and blind but she still glides through the subway car with the greatest of ease relying on her cane and years of experience negotiating the different subway cars. She doesn't stumble or bump into people. Crowds part to let her through. She's respected and beloved. I've seen this same respect paid to the blind accordion player and a few doo-wop and five-part harmony groups that barrel through the busy trains interrupting conversations, naps and novels.

If someone is talented and/or not screaming about Jesus and urging us to repent, we don't tsk and sigh over the intrusion. Good schtick garners patience, polite smiles, outstretched money-bearing hands and unfettered access to the next car where the performer can charm the pants off the awaiting group of grizzled locals and bright-eyed tourists.

I saw the blind busker again on Wednesday night. As usual, she shuffled through the car singing, shaking her paper coffee cup and offering thanks each time she heard the clink of change deposited in it. And as usual, I took my seat, opened up my paper and drifted off into the day's Daily News headlines with her song serving as the bed music to my nightly ritual.

She finished up "Always and Forever" and segued into the next song. It was a new one, for me at least, in her repertoire. Normally I don't notice the transitions in her medleys but her choice of song and her placement of her words of thanks that night made me lower my newspaper and observe with undivided attention and an appreciative smile:

If you want my body and you think I'm sexy
(Thank you. God bless you!)

Come on, sugar, let me know
If you really need me just reach out and touch me
(God bless you!)

Come on, honey, tell me so

She was far out of my reach at that point but I'm totally giving her a twenty the next time I see her.