Saturday night


Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I would like to thank my family, friends, former co-workers and acquaintances, both “real world” and online. Thank you for asking how I’m doing, for saying all those kind words about me, for buying me dinner, for asking for my resume for future reference, for offering to hook me up with people looking for programmers and for asking if I’ll have enough to eat (of course I will, Mom, but thanks for checking). You have my eternal gratitude.


I’d just finished giving the kitchen range and hood a proper cleaning and de-greasing when Paul returned from his trip to Starbucks. He bounced up to the kitchen counter and looked as though it was taking some effort for him to stay still.

“C’mon, man, let’s go! Ska ska oi!” he said, flailing his arms as if he were desperately trying to get the attention of a distant search plane. He gets that way when he’s on stimulants of any kind.

Ska Ska Oi is an annual fundraising ska/punk concert organized by a Toronto group called Anti-Racist Action, whose purpose I’m certain you’ve already gleaned from their name. The event has a reputation for being an evening of boistrous fun, combining a very friendly crowd, great music and a wild but considerate mosh pit. Paul and I saw the posters for this event a week or so earlier and decided that we weren’t going to miss it.

We arrived at Reverb at about 10 p.m. (which I thought would be early) to find a line of people leading up the stairs. The event had been sold out, but we could wait in line to replace people who were leaving the club. Having nothing better to do, we opted to wait. Our patience paid off; we were let in just over half and hour.

“I assume you’re of legal drinking age, gentlemen,” the guy at the door said as he let us in.

“We’re old enough to be some of these kids’ substitute teachers,” I replied. I turned to a young punk beside me. “Young man, I want to see that math assignment on my desk first thing Monday morning.”

After downing our only alcohol of the evening at the bar — a broken down golf cart shooter — we moved to the dance floor. On the way there, one of the bouncers recognized me and said “Yo, Accordion Guy! How you been?” I actually don’t introduce myself to people as “Accordion Guy”; it’s just what people who don’t know my name tend to call me. As the next act came onstage, he took a position at the edge of the mosh pit, just ahead of me. “Gotta keep these kids from breakin’ their heads, so they can still do arithmetic on Monday,” he told me.

We’d missed a couple of the earlier bands. The first act we caught were the Class Assassins, a foursome of energetic shaven-headed guys playing some very loud, very raucous punk tunes. They opened with No Justice No Peace, a very catchy number off their new album. The mosh pit exploded at the first measure of this song, and halfway into it, Paul decided he couldn’t take bouncing in place any more and launched himself into the fray. I chose to stay at the edge of the moshing, concerned that I’d either shred my accordion (which was strapped to my back) or accidentally hit someone with it. They played a blistering 45-minute set, and the moshing went non-stop.

Paul emerged from the pit when the band left the stage, covered in sweat and smiling. “Lots of girls in the mosh,” he said. “That’s the most action I’ve had in a while.”

While waiting for the second band, a couple of people walked up to me and asked one of the usual questions: “Can you play that thing?” Being a ska/punk night, I obliged by playing and singing Goldfinger’s Here In Your Bedroom. I surprised myself by being able to sing the chorus on the first try; it’s usually a little out of my vocal range. I took that as a good sign for tonight’s busking.

The next act was a group from Montreal called General Rudie, a full ska outfit, complete with keyboards and horn section. They played an amazing set that got the crowd skanking so hard that the floor was literally bouncing, flexing with the rhythm of people jumping in unison. Once again, I stayed at the edge of the moshing while Paul dove into the pit. Paul was impressed enough to buy their album; I was impressed enough to know that I’ll probably borrow it from him this week.

Paul says “she’s hot” in a Butt-Head-esque tone of voice about someone almost every week, and this week was no exception. A cute girl in a tight mint green tank top hopped onstage during one of General Rudie’s numbers and danced while facing the crowd, eliciting this week’s declaration of “she’s hot” from Paul. No doubt he tried to collide with her in the pit.

After General Rudie’s set, Paul headed home. He had to get up early the next day, as he was going snowboarding. While waiting for the final act, Arsenal, to get themselves set up, I wandered about the club looking for anyone I knew. A guy walked up to me and said “Two accordion players appearing by chance in the same room. What are the odds?” The other accordion player turned out to be his friend Doug, whom he introduced me to. Doug and I talked about synthesizers, accordions and the gigs we were going to play this year while waiting for Arsenal to play.

We waited for a while. “These guys better be the Radiohead of ska if they’re going to make me wait like this,” Doug said.

They finally started their set around 1:00 — at least half an hour behind schedule. They were tight and had a rock steady rhythm section, but were somewhat unimaginative with their melodies. “I wonder if they know another chord,” quipped Doug during their first number, which seemed stuck on a single chord. The next two numbers were the same; great rhythms but repetitive, monotonous melodies.

“Not the Radiohead of ska,” I said, “but the Philip Glass of ska.” That got a laugh out of Doug.

Doug invited me to jam with him sometime soon, so I gave him my phone number and left.


A trio of Doc Marten-wearing grrrls sat outside the entrance to reverb with a sign that read Will snog for beer. One of them looked at me and said “How about it, Accordion Guy?”

“I don’t have any beer.”

“I’ll take a song instead of beer.”

I played Should I Stay or Should I Go. Nice safe standard, and The Clash goes over well with the punk kids.

“Now,” the girl said, “the snog.”

“The song’s a freebie, no worries. You look a little young.”

“I’m not too young for you. What are you, twenty-five?”


“Holyfuckinshit. Maybe I am too young for ya. You’re too good-lookin’ to be an old fart. Hey, me and my friends are going to catch up with our friends at Ossington station. You take care, and keep swinging’ that fine accordion, ‘kay?”

(I’m sure that there are several Japanese businessmen who would pay mad Yen to have what just happened to me happen to them.)

Have I mentioned how much I love this instrument?


I made my way over to the Velvet Underground. My plan was to hang out there until after last call, then go to Amato’s Pizza and busk. The bouncer waved me in almost immediately a very cute woman with dark shoulder-length hair and striking eyebrows (I love striking eyebrows) walked up to me.

“I just got an accordion for Christmas, and I need your help!” she exclaimed.

Really, have I mentioned just how much I love this instrument?

She told me that it was a family heirloom; it was originally her grandfather’s. She didn’t know how to play any muscial instruments and didn’t know what to do with it. Selling it was out of the question. She asked if I knew anyone who gave accordion lessons.

“Well,” I said, not wanting to sound too eager, “there’s Joe Caringi, whose store is out in Woodbridge…” Woodbridge is a way-out-there suburb, far away enough to be out of reach of public transit. I was betting that she didn’t live anywhere near there.

“No. Not Woodbridge. Too far, and I hate the attitude there.” Woodbridge has a rep of being where all the Mafioso live. It’s often referred to with a fake Italian accent: “Wood-a-breedge”.

“You can get nice cannoli there,” I said, unable to resist a Godfather reference.

“You can get just as nice cannoli on College Street, and it’s more fun there too.” I liked her attitude.

“So what do you play on your accordion?”

“Mostly pop and rock. I leave polka to the experts. I do Nine Inch Nails, Fatboy Slim, AC/DC and a pretty mean Britney.”

“That’s great! I didn’t know you could play that on an accordion!” she exclaimed, unaware that there isn’t some kind of dead man’s switch on an accordion that kicks into gear whenever to try to play something other than Lady of Spain (something I haven’t yet learned how to play).

I was about to suggest that perhaps I could give her some lessons — which would necessitate an exchange of phone numbers — when her boyfriend appeared. And it was playing out like a movie script until now.

“Hey! You have an accordion!” he said to me, “did she tell you about hers?”

I told them that I would be busking later on tonight and that they catch the performance, during which I’d be happy to give her a couple of pointers. Hey, women are walking up to me and starting conversations. That’s still better than what happens to most guys.

I’ve mentioned just how much I love my accordion, haven’t I?


When I arrived at Amato’s, there were only three guys sitting on the bench outside. Not a good sign, but sometimes a crowd gathers once I start playing. I started with the Presidents of the United States of America’s Lump, and they started singing along. Judging that these guys were alt-rock fans, I segued into Goldfinger’s Here In Your Bedroom, and they turned out to know the lyrics to that song too. I kept playing, and they kept singing, which attracted some more people to the area.

Arsenal’s show must’ve ended just before, because a large crowd were making their way from Reverb to Amato’s for some post-concert pizza. By the time I’d gotten to AC/DC’s Big Balls, I’d managed to get a crowd of about eighty people around me. Normally this kind of crowd happens only during the summer, but it was a mild night and people didn’t seem to mind hanging around and singing along. I’d grabbed a discarded pizza plate and placed it at my feet and saw that since I’d started, it had filled with loonies, toonies and even a couple of fivers.

Another busker, Jamie, who plays guitar farther east on Queen Street walked by, and the crowd and I asked him to join in. They cleared a space for him on the bench, and we started jamming. I led him through You Shook Me All Night Long and NiN’s Head Like a Hole and he led me through Train’s Drops of Jupiter and Colunting Crows’ A Long December. The crowd peaked during Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline (a bit of a hit here in Canada since it was featured in a recent beer commercial), with everyone singing out the horn part in the chorus — Sweet Caroline — ba da da! — Good times never seemed so good…

At about half past three, Jamie and I called it a night. Jamie went off to the Matador, and I went home. As I was putting the accordion on my back, one of the guys in the audience shook my hand.

“Thank you very much,” he said. “Only eleven days into the new year [Saturday night was actually the twelfth, and we were already three hours into Sunday — Joey] and it’s already very cool. Thanks for making it that way.”

I got more gratitude from (mostly) strangers in just over an hour’s busking than I did from my managers the last three months at work.


On the way home, I ran into Star, a girl who lived in a squat near the University. She sometimes panhandles on Queen Street on Saturday night, and once I’ve covered my bar bill, I tend to give away a fair bit of my busking money to people sleeping on the street. Buskers are the unintentional nemesis of panhandlers, as we compete for the same spare change.

“Accordion Guy,” she said as I walked towards her. “Sorry to hear ’bout your job, man. Fucking bosses.”

“What?” I asked, surprised. Star was just an acquaintance. She couldn’t possibly have heard that I was fired; some of my friends probably haven’t heard yet. “How’d you know?”

“I read your blog. We get to surf free at the library.”

William Gibson wasn’t kidding, I thought, the street does find its own uses for things. She told me that she was looking for work using the ‘Net and that some street kids used Hotmail as a kind of system for leaving messages for each other.

“That’s cool! And hey, thanks. Look, let me give you ten bucks.”

“You sure? Maybe you need the money now…”

“I’ll be all right. Here, get something to eat.”

“Those fuckers, when they fired you, they lost out big. Thank you.”

No, Star, thank you.

Leave a Reply