It was warm and sunny on this first Sunday in June, and I was sitting in a soft chair behind my card table stacked with about 150 or so CDs that I was trying to sell to people walking by on Broadway near 77th Street on the Upper West Side of New York City.
These CDs were some of the remaining 4,092 still in the collection I had accumulated over the last 50 years. Old-time radio programs, old Broadway musicals, singers of the ’30s through the ’80s, and especially the odds and ends of all the old Yiddish stage, screen, and radio stars.
“Do you have Paul Simon’s Graceland?” said a thin, short, dark-skinned man. He was not a black American; his clothes and hair looked to be from some Third World country. I say clothes, for he was wearing something that Johnny Weissmuller would have sported in one of his early Tarzan movies.
“Yes, I have it for $6,” I replied.
“OK, for you it will be $4. But only if you tell me where you are from and why you are in New York City.”
“I wanted that CD of Graceland because I auditioned with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo singers, but I didn’t make the final cut.” He told me that was the group that was featured with Paul Simon on that Graceland recording. Auditions were held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I, of course, knew that. I asked the guy what he was doing in Manhattan. My mistake. He started his story and I could hardly get a word in edgewise, and all the while he was standing in front of my display table blocking passersby trying to see what I was selling.
“My name is Ashwonie and I am from Zimbabwe. I live in the capital city of Harare, where I am the owner of the largest touring company. We take our touring guests all over the country to see and photograph our animals. I lead the guests through rain forests and old trails that most travelers have never been through.”
“So why are you here in New York City?”
“We need more tourists from America. I am here to visit our embassy, and see what I can do to speed up visas and the necessary paperwork so that tourists will have an easy time when planning to tour Zimbabwe.
“I recently,” he continued, “had a group from one of your leading advertising agencies, and I want to visit them to see if our government will allocate money for an advertising campaign to get more Americans to visit us.”
“How come you speak English so well?” I asked, impressed by his entrepreneurial nature.
“My parents own a large department store in Harare and I went to an American school. I learned English, and then in college I learned more languages so as to be able to converse with tourists from all over the world.”
“Tell me about your tours.”
“My tour groups usually comprise about six to eight people. We ride in an air-conditioned bus and carry photo equipment our guests require to have a remarkable time for photographing the animals we see. There are rhinoceros, baboons, giraffes, zebras, porcupines, otters, and badgers. Plus others, but I can’t name them all at this time.”
“Do you carry a gun for emergencies?”
“Naturally. I also have each tourist eat a ball of garlic so the smell will penetrate far enough in the paths that we take when walking through some of the forests to alert other tourists that it is humans and not animals who might be in front or in back of their group of walkers.”
“That makes sense. Otherwise, it could be dangerous.”
“I also carry a very large bag of poppy seeds when I take tourists through the forests. In many cases there are no regular paths and we make our own path as we advance through the brush. I drop a goodly amount of those seeds as we walk along so that we can never get lost, and I have an easy method of returning quickly and safely. We return to our bus by going back and following the poppy-seed trail that I have left.”
“That’s smart, but what happens if the animals have eaten all those poppy seeds which you dropped?”
“No problem. I have previously flavored the entire bag of seeds with butter and this emits a rancid smell, which is a turnoff to the animals. All the seeds are intact to lead us back out of the forest.”
I took his $4 and gave him the Graceland CD.