The musician


HIS NAME IS Juan or Pablo or Esteban. I didn’t really ask. He is a music man.

We were sprawled and salty in beach chairs at Playa La Ropa in Zihuatanejo at midday when he stopped before us and staked his bandstand, unsolicited, into the sand. His bandstand was an old crutch, but its crutch days were over. At the top of this bandstand, the musician had secured his harmonica with plastic ties like you buy at Home Depot.

The rhythm section was connected to the side. It was corrugated metal rolled into a circle, like an extra long tin can. He strummed his own backdrop with what appeared to be an Afro comb.

He played the harmonica. Perhaps not as well as Stevie Wonder or Bob Dylan, but he played well enough. And he sang. La Bamba.

And three other tunes.

The music man wore no hat under the searing sun. He wore no shorts or tank top either. His hair was very long and slicked back, and I think it was not so much a style as it was that he preferred spending income on other things.

On finishing his concert, he walked toward us, and I noticed he was lame. One leg was bad, but not really bad. He could walk pretty well, but I doubt he would be much of a jogger. And he couldn’t flee any scene.

I handed him 20 pesos, and said, You’re a good musician. He smiled, seemed to like that, said gracias. People want to feel their work has value, no matter what it is. Perhaps for someone in his position it’s even more important that it is for you and me.

14 thoughts on “The musician

  1. We saw a couple of a street panhandlers at the city square while we were in Prague Easter week. One was “mature” and pretty unkempt, the other younger without much face hair and a bit on the young side. Each had a cup for collecting coins. I had a pocketful of Czech money, the value of which was unknown to me either in Czech or USD. I dumped it all into the older fellow’s cup just based on his apparently advanced age. No known talent that I was aware of and I had no plans to spend the coins since I didn’t know what they could buy. Probably not much.


      1. I figured it would be more useful to him than to me, especially if I tried to convert it back into real money 🙂


        1. Exactly why I spent so much money in Europe. I thought it was all play money or some random monopoly leftovers. “Will ten of these little pick and blue things cover it?” “OMGaahh, is that a pichur of the queen on that money? I gotta save that for the scrapbook.” Pitiful.


  2. Springsteen is not known for his work on the harmonica. Perhaps you were thinking of Dylan. Regardless, I applaud your efforts to help a man have dignity. Men tend to let their work define who they are. That’s a shame in some respects. But your helping this fellow is admirable.


    1. Ray: I was not thinking of Bob Dylan, but obviously I should not have been thinking of Springsteen either. Perhaps I should not have been thinking at all. In any event, I changed it to Bob Dylan. Thanks for the assist.

      As for work defining a fellow, it was never an issue with me. I’m still looking for a definition.


      1. Maybe you were thinking of Neil Young, or the guy from Supertramp, or the one who plays for Willie Nelson, or…

        I always appreciate when people actually do something, it’s so much more fitting to offer gratitude in return for busking than to have someone just ask you for money. Having some personalized entertainment never hurts either.


        1. Kris: I’m with you. If you’re gonna ask for money, make a minimal effort.

          Sometimes I falter with that attitude. There’s a couple of young brothers who beg on the streets here. They sing for their money. Problem is that it’s like fingernails on a blackboard, both of them. You want to give them money to just shut up and go away. Maybe that’s the intentional tactic.


        1. Aw, I don’t believe that, Ray. Didn’t you get a degree in forestry (or something related?) and then go out and do it? And you’ve been doing it for decades. You’re a woodsman. You decided. Or it decided for you.


  3. You’re a smart guy. So, you undoubtedly knew this already. But you are sitting on sacred ground there on he beach. Or, at least, elite ground. When the Purépecha chiefs took a break from beating the Aztecs’ butt at each battle they fought, the aristocracy would make its way to the very beach upon which you are warming your tootsies. There was even a walled enclosure near the rocks at the end of the beach.

    Maybe your minstrel was an ancestor (or specter) of a royal troubadour, who now haunts tourists with Ritchie Valens tunes. And you showed your true noblesse oblige colors.


    1. Steve: You clearly know more of local history than I do. And maybe the musician was of noble blood. You never, ever know. I did know the Aztecs never fared well when messing with our local bad boys, but I did not know our guys did R&R at Zihua. Interesting. Thanks.


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