I do have a very part-time job right now, Liam tells me. Which I’ll have to go to after this. It’s like rich people, so that can be a little bit annoying. We’ve been talking about socioeconomic class, so he’s following up on that thread.
The rich people Liam’s referring to pay between four to six hundred dollars for a service—he doesn’t want to say which one, since it is his job right now, and he does enjoy it—but never think of tipping. It would be nice if it occurred to them that we’re a service and we accept tips, he explains. Some people do tip and some people don’t. I think rich people are less inclined to even think of that.
But Liam’s had a few jobs that rely even more on tipping, so he’d be quick to notice it anywhere.
Tell me about busking in Chicago, I say.
It was really day-to-day. Some days it was lots of fun and some days it was really exasperating. People were not very responsive. It was a while back, I would say 2002, 2003, somewhere in there. And then a little bit in the intervening years, but mostly that time. I started painting my face; that helped. I put on a sort of war paint. Then at least it made me sort of a visual spectacle and people would like to take my picture and feel more obligated to put a dollar in my guitar case. Later on I played the accordion a little bit. Just for a month or two.
Where did you hang out?
Mostly, I ended up mostly playing at the intersection of Clark and Diversey, and Broadway. I would play downtown, but I would get hassled by the cops downtown. There were two years where I did it, where I played guitar and sang when the weather permitted. I think one year I had a permit and which cost fifty dollars—probably costs more now—and one year I didn’t, so I would get hassled playing downtown. Clark and Diversey was more of a neighborhood. People are a little bit nicer there. I played in the zoo a bit. But then I got arrested and I was supposedly banned for life from the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Is that the only time you’ve been arrested?
No, no. No, I’ve been arrested a few times. Not really for any good reason. I had some legal trouble a few years ago. It’s kind of a long story. Basically my older brother, who isn’t the nicest person, he had sort of been on a cross-country crime spree. And he was arrested a few times and gave them my name and information. So my identity got entwined with his. Then I was arrested out of the blue, or I was pulled over. I was on my bike, they thought I was somebody who snatched a purse, and they figured out that I was not the person they were looking for—who snatched the purse—but they ran my name and they were like, Oh boy! You’re in big trouble. So I spent one night in Cook County Jail, and then went in front of the judge the next morning. It was really scary. They were saying I was going to get extradited to Idaho or something.
That was where your brother had lived or where they had a warrant out for him?
Yeah, they had a warrant out for him I guess. So then I went before the judge. It was pretty ridiculous, like I hadn’t slept. I spent the night in a cell with a guy that was coming off of heroin, and he was shitting and puking and stuff, moaning all night. So I hadn’t really slept and I was really whacked out. And I went in front the judge and was like, I know this is going to sound kind of ridiculous, but I didn’t do any of this stuff. My brother did it. And he was like, Whatever. But then something in their computer system cleared, and they let me go.
But then for years after that, every time I would have an encounter with the police, all that stuff would come up, ‘cause they couldn’t get it out of their system. So that was a big pain in the ass.
They gave me a piece of paper when they released me, something that said I was released for wrongful arrest, but it was barely even legible. And that was supposed to be my get out of jail free card. I carried it around in my wallet, it got all smeared.
I wanted to travel outside of the country, too, and was scared to do that for a long time. Finally, I guess it’s basically cleared up. There was one time I went to Canada and came back. I was on a Greyhound bus, and crossing the border, all this stuff came up and the Department of Homeland Security guys freaked out. They had me surrounded. There were like six guys standing around me at the border. They ran my fingerprints, took it through the FBI. That was scary. So, it’s been a pain, but I’ve never had to go to jail because of it or anything like that.
Does it make you rethink how you participate in society? Whether or not you jaywalk, or how carefully you fill out your taxes?
It did for a while. I had a birthday party in McKinley Park, and we were drinking beer, and then the police came. And for everybody else it was just kind of a hassle, like they had to pour out their beer, but for me, they threw me in the squad car. So for a while it did make me more cautious, I guess. But now, no problem. I think it’s all cleared up.