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the column of lasting insignificance: Jan. 28, 2012
by John Wilcock

Marco Island Diary

“Naples (FL) is a treasure trove for farcical political bumper stickers. One of my favorites is the ‘Stop Socialism’ bumper sticker. Typically this is spotted on a car operated by a gray-haired driver, hurtling along at 33mph on the way to the doctor’s office for free medical care. You know, single-payer ‘socialist’ government-run Medicare…There should be a ‘truth in advertising law about bumper stickers…you should be required to affix a bumper sticker next to it which reads: ‘I am a big, fat hypocrite.’”
–letter in the Naples Daily News

THURSDAY: Michael, the wandering minstrel, had booked me into the delightfully modest Pink House Motel—the only one on the island—which overlooks the water in Goodland, an isolated suburb at the southeast tip, with a handful of restaurants and bars but no shops. To be self-sufficient one must drive four miles to the Wynn Dixie supermarket in the main part of Marco, a relatively affluent community popular with retirees who delight in propping up their mailboxes with cement sea lions or porpoises. I had flown into Fort Myers and on the 40-mile drive down couldn’t help but notice how law-abiding Floridians appear to be about the speed limit.
    Michael Ward-Bergeman was here for a New Year’s Eve concert, the 365th and last of an entire year of playing daily gigs in many parts of the U.S. as well as Venezuela and Europe. “I began to wonder about what it would be like to perform every day” he told me when we met last summer. “Would a momentum develop? Would I discover something new about myself, about music, about others. It became clear that 2011 was the year to do it”.
    Settling into my new home, with nothing to do, I noticed that the television had 100 channels and accidentally stumbled onto the greatest movie ever made: That’s Entertainment. (It’s in three installments). The Marx Brothers…Abbott and Costello… Lena Horne, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire dancing with Anne Miller…Judy Garland with Mickey Rooney….Gene Kelley dancing with a twin clone…every famous bit from every MGM movie ever made. These were our heroes and heroines, our idols and mentors, and in the days before television the secular gods we all shared. How gracious and grand America now seems to have been in retrospect. Maybe That’s Entertainment should be a mandatory class in the schools of today.

FRIDAY: Naples Botanical Gardens was the venue for today’s concert and our party—which now included Michael’s singer girlfriend, Yulene, and his friend Oscar and wife Anne—admired the floral displays, herb garden, banana palms and fountains as Michael prepared his equipment. He fetches, carries and sets up everything himself while Oscar videotapes endlessly (eventually there’ll be a movie). Understandably, his adventures have been many including getting a hug from his kindergarten teacher at the Long Island elementary school he had attended and a brief appearance at the Zuccotti Park occupation but it was hard to equal the moment here in the Naples garden when a small boy with a watering can walked across the set pausing only to pour water on Michael’s feet. Unperturbed he kept on playing.

Michael and Yulene after the Naples Gig

Michael and Yulene after the Naples gig

SATURDAY: By late afternoon we were gathering at Goodland’s Little Bar restaurant ready for the evening performance which began in time for the early dinner. The place was packed, with Michael and his equipment squeezed into a tiny corner near the door, a cubby hole that became even more crowded when shared by Yulene (who sang in both Spanish and English) and Michael’s friend Cary, who often plays with him in England. Everything had led to this triumphant final gig—40,000 of miles of driving ($4,000 in gas costs alone) and a total of 80,000 traveling miles altogether, all in a single year The noise was terrific, diners largely ignoring the music to continue with their clamorous conversations. Our group was joined by some more of Michael’s fans and friends, including his mother who lives in Florida. It was late evening when it all ended and back we went to our motel to watch Time Square’s New Year celebration on television.

SUNDAY: Off we went, in two cars, to take a boat trip in the Everglades. But this was no ordinary vessel but an airboat, an ear-splittingly noisy vehicle with its rear engine and propeller enclosed in a steel cage to keep stray body parts or anything else from intruding. Passengers are obliged to wear padded earmuffs, removing them at the occasional stops where the guide halts his high-speed swooping in and out of lagoons to offer some information. Flat-bottomed airboats, with nothing below the water line, are essential in shallow waters (they’re commonly used to save victims in flooded areas) and supposedly invented by the aircraft designer, Glenn Curtis, a friend of Alexander Graham Bell’s in Canada. They were introduced to the Everglades in the 1920s, before which boats had to be propelled by punt or from somebody in the water pushing them. High spot of the trip was a visit to a very sleep alligator, obviously a regular venue on the watery tour, which barely bothered to open an eye as a fresh group of visitors arrived.

MONDAY: Today, with no gig for Michael for the first time in a year, Michael and I finally got around to checking out the local papers. These turned out to be a disappointingly lame. Tabloid pages daubed with lavish color were crammed with ads. All offered the familiar round up of fluffy soft features, mostly syndicated, about cooking, gardening, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, tide tables; very little of substance. Both dailies were part of chains, with the Sun-Times (part of Gannett’s USA Today empire) reporting on the mysterious firing of a local police chief and some bland letters from readers, one of whom complained about the brightness of the new street lights: “too big, too green, too tall, too industrial—more suitable for a parking lot”. The even blander Marco Eagle (Scripps Howard) reported the close of the snook fishing season and the council’s agreement to allocate $20,000 for July 4 fireworks. The local weekly, Coastal Breeze, carried an advice column Ask Simba, ostensibly by a parrot, but Simba’s response to a question asking about life on the island seemed eerily similar to the message from the tourist office.
    Asked for an account of a typical 2011 gig, Michael offered the following:

GIG #347 @ Buena Vista Deli, Miami, FL
December 13, 2011


I was due to pick Oscar up at Miami airport later that evening, so I planned to arrange a gig somewhere close before heading over there. I had a nice lunch at a restaurant in Little Haiti and recalled the deli I had stopped at back in January. It took me some time driving around to find it. Inside, there were two women serving behind the counters.
"Could I please speak with a manager?"
They pointed to another woman in the corner.
"Would you like some music today?"
She gave me a puzzled look (which, with 346 gigs behind me I was well used to at this point).
"We don't do music here, but you could try speaking with the owner about playing in the bistro next door. He is having lunch there now."
The bistro bartender pointed out a man dining with a statuesque black woman.
I recognized him right away[ as one of the guys fixing the door].
"Hello. I stopped here back in January when you guys were fixing the door and played you a tune. I need a gig today and was wondering if I could play here."
He looked at me for a moment as he flicked through his memories. Then he stood up and smiled.
"Yes, I remember. Where would you like to play?"
I thought the deli would be best, so we both headed back over there.
"You are welcome anytime," he said as we entered.
"He is going to play here," he told the surprised manager.
I set up at table in the corner. An old man was eating lunch a few tables over. He listened for a while, then got up to head outside and gave me a smile and thumbs up. He came back after a few minutes and sat closer to me, directly across. I played the old Cuban song,
Y Tu Que Has Hecho.
He began to cry, a few tears making their way slowly down his cheeks. When I finished he spoke his first words to me.
"My mother used to sing and play that song on piano for me. I am from Cuba. I have lived here in Miami for about 50 years."

1/21/12

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