The Silent One

Marc Friedlander – July 1, 2013


Greywacke Arch


There are literally thousands of people passing through the Greywacke Arch every day. There are the tourists and the locals. I recognize some of the regulars from week to week.  There are those that I talk to but there are others that have never exchanged a word with me at all – although I’ve  seen them many, many times.

There is a guy – been seeing him for the past 2-3 years – who comes through every time I play there.  He walks straight through, sometimes coming from the east, walking west, and sometimes he comes through the other way.  Most days he does both, at different times.  He never pauses to listen, and he never says a word.  For a long time, he never made eye contact with me.  He would just walk straight through the tunnel, expressionless and uninterested.  Not so unusual, actually.  There are many like that – either oblivious to me, or intentionally avoiding eye contact, as though if they did look at me, they would then feel obligated to tip me – but as long as they pretend I’m invisible, then I don’t have to cost them anything.  They needn’t worry – I’m not a panhandler and never try to guilt a tip out of anyone.

But this guy – I’m calling him the Silent One -  I always got a feeling about him – that there was something a little…off…about him.  That he was, in fact, a little odd. One day when he came through, I looked directly at his face and gave him a little nod - and he returned it.  He still didn’t say anything, but now we had exchanged a sort of a greeting.  We continued in this new way for some time – maybe months.  Now we would both nod a tiny little nod whenever he would come through.

Then, this last Saturday, I was playing in my usual spot.  The Silent One came walking through – but this time, he walked straight up to me, and asked, “How much is a CD?”

I replied that a CD is $15.

He said, “I want your longest and best one” and thrust a $20 at me.

I picked one (Classical Guitar Volume 3) and handed it to him, with $5 change.  I’m not sure if it is either my best or my longest. The thought occurred to me that it might not be possible to satisfy both requirements simultaneously, however I didn’t think it would be fruitful to point this out, and decided it was no time for my sophmoric drivel.  I just gave him the CD, which is both good enough and long enough, (IMHO), to qualify.  He took it and without another word, walked off.

An hour and a half later, he reappeared from the other direction, and approached me.  “I want another CD.  Do you have a blue one?”

I replied that indeed I DID have a blue one (Classical Guitar Volume 2).  He handed me $15 and again - walked off without another word. (My nickname for this guy should be starting to make sense to you)

I thought all this was strange enough to mention it at a pool party that I attended later in the day.  Everyone agreed that it sounded like the Silent One was potentially from another galaxy.  Seemed that way to me too – and well before the recent interactions, which were bizarre to say the least.

Sunday I was in the same spot.

The Silent One came walking through, west to east.

I stopped playing for a moment and called out to him: So?  What do you think? 

"I haven't listened to them yet." He looked a little apologetic.

That’s cool, I said. Take your time.  Enjoy.  Have a nice day.  He walked on through.

An hour and a half later, from the other direction, guess who was back.  “I want another CD” and held out the money.  This time I gave him Volume 4. I didn't ask him if he had had a chance to listen to the CD's that he had bought previously, but I did tell him that I had gone to a party and told my friends about him (neglecting to mention that we had jovially discussed the perplexing aspects of his behavior).  He seemed very pleased that we had talked about him – his whole face, which had previously never changed its expression, lit up with joy for a moment.  Then he turned and walked off, as always, without another word.

One small incident in the vast mosaic of my career as a street musician on the Upper East Side of New York City.  All this is why I do what I do.  It's partly about the music, it's partly about the setting, it's partly about the money, and it's partly about the people. It’s a perpetual carnival of surprises; a fascinating panoply of diverse people and extraordinary events. I never know who might come through next - the notable and the nameless - they all come through that arch.

I have a feeling that this particular saga is not quite finished.  The Silent One still does not have Classical Guitar Volume 1, so there may be more to tell.

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