Sunday, August 21, 2011


I've been reading a novel called "Shantaram" all about a New Zealand guy's adventures in India.  It reminds me so much of stuff I did when I first got out of college and took off to Europe.  I'd spent the summer after graduation working on a dairy farm in Susquehanna County. My living expenses were next to nothing, so I asked my boss not to pay me until I finished in October, that way I would have all the money in one lump sum and not squander it in little chunks throughout the season.   So check it out... I was working six days a week, 10-12 hours a day, putting up bailed hay mostly, but other jobs as well; cleaning the barn, helping with milking.  I got paid $500 a month; $2500 for the summer.  Granted, that was back in 1978, but those were still dirt-cheap wages for some really hard work.  But I loved working on the farm!  Loved getting all pumped up and sweaty.

At the end of October, after helping run the farm for three weeks while the owner was off elk hunting in Colorado, I took my little fist full of dollars and went and bought an airline ticket to London.  The departing flight started me on a two year adventure as a busker in Europe.  I played guitar and sang, some of my own tunes, but mainly American folk music and blues that the English, French and Italians loved.  I had a partner named Wayne Stanley who was an ex-pat from Missouri or somewhere like that who had married a French girl named Sylvia.  He hadn't been back to the States in 15 years when I met him.  I always had a feeling he had run into some trouble back home.  He did allude to having performed in some blue light films while living in San Francisco, but he was pretty tight on wine the night he made that admission and I never was able to get him to talk about it again.

Then there was Milk-boy.  He was from Malaysia and i have often wondered what ever became of him.  Unfortunately, even though I had worked with him nearly everyday for two years, I never knew his real name.  Everyone just called him Milk-boy.  He was our "bottler," the person who collected the money when we performed.   It was a perfect name for him.  He was a little guy, less than five feet tall but cute as a button with big oval eyes and straight, jet black hair styled in a pageboy cut.  He could almost have been mistaken for a girl except that he had no curves and a his ass was no larger then the palm of my hand.  

A good bottler was always hard to find.  It takes a real talent to get tourists to part with their money no matter how good the performance is, particularly American or German tourists. In Paris, the French and Italians were always a far better audience.  We went out of our way to avoid the high-density tourist spots.  Instead we played the neighborhood cafe terraces, movie cues, the metro always and in the spring, we would travel to Cannes for the annual film festival and then work our way back through the smaller towns of southern and central France.  I usually played with just one other guy, but sometimes we would put a whole band together, depending on the event.  

Anyway, Milk-boy earned his name not only by his incredible ability to milk the crowd, but after the show, when others were drinking coffee, beer or wine, our Malaysian friend almost always ordered milk; usually a pint glass of it.  He was wise for his years, for instead of wasting his money celebrating another day of living, Milk-boy was saving his cash for things like orthodontia, two apartments in Paris (one where his girlfriend stayed and one for his more bohemian endeavors) and a whole bunch of other enterprises that he underwrote with his tax-free street earnings.  Unlike a singer, Milk-boy could work eight to ten hours easily, bottling for all sorts of different performers. If a vocalist tried to put in that kind of day, he'd blow his voice out for sure and be good for nothing.  

So why milk instead of tea, or a fruit juice, or even water?  Well, that was always a matter of contention.  You see, tiny though he was, Milk-boy had a knack for attracting scores of older women.  Maybe it was a mothering thing or maybe his size was just so non-threatening, but mature ladies, often married and well heeled, seem to flock to the kid.  And so the legend grew-- and I really don't know if it was true-- that the reason Milk-boy drank milk was because he was always taking penicillin to combat the STD's he'd acquired form his various paramours.  I have to admit, the argument  that antibiotics didn't mix with alcohol and that milk was a rejuvenator of decimated digestive cultures, was pretty convincing.  Still, I always felt the rumor was seeded by a clutch of jealous drunks at the Mazet Cafe, for not only did they covet Milk-boy's financial success, they also envied his natural charisma.  

I'll say one other thing for sure about Milk-boy.  He had the stinkiest Adidas in the world. When we traveled and had to share a hotel room with him, we always made sure he left his shoes in the hall.  

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