Keep the Music Alive

This afternoon, I made a small, unexpected but voluntary contribution to the Lexington street music scene. But the skeptic in me keeps wondering whether I was scammed socially engineered out of the price of a set of guitar strings, or whether I somehow luckily but unknowingly escaped from a more complicated, expensive con, or whether a somewhat unusual transaction was really no more than it appeared to be.

As I walked along Euclid Avenue, returning to the office from lunch at Qdoba, I was approached by a gentleman carrying a guitar over his shoulder. We spoke to each other pleasantly, and as we walked along, he asked if I was going “up that way,” pointing to the right up Limestone. I replied that I wasn’t, and silently wondered how he was going to segue a question about where I was going into a request for money.

He really caught me by surprise when he said he just needed somebody to go up to CD Central (a music store about a block away in the direction I wasn’t going) to buy him a set of guitar strings. He said he could provide the money, but he wasn’t allowed in the store.

I just couldn’t ignore that. It would be a pretty sad state of affairs if a man couldn’t take a few minutes and walk an extra block to help bring music to life. So I said “Oh hell, that’s no big deal, I can walk up there.” It didn’t hurt that the block I had to traverse was teeming with attractive young sorority recruits, as rush started today.

He thanked me, and again offered to provide the money. I declined, saying I thought I could make that small contribution to the world of music. If he’d been sitting on the sidewalk playing, I probably would have tossed a few bucks into his guitar case, and this wasn’t much different, just a little more participatory. As we approached CD Central, he explained that he was unwelcome there because he used to drink, and he had straightened out, but they didn’t know that yet, and it would just take time before he was welcome again.

I walked into the store and told the clerk I needed a set of Earthwood acoustic guitar strings, and a couple of picks. I confessed that I had no idea what I was talking about, as I was shopping for somebody else. He said “Is it a guy outside?” and I said “Yes.” Neither of us said anymore about his apparently unwelcome customer, and he helped me find strings and picks.

I made my purchase, and went outside and handed the merchandise to the recovering alcoholic guitarist, who was conversing with another guitarist who had appeared and was playing. He thanked me profusely, asked my name, and promised to keep me in his prayers, and we parted. There was no extended sob story, no further request for financial assistance.

It’s quite possible that the whole story was true. I wish I had asked the clerk if my new friend was really persona non grata, and if so, what kind of behavior led to his exile? Had he been harassing other customers? Stealing?

Or was he hoping to extract more from me than that set of Earthwood strings? After all the creative stories I’ve heard in shopping center parking lots about vehicle breakdowns and medical emergencies, etc., leading up to pleas for financial assistance, a little skepticism isn’t unreasonable.

But if this guy was trying to work some other angle, I really can’t see what it could have been. It really seems like he needed just what he asked for: a set of guitar strings. He didn’t ask for cash with a suspicious excuse. After telling me he couldn’t make the purchase himself, he obviously wasn’t expecting me to throw cash at him as I hurried on my way. I’m sure he was expecting me to decline his offer to pay, as I did. But he couldn’t have been certain that would happen. He might have had to cough up the dough. And at best, he couldn’t have been hoping for any more than he got: a free set of guitar strings.

A few other far-fetched scenarios passed through my mind. Maybe he was in cahoots with the store owner to unload a slow-moving stock of guitar strings. But again, that scheme would depend on the victim benefactor volunteering to pay, which was not a sure thing. Maybe he was trying to unload counterfeit bills, and really wanted me to take his money. But if that was the case, he would have been more insistent, and he wouldn’t have kept sending victims back to the same store.

And maybe he just really needed a set of guitar strings, in which case: Cameron, I’m sorry for doubting your integrity, and instead of praying, just dedicate a song to me.

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