So I was buskin in downtown Portsmouth when the rain started. At first I didn’t mind. It was a light rain, barely enough to soak the inside of my guitar case. Tourists passed by, resolute that their vacations would not be spoiled by a little weather. This was good, since they were in New England where weather is always a factor to be contended with.
Well, the rain got to be more than light, so I packed up and sheltered under a near by Jewelry shop awning. After a bit, I figured I might as well play there. I though I would ask the proprietor if it would be okay, so a poked my head in the door, hoping the shopkeeper wouldn’t notice that I didn’t have any shoes on. “Mind if I play out here for a while?” I asked. She said, “I’m studying for a physics test,” which meant that I had already been annoying her, and that she was taking the opportunity to shut me up so she could concentrate.
I turned back out into the storm and pondered. As I did, the rain lightened up and I noticed the trees across the street in front of the North Church. Thinking that they would provide me with enough cover until the rain got really hard, I crossed the street, found a dry spot, and plunked myself down to start playing again.
In a futile act of defiance, I sang, “Watch me” to the store tending physicist. I enjoyed it. I don’t think she was listening.
By and by, a man stumbled across my path carrying a mostly empty bottle. Though he was not sober, he was very friendly and asked if he could sit next to me. I welcomed him and he joined me in the shelter of the tree. His name was Cory, and after we’d established that I didn’t know any of the songs he wanted me to play, he settled for one of my originals. I played “Constance Waits,” and he gave me fifty cents.
Pretty soon, two of the folks who had been holed up across the street under the bus stop shelter noticed him. They obviously recognized him, and crossed the street to sit with us. Now there were four of us sitting there, under the tree.
Just then, another man came up and sat on one of the benches close by. It was then that I noticed a kid sitting on another of the benches. This kid had tossed a dolor in my case and I hadn’t realized that he’d been hovering around.
It started to seem like I actually had an audience; like people were listening. They were stopping and staying and listening. This was a buskin first. Up until that moment buskin had been a smiling passing by thing, or a thumbs up thing, or a toss a buck in the case on your way by thing. Aside form Danielle and Cecelia in Exeter, no one has ever stopped and listened.
It struck me how cool it was, this spontaneous gathering of mostly strangers in the square in the rain. And it all started because of the shopkeeper who wouldn’t let me play under her awning. If I hadn’t crossed the street, Cory wouldn’t have showed up in front of me, and his friends wouldn’t have seen him and come over to talk to him, and the benches wouldn’t have been close by to accommodate the kid and the other man. The rain and the shopkeeper and the tree all conspired to create this amazing unlikely event, that was unfolding in front of me. How lucky I was to have had things not go my way, so something I could not have predicted could take place. I was witnessing a moment of grace.
Unfortunately, I was running out of time. I said I’d do one more song, and played “A Team” by Ed Sheeren. The girl who had come over from the bus stop cried, and they all clapped when I was done.
I packed up and headed for the truck. On my way, I stuck my head back in the jewelry shop and wished the woman luck on her physics test. She smiled timidly, waved, and apologized.