June 16, 2004

A Harmonica Subway Story

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2004

A one-armed, harmonica-playing pan handler slowly walked into the subway car. I did a double take. I had never seen a one-armed harmonica player before. A moment of firsts, in a rare, head-scratching instance for me. Yep, I've met penty of peculiar harmonica players in my day. I bumped into an old black guy with horrible dandruff in the French Quarter one year during Mardi Gras. He had no teeth and we shared a joint of really cheap Mexican weed. One scraggly guy I knew from my time drinking at a sports bar in Seattle, had his left leg missing from the horrors of a land mine in Vietnam. He knew how to play, especially after a few Red Hooks. In Taos, New Mexico, I met a chubby, snarky, Native American woman with an eye patch, who could belt out the blues. She told me she could read my mind. And finally, after years of spanning the globe, I met my first one-armed player. He played for a few moments then held out a tattered, used, paper coffee cup from Starbucks filled with change. A suit, with freshly shined shoes and reading a NY Times ignored him. A young woman chewing gum and listening to her iPod refused to acknowledge him. He turned around and looked right at me.

"Can you play Piano Man?"

He lazily shook his head and jingled his cup twice. I reluctantly gave him twenty-five cents and let out an eldritch laugh. He continued on his way into the next subway car and I never saw him again.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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