Friday, April 2, 2010

Street Folk

Every town has its fair share of street crazies. Adelaide has that guy sitting out the front of Hungry Jack's playing a glockenspiel. Sydney has... well, the entire population of Sydney. Newcastle had quite a few of its own special breed of loonies.

The most prominent was probably a man the media dubbed the Serial Pest. In his personal life, he went by the name Shock. He was a skinny man that I would always see darting around the streets with his long, frenzied black hair whipping around his head. He reminded me of Sirius Black straight outta Azkaban. He was always seen with a cat that just hung around on his shoulders. The cat never seemed to mind. It probably liked the attention and the fact that it didn't have to get up. Cats are like that. I did also once see a man walking down the street where I worked with an honest to god parrot on his shoulder, although sadly I never saw him again. I guess he had some swashbuckling to do in another port.

But Shock stuck around in Newcastle for a long time, making headlines where he could. He liked to crash any event that happened there and he wasn't selective about it. Sport, politics, arts, he would be there, making a scene. I don't know what he would actually do, just that the media would always be complaining about him the next day. I remember hearing from an arty-type friend of mine that when he wasn't occupied with being mental, he actually did performance poetry or some such. She said that yes, he was off his balls insane, but it somehow translated reasonably well into the poetic medium. I guess I shouldn't be that surprised.

They were often artists, the Newcastle crazies. I guess we had the This Is Not Art festival, which kind of encouraged that sort of thing. I remember when it was just becoming a big deal. I was in high school and home economics required me to make an apron. There were marks for decorating it, but I couldn't really be bothered so I just wrote 'This is not an apron" on it and handed it in. No-one in my class got it, but my teacher thought it was great.

There was one guy that I never quite knew whether to feel sorry for or not. He was a middle-aged asian man who busked in the mall. And when I say he busked, he stood outside the 711 every day shouting the words to popular songs at the top of his lungs. A capella, if you could call it that. He had a hat set up in front of him for people to give him money but I will never know if anyone actually gave him anything. Don't get me wrong, I would have given him a few bucks. I was just a little afraid of going too near him.

My favourite street crazy in Newcastle was a "musician". I say "musician" because he was most well known for playing music, but I'm not sure he actually knew how to play any of his instruments. He sat on the same street every day playing the bongos and occasionally the ukulele. He surrounded himself with his own crayon drawings that he offered for sale. His beard was always dyed two or three different colours, purple usually being one of them. I called him Bongo Man until he introduced himself to me with his real name and I adapted it to Bongo John. Occasionally Johnny Bongos.

He introduced himself to me because I lived near the street where he played and spent most of my time wandering around wearing outlandish outfits.

"You're a bit of a gypsy, aren't you?" he grinned toothlessly at me one day, "I see you walking around here all the time."

He told me his name in between incoherant ramblings and I told him mine.

"I hear you do a mean version of I Shot the Sheriff," I said to him and he broke into it without needing any more encouragement, accompanying himself on the ukulele. He didn't seem to know the chords, or the words for that matter, but it was high quality entertainment. I gave him my change every time I saw him and chatted to him about music. I seem to remember him playing a song with my name in it, but every artist has a song with my name in it and I can't be sure which one he was trying to play. I suspect Hall & Oates or Bob Dylan. He was always asking me to come back to his "art studio", but judging by the fact that he was an old man with a multi-coloured beard singing incoherantly on a street corner, I always passed up the opportunity.

-Smackie Onassis

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