Published: May 23, 2012
These incidents are rare, but it does happen now and then, he says. "There is some very blatant and overt racism that still exists, and every now and then it's actually good for a huge crowd of white people to see that, because the average white person don't think it's that blatant. The guy was right in the middle of the crowd and he said it loud, so everyone just gasped and looked to see what my reaction would be. I just smiled. And because of my reaction, which they probably expected to be more violent, when they saw that I just took it in stride, I made a lot of money on that day."
A woman with a five-drink swagger in her walk approaches and starts banging on his conga, then dances off without leaving a tip. Bongo Man's flow takes a turn.
"Now a cute young lady playing my drum / But then forgot to drop me some / Apparently she's kind of dumb / And I'm not the only bum."
Most of his rhymes are simple and spontaneous, based on a blur of an encounter and some quick thinking. He tells kids to say "excuse me" when they fart. Admires the canes of the blind. Suggests he's robbed your house before. But most of his on-the-fly poetry is harmless and even flattering, he insists.
"I'm always complimenting people — 'that beautiful woman,' 'that cool guy.' You know, people love and need to be complimented, and it really validates them. They spend a great deal of their time watching images of beauty that don't look like them, so when I acknowledge whatever beauty they happen to come through with, they're appreciative. They'll go in and they'll be thinking about it the whole time."
A chance to offer some of these sweet nothings presents itself as a pretty woman enters his field of vision. He addresses her and her date.
"That lovely woman in the black / Done near gave me a heart attack / Is that pretty lady with you, jack? / You must be some kind of mack / Your girlfriend is really stacked / Your baby got front and back," he hollers, then shifts his rhythm without losing his focus. "Consider yourself a winner / But take your lady out to dinner / And then she might let you in her." They look back aghast, then giggle. They don't tip, though.
But one man just behind them appreciates Bongo Man's unique style of flattery, and shows it with a laugh, and then he drops a dollar bill into the bucket.
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