Singing Bag Ladies
Back in the eighties and nineties when Bag Ladies were still kind of at their height in NYC, I would get asked to dress up as one as I was pretending to panhandle to my singing telegram recipient. I would strip down to a leotard or Tuxedo and grab a Top Hat out of one of my many bags and sing my telegram. The song of course, like any other Telegram, depends on the occasion.
The first bag lady telegram I did, I brought my friend Meredith with me. We met up at her Woman’s residence where she was living at the time. While in her Lobby, we came across a Bag Lady hanging out. “Study her mannerisms”, Meredith said “and come upstairs”. I studied the bags and miss- matched clothes attired woman and went upstairs with Meredith to her room. “Let me see what you got” I showed her my bag of raggedy clothes and she handed me a ratty old rain coat she never wore.
We later went to the very up scaled restaurant where the telegram was to be performed. After changing in the ladies room to my mismatched attire, Meredith’s Raincoat, gloves with the finger tips cut off, a crochet Hat covering half my face. A Seventies buttoned down skirt with the buttons buttoned in the wrong holes, a paisley shirt, Meredith’s Rain coat and an array of Woolworth and Duane Reade bags, my contact person pointed my recipient out to me. Some of the Restaurant staff was the only people in the Restaurant who were informed about me. I made my way over to my recipient’s table with a paper coffee cup containing a few coins. While at the table, I made the same speech I often heard bag Ladies make on the Subways saying about not eating for a couple of days, even grabbing a Dinner Roll off of the Recipient’s Plate and eating it and with a full mouth, I stated that I was even willing to sing for my dinner. Ignoring my recipients refusal, I proceeded to take my coat and shirt off, exposing a Black Leotard and Bow Tie. I whipped a Top Hat out of one of my bags and belted out my customized Silly Birthday song. With the exception of the sender, the people at the table and the surrounding tables who were at first all horrified at the sight of me were now roaring with laughter and applause. Later on, Meredith told me that prior to my song, about five people came over to the Maitre D complaining about a Bag Lady. He calmed them all down by telling them it was all being taken care of.
Another Bag Lady Telegram was to be in the opposite type of neighborhood. It was a Birthday surprise for a man who owned a Clothing Store in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. Since this was an on location surprise, I had to change at his Girlfriend’s (also the sender of the Telegram) Apartment a couple of Blocks away. This meant that I had to walk three Blocks dressed as a Bag Lady! Most people didn’t give me a second look. While passing a Police Car, one of the Officers sprung up starting to take action. I quickly responded by saying “Don’t worry, it’s just a costume”. He shrugged his shoulders and waved me off.
When getting to the store, my recipient wasn’t even there yet, after all that! A few minutes later, he walked in and took one look at me going through his clothes, and instantly said “Ok! Get out!” At that point I quickly started taking my shirt off to expose my leotard and Bow Tie, but he still didn’t figure it out yet, all the while physically dragging me outside saying “That’s it!! You’re out of here! I’m not in the mood!” I had no choice but to break out of character by saying “Wait! It’s a Singing Telegram!” Looking over at his Girlfriend, he realized that he’s been had. I then went back into character and went on with my routine. Later on, he apologized up and down for getting rough with me and explained that he had just come from a funeral of a close friend and was in a terrible mood, and then handed me a nice tip. The abuse we endure to earn a living!