A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
By Ryan Little
Photos provided by Will Trentman
The droves of people leaving Times Square could not have known what they were in for. Three well-dressed college students panhandling? It was an outrage beyond belief. Mark Ecko jackets? Burberry scarves? It was as unexpected as the mellow symphonic sound of an Outkast song played by an acoustic guitar, accompanied by a subway-wall drum set. Smooth and slow, Will Trentman sang…
“My baby don’t mess around because she loves me so, and yes I know for sure…”
One by one, the New York City commuters entered the Times Square subway terminals, each examining the trio. Quickly came the first score of the evening. Twenty-five cents.
“Five dollars and seventy-five cents to go,” I thought as the middle-aged black man tossed the quarter in the open guitar case. The man wore a half-cocked smile and a look of joy as if he had seen the Three Musketeers themselves playing for change on the streets of Paris.
Will just smiled and nodded at the man as he turned to catch the eyes of the next wave of potential empathizers. “Help us get back to Florida… It’s effen cold,” read the sign I held as I leaned against the elevator doors leading to the subway floors below.
Here and there, change would fall from an admirer’s hand. It was as though, what these people thought of our company, was what they thought of society. Visitors and locals both would look on with smiles and laughter as they traversed the stairs, down, out of sight. However, we weren’t well received by all. Grimace and anger struck the faces of some of those who came and went. It was as if what we were doing seemed to infringe upon their rights, and even worse, their expectations.
Sadly, amidst the flush and affluent, there were a hapless destitute of seemingly innumerable ill fortunes that strolled upon our trio of well-dressed pauper impostors. One case of such was a gentleman whose image will forever be branded in our memories.
He wore black polyester work pants, ragged and tattered, which accented a burly vest reminiscent of Marty Mcfly, with a blue, long stripped white, short-sleeve oxford shirt, just as frayed as his pants. His black dress shoes, however, seemed luxurious and grandiose, overbearing his overall faded look.
He must have been a man of at least 60, wrinkly and worn, skinny to the bone; his long grey hair was slicked back in globs of oil that glistened in the man-made daylight.
At first he stood off to the side, admiring Will’s version of “Sweet Home Alabama,” possibly the only one that did; apparently, New Yorkers don’t think much of Alabama.
He came closer, never taking his eyes off of Will. A quarter fell from his hand joining the rest of our earnings. But he did not leave. Instead, he stood just inches away from Will as he continued to look on, staring intently at Will as if Will had lured him into a rapture sending him far past the moon, and back again on a jubilant trip of music and word.
Will finished his song and said, “Hey Man, Thanks,” nodding to the man just as he had to our previous contributors. But the man did not leave. Instead, he stood just as he had before, waiting intently for Will to start his next song. Will, obviously shaken by his newest fan, looked unsure as to his next move. So he started playing some Matchbox Twenty.
The meager man stepped back off to the side and watched intently. I found myself unable to look away from him. It seemed that despite our indifference and the anger from most of our audience that night, Will was able to bring this man back to life.
He leaned up against a wall, only ten feet or so in front of us, and just watched. I no longer felt the need to hold signs or shout enticing slogans to the on comers. Instead, suddenly, our little inside joke, our gloating performance, became more.
The man’s wrinkled face seemed to lose its years as he laid his head back, listening with a euphoric smile. A feeling of satisfaction swept over Will’s veneer. After Will’s song, the man sloshed back up, paper in hand.
It read: “I’d rather give this to someone who could do something with it.”
Will read the words quietly as if a slew of people were huddled around waiting to take down a copy of their own.
The man walked away towards the door as Will read his words.
“Hey man, what’s your name?” said Will.
“Tom Sawyer,” he said as he turned back.
In amazement, I motioned towards the man. It appeared as if he were impersonating the fictional character as if he were suggesting that he was the modern-day embodiment of the fictional, Twain character.
I, intrigued, questioned the man, “Is that your real name? He simply replied, “Yes,” as he pulled not a government issued driver’s license, but his actual passport filled with European stamps out of his pocket. Upon inspection, I found a passport not only littered with countless stamps from countries in Europe and Asia, but the name Thomas Sawyer firmly affixed to a picture of a healthy, affluent businessman in his fifties–a stark difference from the disordered man that stood before us.
Will thanked Tom for the lyrics, then proceeded to try and find more information on the mysterious character.
Alas, Tom’s past and even his present, appeared to be purposely jumbled as he spoke shortly to any question.
We did find out that he does have children, but how many and his current relationships with them were information he did not willingly disclose.
I like to think of him as a beautiful Sawyer growing up on the Mississippi River, only now overtaken by a raging river, flooded with unseasonable rain. And although the three of us will never know more about Tom or his circumstances, we will never forget his contributions to our own existence.
You see, the night wasn’t about today’s Tom Sawyer or trying to make what totaled to be eighty-one cents, but about the camaraderie that three new friends found through an illegal musical rendition that became so much more.
It was three collegiate panhandlers, making a scene, playing music, and creating memories. Sure, our adventures became parts of the souls of the new men who returned to Tampa only two days later, but it was a new band of brothers coming together in a sound of saving that relit our spirits for future export and recreation. It is a memory made from music, for us and Tom Sawyer.