The Singing Beggars.

You know when you're confronted with any kind of Subway Performers who do their business on the train that they'll only be around for a stop, two at the most, and then they're moving on. That gives them just enough time to show how poor they are, show off their skill, and walk around with a hat or a cup or a bag and accept your donations with humble replies of "God Bless."

So, when The Singing Beggars - my name, not theirs - stepped up to the front of my train this particular day, I already knew the drill. This time, I was dealing with a quartet: four black guys singing some doo-wop number, complete with big, tall, bass-voice accompanyment in the form of a seductive deep-throated slow-rap, and the three backup performers dancing in sync behind the slightly more talented lead. It's not often you see such coordination, such craft, out of four disheveled beggars. What the hell, so I ponied up a buck when they came around, as did a couple other people that I could see. I bet they made $5.35 all told from that one car alone. Split up four ways, that's not too shabby for two minutes' work.

Which is true, because they got this all done in the time it took for those two stops to run their course. The thing is, after that second stop - when performers usually leave to go on to the next train car, having believed this one to be dry - they stuck around. I thought to myself, "Oh, that's cool, looks like we'll be getting an encore for our generosity."

That's when the guns came out of their waistbands. They had everyone freaking out - myself included, though I was smart and got my wallet out right away. Nothing more nerve-wracking than trying to fumble for your wallet with a gun in your face. At the time, I didn't really understand what the whole Singing Beggars routine was all about, until one of them got to me. He waved his hand and said, "Naw, it's OK. You can put that away."

That's when I realised: they were only robbing from the people who didn't donate any money! So, let that be a lesson.