Not many weeks ago on a windy evening as we were hurrying to the entrance of the Broadway–to see MORNING GLORY I believe–I saw the familiar face of a skinny man with shaggy beard and knitted stocking cap standing outside the theater holding a beat-up cello he sometimes plays if enough people are about for an audience. I’ve seen him many times before and wondered about him but was always in too much of a hurry and a little bit afraid to get involved.
Most people usually are in a hurry–trying to get to the theater on time, trying to get out of the rain or cold, and many pay him very little mind. Then there’s also that bad experience I had a few years ago when a mentally-unbalanced or drug-crazed homeless man in a wheelchair seemed to be chasing me down the street, haranguing me about the government’s bad treatment as I hurried to get away from him. I’m often reluctant to look directly at street people sometimes, I think, because there’s the thought that in different circumstances that might have been me. Had I not had the family I had, the advantages I’ve enjoyed, known the people I’ve known.
So there was that little man again, and how I was going to act this time? I hurried to catch up with Hubby–I was a good 8 or 10 steps behind him as he walked briskly ahead of me to secure a place in the line inside the entry door where the line was already snaking up the stairs. For some inexplicable reason though, instead of hurrying by, that night I paused and looked straight at this strange little man standing there alone with his cello, and without even thinking about it I said something, can’t remember exactly what–probably some pleasantry about the weather–but it didn’t really matter because I smiled as I hurried on this time.
“You are a very kind lady,” he called after me.
Taken somewhat aback by his response, I remember shaking my head and saying “No, not really,” admittedly more to myself more than him.
Later, thinking back on it, I could still feel the warm feeling that always creeps in unbidden when you let your guard down just a little during those what I call serendipitous moments just being yourself.
When I opened the paper a day or two before Christmas I was gratified to finally have part of the mystery of that little encounter solved.
My street musician had a name after all. Eli Potash. He says he’s not that “good a musician” but “you know what I am? Good with my hands” and for 15 years he’s been playing his cello downtown, mostly for moviegoers outside the Broadway Cinemas. Sometimes he rests and warms up from the cold at a nearby bar where a local trio plays. That’s where he met the Daniel Day Trio, who sometimes play in the Red Door martini bar. From the Tribune feature story I read that the group had struck up a friendship with Potash and occasionally play with him, collecting donations from listeners. Day noticed the beat-up cello and remembered an old one of his that had been collecting dust a few years. One thing led to another–someone else donated labor to refurbish it, then the trio purchased a new instrument case for it from the donations because, as Day said, “He’s (Eli) somebody who could use some love and some care and some thought.”
And so it was that on another windy night not long passed, during the holiday festivities, they all played a rendition of Silent Night together in front of the Broadway. After they finished, they presented Potash with the new cello, all wrapped up in giftwrap. All this was caught on video by Sidewinder Media’s Rusty Sessions, and it’s been posted on YouTube. It’s not polished and slick, and it does lag in places, but it is a perfect example of the real spirit of Christmas, and it’s the Christmas story I was hoping to write. Here it is if you’d like to see it yourself. (At 11:21, it’s a bit long, but Eli’s Silent Night begins about 4 minutes in if your time is limited.)