Ray has the haunted expression of a snitch in the witness protection program. Raspy voice, darting eyes, infrequent smiles. His slight paunch is exasperated by his skinny limbs. Ray stands outside storefronts, plays his guitar and sings in the same raspy voice. He’s happy if he makes 10 bucks.
We sit on a bench by the river listening to a local guitarist burn up the amphitheater with fiery riffs. Taking turns, we try to identify each song by the first notes. Ray knows more about music than I, but I nail “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors before him. Several of his tipsy friends get up and dance in between bumming cigarettes. Ray periodically sips from a pint. I don’t drink, but he doesn’t offer me any anyway.
At one point he surprises me by handing over a CD he made — 15 original songs. I want to pay him, but I can’t spare the $5 at the moment. He says to take it and give a listen. I promise myself I’ll buy him dinner sometime. I have known Ray for five years, applaud him at open mics, talk music incessantly. Others walk past and greet him. I would say he’s a character, but he’s too sharp for that designation. Just because a late middle-aged man stands in the street busking, doesn’t make him a character.
He tells me he’s low on cash, which doesn’t surprise me. Ray is always looking for the next buck. I know nothing about his history, employment or otherwise, and don’t ask. He once told me where he lived, but I forgot. Nightfall makes the music more impassioned as the crowd grows. I look out at the New York skyline, lights reflecting off the sleeping water. I would feel alone right then were it not for the guy sitting next to me, his rumbling, raspy voice commenting on the sounds.
Much later he tells me his longtime girlfriend’s just died.
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. I did not know he had a girlfriend. I express my condolences awkwardly, then study his face. He doesn’t look any sadder than usual.
Neither one of us, I think, wants this music to end. – Joe Del Priore


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