Recently, I have decided to keep a record of the various performers who roam New York City’s subways and attempt to entertain commuters before awkwardly begging them for money. Most of them are bad musicians, bad magicians, and some very good performance artists who expose the inherent selfishness of humankind by asking for money and food and never receiving much of anything. However, there are some truly unique performers out there, and I’d like to share them with you now:
Mar. 13, 2009. Brooklyn-bound M train at Forest Avenue. A drunk man waving a rainbow flag with a peace sign on it sings “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?” directly to me after seeing the Elvis Costello button on my jacket. I tell him that that song was actually written by Nick Lowe, who performed it a few years before Costello did. He calls me “little bitch,” throws a worn copy of The New York Post at my head, and storms out of the train car.
Total amount collected by performer: $0.10. (He found a dime on the floor of the car.)
July 14, 2008. Q train at Avenue X in Brooklyn. An older gentleman with a graying beard recites the entirety of the screenplay of The Empire Strikes Back with the exception that all references to the Galactic Empire have been changed to “The Man.” Upon finishing, he implores riders to “free your minds” and then asks for “a little bit of help so I can fight The Man.”
Total amount collected by performer: $3.32 and a partially-eaten poppyseed bagel with cream cheese.
February 22nd, 2010. Queens-bound R train at 50th Street in Manhattan. A young, unkempt, and strangely well-dressed man boards the train with a black acoustic guitar. He performs “The Greatest Love Of All” by Whitney Houston, but pauses to cry softly to himself four times during the song. After he finishes, he strums an E minor chord repeatedly while sobbing, “Why did she have to take my comic book collection when she left?”
Total amount collected by performer: $3.65.
April 12, 2010. Uptown C train at 72nd Street. A man boards wearing a reddish-brown wig, Coke-bottle glasses, and a white suit with what look like bullet wounds in his back and shoulder. He claims to be the resurrected John Lennon. I chuckle at his cleverness and at the extent to which he went to create his act, but the rest of the car remains silent for some time.
Total amount collected by performer: No money, but one person gave a hearty “go fuck yourself.”
July 27, 2010. Canarsie-bound L train at Lorimer Street. A woman boards and claims that there are magicians on the train. She then points to five young, white, strangely-dressed people with box-frame glasses, points at them, and screams “YOU MADE BROOKLYN DISAPPEAR!” She runs out of the train at the next stop, cackling maniacally.
Total amount collected by performer: 6 or 7 derisive snorts.
September 9, 2010. Manhattan-bound A train at Jay Street/Metrotech. An old gentleman has been ranting about the End Times since Broadway Junction, quoting Revelations and episodes of The 700 Club at great length. His “sermon” is very anti-Semitic in nature as he accuses Israel of hoarding the world’s money supply and points out that many Jewish last name begin with “Gold-” and “Silver-.” I grimace at this part, as it’s just the laziest insult ever, and I then leave the train as an Orthodox Jewish man boards.
Total amount collected by performer: 1 unreal life experience that I missed out on.