By Madam Squeeze (Busker Laureate of Slammatown)
At 6:15pm precisely I stumble down the front steps, totter for 50 metres, then hang a hard left and begin my purposeful stomp down King street. The stomping is a bi-product of the Boots of Doom – tall patent leather lace-ups with heels that add intimidating height, yet are sturdy enough to make me feel grounded. With my backpack I feel precariously top-heavy, a gothic ninja turtle, an Atlas on stilts. I must plant my steps firmly in the ground. The stomping is also mental preparation, the rhythm is meditative, calming. I am not suited to conventional work. A day in the office leaves me feeling frazzled, drained and inadequate. By the time I set off to busk I am often in a foul mood. Stomping helps.
I stop outside the Seven Eleven to drop a coin into little Lucas's guitar case, then weave through slow drifting herds of pedestrians to My Spot. I never start busking with an empty case. One must plant the seeds first – one gold, two silver, then strap the beast on and get down to business. Many smiles, positive comments and dancing children ensue. The weather is hot, the street is beginning to fill, and so is my accordion case. Photo Anne and her partner stop for a chat about Dusty Springfield records and I burst into a few bars of 'You Don't Have to Say You Love Me' in their honour. They leave laughing, heading home for a night in with a good bottle of wine. Friendly goth #1 drops by to lament his imminent dental work. We agree that wisdom teeth are a bad idea. I launch into a Neapolitan tarantella before friendly goth #2 stops for a noisy accordion hug. What has he done to his hair? A member of the Holy Soul strides along the opposite side of the road. I wave spasmodically, but he is all beard and business, glued to his cell phone.
My mood has lifted now. My fingers move of their own accord and I drift in and out of the melodies, watching Sal the gelato man scurrying about his shop like an ant before a thunderstorm. I grin and throw myself into the music. For a few moments I am no longer a nobody. I am a weaver of magic. Newtown is an unfolding film and my soundtrack dictates the course of its plot. I am Easing the Squeeze: bringing smiles to the faces of tired office workers and impoverished students, allowing ordinary folk, if only for a moment, to forget their troubles, to be transported somewhere beautiful. An older Eastern European lady stops and beams. She has no change to give and doesn't speak English, but she nods a thank you and the look on her face is payment enough.
Time expands and contracts. The tide of passers-by ebbs and flows. Tanned, bare-legged girls with short skirts and impossibly perfect hair; track-suited bogans packing long-necks of VB in brown paper bags; pink-haired, corseted cyberpunks of indeterminate gender. I catch sight of a heavy-set spike haired figure in my peripheral vision and for a moment my veins fill with ice. The stranger pauses outside the solarium, then walks on. My heart beats again. I've ceased berating myself for this irrational fear of an irrelevant person, but my hands are shaking with adrenaline and I'm shocked out of my trance and back to my own insecurities and inadequacies. I am no magician. Just an obsessive, anxiety-prone spaz.
Right on cue, Captain Fucktard approaches from the right. He stands close enough that I can smell the beer on his breathe and he inquires loudly if he can touch my tits. I tell him no, but he's welcome to go fuck himself. He seems genuinely offended when I physically shove him away, and skulks off muttering into his dirty top hat. I'm shaking with anger now, the fury of an animal backed into a corner and ready to lash out. My fingers are slick with sweat. I'm flustered and overheated. Time for a break.
I squat on the dirty pavers and scull a bottle of water, reminding myself that 99% of people I come into contact with are amazingly generous, considerate, and compassionate humans. I think about my friends and the many kind words of strangers, and I feel a surge of positive energy, a strange sense of belonging. I stand and squeeze out a searing rendition of my theme song, the Cancer Waltz. The accordion sounds like a carnival, and by the time the last coin lands, Spencer is ready and waiting with open arms, an understanding ear, and a thirst for milkshake.
Black & white photo by Lyndal Irons