Old John’s Trumpet

old john - 2017-04-2017 - 4x6
Eduardo Suré; Old John, 2017; Watercolor

How are you doing today? Feel free to look inside the coolers or on the sides of my food cart. I have some great snacks and refreshments. I’m sure you’ll find something you like. Please let me know if I can help you with anything.

Well, now look at that! Here comes Old John again. Has another year gone by already? You know it must be near Christmas because that’s when Old John shows up: John the street performer; John the musician; John the trumpet player. Old John looks like he’s going to be good, doesn’t he? Look at his sharp suit. Look at the way he carries himself. He looks like a master. Old John is the worst trumpet player you’ve ever heard in your life. No, I’m not being mean. Just wait right here for a few minutes while he sets up his busking spot. He sets up his chair and his trumpet case right there at the top of the escalators leading in and out of the subway.

I remember the first time I heard John play. He took his time setting up just like he’s doing today. I looked at big Old John and thought I was in for a treat. I mean, look at him: he really looks like he can play. I remember thinking I was so lucky to have set up my food cart right here with all of the foot traffic from the office buildings and the subway. And then I was going to get to hear some nice music while I worked. I remember I stopped what I was doing when John raised the trumpet to his lips. He took a deep breath. Then, he began to play the worst version of Deck the Halls I have ever heard in my life. I looked at the faces of people walking by and they looked as confused as I did about what was happening with this grown man and his trumpet right there in front of everyone to hear. It sounded like someone was force-tickling farts out of Santa Claus.

Old John isn’t only bad; he is dangerous. I’m not exaggerating. Look at the length of the escalators leading down to the subway. That is a long way to fall. Do you know the song, Joy to the World? Think about how that song starts. Now think about how you might sing it if you were angry. One time, I was watching as unsuspecting people rode down that escalator thinking about their day or their destination or whatever. They weren’t expecting to be scared. Then, John blew out of that trumpet the first note of Joy to the World like he was announcing the launch of an attack. Just think about those poor startled people on the escalator. Some of them stumbled down the stairs. There was probably a heart attack or two.

I think Old John knows he’s bad too. One afternoon, he was playing Silent Night. His trumpet playing sounded like an elephant had just learned his momma died. You know how some people are just mean? Some guy went up to Old John and loudly asked him in front of everyone how much it would cost for him to stop playing. Old John didn’t even blink before he answered that a dollar would pay for silence until he couldn’t see the man anymore. The guy dropped a dollar in the trumpet case, and Old John kept quiet until the man was gone. I think I would feel bad after an insult like that. I might even quit playing. Old John didn’t care though. I think he played even worse whenever he saw the man walk by since he’d get a dollar to be quiet every time.

Now here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Brace yourself, Old John is wiggling his fingers to warm them up for the show. Look at him aiming his trumpet at the escalators. Those poor innocent people! You might want to cover your ears, but don’t be obvious about it. There he goes! It sounds like Oh Holy Night, doesn’t it? Oh, don’t make that face: he hasn’t even given you everything he’s got yet. If you can’t take it, you have time to put some distance between you and him.

Let me tell you something before you go. To me and probably to a lot of people who work around here, hearing this horrible music is to Christmas what stepping into the ocean is to a summer vacation: it hurts a little at first, but you’ll do it every time knowing that good times are coming.