I see a sign for $1 coffee at McDonald’s. Why not? Drip coffee is drip coffee. I park my car and walk toward the entrance. Three transients loiter outside. One of them, a man in his 70s or 80s or 90s, smokes a hand-rolled cigarette as he leans against his bicycle. Strapped to back of his bicycle are his worldly possessions, including a tambourine.
The tambourine arrests my attention. I almost detour to investigate. I want to know: What are the circumstances of the man’s playing? What makes him break out the tambourine? Does he sing as he plays? If so, what are the songs? What’s his name?
As I said, I almost detour but not this morning. Fatigue tops my curiosity—for the moment. It’s a rare occasion.
I walk inside McDonald’s. I am arrested by a sight again. Eight elderly men and two women wearing MAGA caps and t-shirts sit with their backs to the wall, sipping coffee. One man is warning government to keep its hands off Medicare. Another man is ripping immigrants while talking to the ceiling. He parrots talking points heard from the Fox News foxes outfoxing Americans out of their core decency, something I believe, I just know, know, know resides within almost every one of them.
Team Trump notices me. They stare collectively at me like I’ve never been stared at before. Perhaps the long hair. Perhaps the frazzled gray beard. Perhaps the corduroy blazer with the suede patches. No, it’s all three in combination! I’m a walking, not-yet talking socialist intellectual in uniform. Leon Trotsky has resurrected and plans to unionize the hamburger workers and overthrow capitalism! He also deigns to drink $1 coffee with the American proletariat, a mass of people who mostly align with Trump. Even Leon wouldn’t figure that one out. None of the Russian peasants ever wanted to align themselves with the Czar.
I freeze for a moment and soak in the Trumpian stare. I turn around and see Mr Tambourine Man puffing away outside. He’s sort of smiling. His face has a million weather reports etched upon it. He is weather.
What a contrast. What juxtaposition. Am I some kind of metaphorical meat in this American shit sandwich? Where is the more interesting and more important story? Is there any possible way to connect them?
Some answers come to me. Yes, they can come in McDonald’s.
I unfreeze and move to the counter. I’m thinking of Mr Tambourine Man…play a song for me / in the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.
Dylan didn’t invent him. Dylan never invented anything. He borrowed and fused. He readily admitted this in his memoirs. He’d heard a tambourine man long ago play his tambourine and sing along roads, in camps, in the woods, under bridges, in alleys, the willows, everywhere. Steinbeck knew of them, too. He put one in The Grapes of Wrath. The tambourine men have always been among us, which is kind of a comfort, because America needs them when things go to shit.
The Trumpians have always been among us, too, which is no comfort. The George Wallaces of America never seem to fade away. Will we finally lick their type before I die? Can we smote them?
I order my coffee and will give it to Mr Tambourine Man if he wants it. Call it payment when I ask him to break out the tambourine and play, sing right outside the window in full view of the Trumpians. They won’t hear a damn thing. They’ll just see him play and sing. They’ll also see me dance with coffee in hand.
People get discombobulated when they see people they don’t know or understand dance in public. Let’s dance! It worked for Kevin Bacon in Footloose. He was a real American revolutionary and overthrew religious tyranny!
Oh yes….the fatigue is gone and I’ve got that jingle jangle hitch in my giddyup as I carry coffee past the Trumpians. I’m relishing the song Mr Tambourine Man will open the show with. I’ll ask for Woody Guthrie or the Ramones. Prince? I know all the lyrics to “Raspberry Beret.” I haven’t danced in ten years. It’s time.
He’s not there! He’s bicycling down the road into the fog. I imagine the tambourine playing itself as the man pedals.
Next time, Mr Tambourine Man. And I will be following you to wherever your magic swirling ship takes us. Our senses haven’t been stripped. That’s the problem with the people inside.