On a sidewalk in downtown Victoria, I set my drum aside for a break. I had been playing for hours.
I inspected my hat upturned on the concrete a few feet in front of me and saw it had been a good night. Until I counted I couldn’t be sure but guessed that since beginning at ten o’clock, just as the sun was setting, I’d grossed around forty or fifty. Not bad. I leaned my back against the brick and cracked a fresh beer from my back pack.
One problem with street performing was the hangers on. Like anywhere else in life, those who lacked originality or character would always gravitate towards those individuals doing something cool or fringe, and hang off them like ramoras on a shark’s belly. Either that, or they completely ignored them. I’ve experienced both while on these busking trips in late night downtown Vic.
Tonight, a small group of bar patrons accumulated nearby as the surrounding establishments did their last calls and the clientele emptied into cabs, cars and the quiet streets. They smoked and chatted and clapped hands, occasionally requesting another drum solo. After a point I apologized and said it was time to call it a night. My hands are likely gonna start bleeding, I said. It’s beer time for this little drummer boy.
One of these downtown nighthawks was a long, thin, dark haired fellow with a ramrod spine and seemed to always be clenching his fists. He spoke loudly, forcefully, even in conversation with the others, and he didn’t smile. Ever. Like this muscles knew how to do nothing else but clench severely and sternly. These were clear symptoms of a man in the grips of a night out on cocaine. The others were pleasant drunks, and as he barked and huffed they cracked jokes and tried to ease him up. But the more they laughed, the angrier he became.
I was still very much in my own world, as always, ignoring conversations between drunken patrons. After a point though, the thin man’s voice became so fierce and loud I could not ignore it any longer.
You don’t know!
I looked up and saw the thin man a few inches from another patron’s face, backing him up, fists clenching, eyes burning with cocaine craze, shooting his words like bullets.
I’m from fucking Dartmouth!
The others tried to put space between them, tried to calm the thin man down, but he fired back at them all.
Fuck you, he barked. I’m from Dartmouth!
After what seemed like hours of this, the small group was finally able to convince thin man it wasn’t worth starting any trouble. No one wanted any. The thin man charged off, huffing. I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to witness a fist fight tonight, and rolled a cigarette while the patrons laughed about the man from Dartmouth.
I was thinking about whether or not to drink another beer here on the street or wait until I got to the safety of the park where I would camp out tonight when I heard the bellowing war cry echoing from around the corner and down the street.
The patrons looked down the street, around the corner from my view and all of them suddenly beat a retreat, spreading out across the street and away from the direction of the cry. A second later the thin man – the man from Dartmouth – bolted full speed into view. In his hands was what appeared to be the pole from a downed street sign. He wielded the nine foot long steel pole like a samurai sword, swiping back and forth in wide, wild arcs. All the patrons kept well away from the reach of the weapon, backing away, hiding behind parked cars, some simply running for the hills.
I froze. I didn’t want to attract attention by getting up and running since until this point the thin man had paid me no notice at all, even during his initial tirade. Sometimes it is better to be ignored. Still, I sweated with fear and cowered against the wall, keeping low and still.
The pole swung again and again, finding no bodies but not for lack of trying. The thin man’s eyes raged with violent fury and he advanced on a couple of patrons across the street. As he did, another patron rushed in on the man’s blind side. He grabbed the man from Dartmouth in a tackling bear hug, pinning his arms to his sides. The steel pole or sign post or whatever it was fell from his hands with a heavy clang on the concrete. The weapon disabled, two more men joined in and forced the thin man down to the ground.
Despite his growling and howling, he was pinned. One got a hand free and dialed the police.
Later, in a city park not far from downtown, I rolled my last cigarette of the day. I lit up and sat on my unrolled sleeping bag and sipped my beer and gazed up at the starry night sky and wondered what the hell they put in the water in Dartmouth.