Friday, April 07, 2006

"Of the Old Musician, and the Secrets He Kept"

Michael Leonce played a keyboard in Prospect Park Peristyle, Brooklyn, in 2004. He died last month on the Q train.

By Michael Brick

The old musician died on a southbound Q train. It was after midnight on a Sunday and the body of the old musician rode to Stillwell Avenue where the subway tracks end and there is an amusement park and then there is the sea.

Inside the cavernous train shed the old musician was pronounced dead at 3:10 a.m. on March 5, 2006. He carried an umbrella and a rolling cart, work boots and cards with names of people he had met. His keyboard was gone. No signs of criminality, the police declared. Investigation continuing.

The identity of the old musician was refined from Male, Black, 60's to Michael Leonce, 68. His children claimed his body. A son-in-law, Barry Greene, called the people whose names were on the cards.

Mr. Greene said that the old musician was once a policeman in Trinidad. He took a son and two daughters to Boston and he got a divorce. He moved to New York and worked as a subway electrician. A woman from church told him he had another child, too. He injured his back and drew workers' compensation. He slept in city parks, but not always.

The cards he carried told of a McDonald's restaurant where he was allowed to store papers in a basement. Among the papers were receipts from nights spent at the Madison Hotel. There was a letter seeking a balance statement from a Caribbean bank. There was $6,000 in an account at Citibank.

"We were told," Mr. Greene said, "that he had a lump sum of money somewhere."

The old musician guarded his secrets. He made the Prospect Park Peristyle a stage on sunlit afternoons when your good eye could see the domino players and the jacketless girls between the roofless colonnades.

On a spring day in 2004 he played for a small audience. He sat behind his instrument in an overcoat and a knit cap. His keyboard was balanced on an upturned cart and there were shopping bags and plastic bottles. The melody was trebly and the beat was ferocious, and when the song was done he took the names of the men who had listened.

"That's a calypso that's written by me," the old musician said. "I'm not releasing it yet."


gracie said...

Hope you don't mind a visitor (via danielle's blog) but I had to say that I love the way you have written this story. So true that some people die with the music still in them...
ps haven't done haiku since school, but might give it a try on my poetry blog!

bigshoulders said...

welcome Gracie!
oh, i cannot take credit for this piece. i found it in a NY Times article online, and wanted to re-post here.

in this obscure obituary of sorts, i am reminded that each one of us has a story. this seemingly anonymous street musician certainly had his share of secrets and mystery. but more importantly--He mattered to someone.

in a similar way, we, as miniscule as we are to the Creator, matter to Him. we might feel anonymous, or unworthy, downtrodden, but we certainly matter to Him!

thanks for stopping by, Gracie.


Danielle said...

Life is good, is it not? These precious lives...each one distinctive.

Christ gave those souls forgotten their dignity as has your post for this gentle friend not yet met.

patina said...

After reading the last line I thought "he finally released his calypso". This story will stick with me for awhile.