“I knew a man Bojangles and he’d dance for you/ in worn out shoes/ Silver hair, ragged shirt and baggy pants/ the old soft shoe” – Mr. Bojangles by Jerry Jeff Walkers
Sitting down outside the liquor store, playing a beat up old acoustic guitar, he didn’t have to sing the blues … he was the blues: thick, nicotine stained fingers strumming the strings, a Tim Horton’s coffee for sustenance and a ‘Maple Leafs’ tin cup for tips … on this cold, windy day.
As he nodded a friendly smile to oblivious shoppers flying by, he took it all in stride: just another day ‘at the office’, rain or shine … working the crowd like a master showman, with no apologies.
“Hey Mr. Tambourine Man play a song for me/ I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to” – Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan
At first, I took exception to him as just another panhandler, as I slowly slid a coin back into my pocket. But then, I realized what’s meant by the expression: “the hardest working man in show business”. I mean, could just anyone do this? And, who was I – looking down from my lofty tower of forgetfulness and ignorance – to be so judgemental?
“Once upon a time you dressed so fine/ You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?” – Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan
Slowly, I dug deeper into my pocket to toss a few extra coins into his cup. After all, I had been enjoying a free concert right in front of me; and I knew, even from the comfort of my car, that he knew it too. In so giving, it wasn’t because of guilt … nor pity … it was because he was there at all.
“You said you’d never compromise/ with the mystery tramp, but now you realize/ He’s not selling any alibis/ As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes” – Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan
Later, after talking to him briefly, he picked up his meager few belongings to leave – slinging his precious 20-year-old Stella flat top over his shoulder. Watching, I recalled some words about a man who was similarly carrying all his worldly processions on his back. And, what was noted was not that he had so little, but that he had so much. We all have our crosses to bear.
“He said, I dance now at every chance at honky-tonks, for drinks and tips/ But most the time I spend behind these county bars, ‘cause I drinks a bit” – Mr. Bojangles by Jerry Jeff Walkers
Some might say that he had it coming with all the bad choices he must have made – not recognizing the toxic circumstances that often lead to a street life. Not everyone can afford to make the same number of mistakes and the role luck plays in the good fortune of others is often forgotten or deliberately unacknowledged. Nobody’s perfect.
Maybe, Clint Eastwood’s gunslinger character in the western movie `Unforgiven‘, summed it up best: We’ve all got it coming, kid”.