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A Conversation with Paul McCarthy 

 

You know that guy who patrols the South Side on his black Honda Big Ruckus scooter with the "Ron Paul for President" sticker, blasting music -- often classical or opera? That's Paul McCarthy, a retired electrician and Vietnam-era Army veteran. McCarthy, 60, spoke with City Paper at the Beehive Coffeehouse in the company of Matthew Nickl, whom McCarthy had met in line a few moments before.

How do you decide what music to play on your bike?

I like to play all the genres of music, just so the thing doesn't get pigeonholed. I have people walk up to me and give me CDs on the street because they like to hear their music. I take it home first and listen to it, to see if I like it. There's a lot of crap out there.

Do people comment on your selections?

I get a lot of favorable stuff for like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, [opera singer Andrew] Bocelli -- a surprisingly broad range of people like him. Not so much on the contemporary stuff like Gorillaz, that I like personally. Willie Nelson, I get good comments on.

You also feature local street bands?

There's the G-String Band and Albania Mania, who is the first street band I've seen here where everybody that walked by was tipping them. They have an accordion, a trombone, a saxophone, clarinet, tambourine. It's kind of a gypsy genre.

Why do you like street performers?

To me, it's not like a panhandler walking up to you and trying to fleece the money for nothing. They've learned something, they're applying it. And they make the region sound better, rather than just street noise.

Panhandlers bother you?

Even the ones that are just sitting around begging, I'll say, "If you cleaned up the area around where you're sitting, people'd be more generous. But when you sit in a pile of litter, people aren't going to support you."

What do they say?

They just look at you like you're talking a foreign language. I mean, they're three feet from a garbage can, and they're throwing this stuff on the sidewalk. And then they expect you to donate money to them. I'm not going to. I go into businesses down there [on East Carson Street] and tell them to sweep their sidewalks.

Do they?

Some of them do. In fact, I quit eating in one restaurant down here the other day because I went in there, I ordered my food, I said to the girl -- two waitresses, two customers -- I said to the waitress, "Can you send somebody outside to clean up?" And she went into this tirade, about [how] she's been working since 8 o'clock. I said, "Look, I'm not telling you to do it. Flip a coin with that girl." She said, "I'm training her." I said, "Well, maybe handling a broom's a good part of the training."

Why the Ron Paul sticker?

He's the first conservative and Republican that I'm going to vote [for] in 40 years of voting. He has a consistent record voting against raising the debt. He voted against the war in Iraq, he's voted against the Patriot Act.

Matthew Nickl [who sits down to butter a bagel]: Oh, definitely, Ron Paul.

McCarthy: We send these troops over in the guise of spreading democracy, yet look at all the violations of voting rights here. ... To me, democracy died in 2000. When they stole the White House, it died. I would rather have a constitutional monarchy, because you can dissolve the parliament at any time.

Nickl: I'm more into the anarcho-syndicalism type thing.

McCarthy: I don't necessarily like anarchy, because to me, accountability.

Nickl: It's accountability for everything you do. It doesn't put one man in charge.

Are you a Libertarian?

McCarthy: What I consider myself more is a pragmatic capitalist. If you apply the money correctly, you make it accountable down to every nickel you spend.

Nickl: I'm 18 years old. What can I do to really help myself out?

McCarthy: You know what I really tell people? Get an education and get out of this country. Go to France. Learn French. If I was 18 now, I would leave the country. I joined the Army at 17. I was in Germany. If I'd have spoken the language better, I'd have stayed there.

Nickl: Any suggestions on where I can learn French?

McCarthy: Find a Canadian -- because they speak both languages. The best thing to do is find a girl, and go to bed with her. You'll learn a language more in bed than you will anywhere else. That's how I learned the rudimentary German I knew.

Nickl: I'm gonna think about that. I really am.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL

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