It's a Living
I was seated at my desk Friday afternoon when I heard the beating of drums out in the street. My window is on the second floor and, unlike high rise office buildings, my office is a “participant observer” in the drama that is daily life on Congress Avenue (The Main Street of Texas !). Drums are not an unusual sound for me to hear, they usually herald some parade, or perhaps a protest marching down Congress. Since it was not a holiday, I assumed that a group of people was outside my office, marching down the street with a banner which could have been anything from “Honk if you hate lethal injection” too “Obama is not a U.S. Citizen”. I chose not to get up and look. The drum beat went on for a few minutes and then stopped. Ah, the passing parade. But then, about ten minutes later the drum picked up again, just as loud and just as insistent as before, and by now, interfering with what little thought process I have late of an afternoon.
I finally summoned the energy to walk the ten feet or so to me window to look out. What to my wondering eyes did appear, but a miniature man, looking much like a homeless elf, squatting next to the bus stop bench across the street, beating insistently on a large white plastic bucket (turned upside down for the purpose of percussion). Well, this is something up with which I do not have to put. I called my office manager and asked her to call the Austin Police to come do their duty and remove the little drummer boy from the area, or at least force him to stop drumming. She told me they’d called with no luck, the beat went on. I then called the police myself and asked why they had not responded to this violation of the Austin noise ordinance being brazenly perpetrated six blocks from the Capitol of the greatest state in the Union. They replied that, at present, they had bigger fish to fry (they were probably holding one of their interminable press conferences where they are forced to explain why they have managed to kill yet another citizen in the course of making an arrest). Fine. “I’ll handle this one myself” I said. I was urged to be patient, but patience was never my forte, and what little I had had long ago run out.
It took me less than a minute to walk across Congress and confront the homeless elf over the choice of venue for his concert. “Stop beating the drum” I suggested. “I’m trying to make a living.” he replied. Several bus patrons, waiting for the heavily subsidized Capitol Metro gave me angry looks. This deterred me not a whit. “You are breaking the law. “ I explained. By this time I could see that the wee man was about my age, he also appeared to be missing a number of teeth. All this time, the drumming continued. “Well “ he explained, “at least I’m not robbing your house, some people feel bad for me and contribute money to me so that I don’t have to play.” This is known in the big city as extortion. “No one is going to pay you, although when the Police arrive I’ll tell them of your little scam, let’s just wait for them.”
Here my new friend raised up in horror, “why did you call the police ?” he asked, “a nice person would have just told me to move along and given me some money. Besides, I have a lawyer, I’ll be out of custody in 15 minutes. “ Well that was fine with me, that meant that he would be gone for the rest of the day. The elf then picked up his drum and began to “move along” as the cops say. As he walked away he continued shouting at me. To his credit there was no cursing, just a constant reference to the rudeness of my behavior. The bus crowd had, by now, tired of the sport, and greeted his removal with indifference.
I went back into my office and maybe a half hour later a cop showed up. “Where have you been ? “ I asked. He responded that the Police had more important things to do when I called, and then proceeded to tell me how I had done everything exactly wrong and that I should have been “patient” and waited for him. He was unimpressed with my argument that I would have then been subjected to another half hour of mindless drumming. He then went on to describe the long since fled culprit to me and it was obvious he knew exactly who we were dealing with. “I could not have done anything anyway because you told him I was coming, I need to sneak up on him and actually hear the drumming. I am getting some overtime to try to crack down on this type of thing.” “How about the extortion ?” I inquired, “do you have to hear that ?” “ No” he said,” I don’t deal with extortion, you have to call the D.A. about that. “ with that, Wyatt Earp turned on his heel and walked out of my office for what I assume will be the last time. We understood each other, he and I, we just did not agree upon anything. His view was that only he is allowed to stop noise nuisances on the street, it is also his view that he usually does not have the power to stop it, so, really, he is of almost no value. My view was that he was lazy and/or hamstrung by the law, and so with regard to this type of crime, a man is on his own.
I left later, It had been a good day’s work. I was beginning to “clean up” Austin, Texas. Clean it up to make it a decent place for us and our families to live. I was leaving downtown a better and, importantly, quieter place, than I had found it.