A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
As I walked down the main street outside of Flinders Street Station, part of a sea of people headed to and from work, to and from tourist destinations and shopping and restaurants, I saw him. Wearing a pink dress, a beanie and hiking boots. He was lean. He sported a short, unkempt beard but didn’t look intimidating. His fright factor was cut by his genuine smile. He was off in his own world, but it seemed to be a happy place. He sang loudly, words that didn’t make much sense. It was a narrative about children and dancing and possibly fields or it could have been ice cream. Really there was only a marginal thread of coherence. He stomped out a rhythm, occasionally clapped his free hand against his body, and with the other controlled a marionette of tangled fishing line and block wood chunks that looked almost like a Star Wars attack beast.
He radiated joy (and unshowered body odor), and the people passing on the street all smiled. They weren’t the smiles of pleasure with the music. They were the smiles of, “Get a load of this guy. What the hell is he doing?” They weren’t scared. They were laughing at him. He was crazy. And as I passed him, I started to dance along with his rhythm, throwing my arms in the air in time with the beat. He saw me and smiled but didn’t miss a beat. And as I joyously wandered away I thought how funny it was that a talented performer would always cause someone in the crowd to be critical and unimpressed. Yet here was a crazy homeless guy with no talent other than being out there, and that talent was cheering up more people’s days than all the skill in the world.
Over the counter of the hostel kitchen, over half-assed breakfasts of eggs on toast, Nutella on bread, Vegemite on meatballs, and teas and water, we North American travelers came to realize we had all seen the crazy guy in the pink dress. The days had been different. The props as well. But we had all seen him. And we had all been amused at just how lost in madness he was.
Searching for a laneway with a café still open past five on a weekday, I came to the corner of Town Hall. I heard him before I saw him. Strained voice being pushed too hard to hit loud notes that weren’t in his range. Lines broken by riffs on harmonica. Then I saw him. Pink skirt (different than the dress) and a pink fuzzy beanie (also not the one I had seen before). This time I didn’t walk away. We had just discussed him this morning and I was in no hurry. The providence and synchronicity were telling me something.
Leaning against a light pole five meters away, center stage, I took up a spot and watched the show. He worked with the marionette again, singing a song about having the baby blues. The marionette started to interact with a piece of driftwood he had adorned with springs and metal and fabric. “Don’t worry about the creepy crawlies!” He sang lines that didn’t make sense at first. And the people walking past remained in the dark as I had before. But he wasn’t as focused today. He made eye contact with me and smiled. He was going to let me in on something.
As he sang more, his words became a slightly skewed narrative on what was going on. He sang of singing, using the marionette as a stand in for himself, tired and past-due on talent, something that kept going despite the fact that it should have stopped a long time ago. He dove into fantasy worlds of sunshine and space, but he grounded it in observations around him. The middle aged Armani suited man who walked by. The guy with the dark shades next to me. He was fully aware of what was going on. He kept looking back to me to see if I got it. “And you have a barbie… And if no one comes to your barbie… You realize it’s because everyone is working… Working, working, working… That’s all people do.” And he jumped in celebration.
He smiled. It was a smile of joy, of loving what he was doing. It was the same smile I had seen before. The oblivious smile of a madman. But it was also the smile of knowing that people thought he was crazy, and that he had fooled them all. The smile of knowing he was making people smile. It mattered not that they thought themselves better off or superior. Or that they were laughing at him, not with him. He was making them smile. And he had fooled them all. He had let me in on the secret.
I don’t know why he chose me. My father once told me that you don’t always know why things happen. But if you open yourself up to them, and you walk up to people you are drawn to, you will learn what you are meant to learn. The universe has a way of working itself out. I don’t know for sure what I am to take away from it. But I do know that the performer is free. He doesn’t care about appearances. He does not care what others think. He is having fun, he is doing performance art and messing with an entire city. He is laughing, and he is making others laugh. He is more free to be himself than I am.