As street performers, people considered us fair game for whatever reason. Some wanted to unburden their secrets, others desired to share their own stories, and occasionally a person just decided to mess with us. The following are just a few of these tales throughout our adventures.
A Blip in the Radar.
An elaborate Hoax.
People chose curious and elaborate ways of approaching us, as if the very nature of legerdemain on the street invited immediate intimacy, unwanted or not.
A familiar suit in New York introduced himself after a show we’d done on 6th Avenue, not far from Radio City. We’d noticed him watching us perform for several days in a row. He said he worked for NBC and wanted to talk to us about a possible gig, so he treated Jim and I to lunch a block away at the Hilton on West 54th. A polite and well-spoken man, he gave us his business card and presented this idea for a television show that had been pitched to him.
In his telling, he painted a portrait for us of a historical thriller taking place in London during the Elizabethan era, when the colorful city was squalid yet captivating, lively yet treacherous. In detail, he described scenes where public entertainment consisted of street performers, hangings, bear baiting. He took us through cobblestone streets teeming with politicians and conspirators, vagabonds, bandits, and tricksters. He illustrated the character of a street magician, who played a small but important role in the spy game and how vital that the portrayal was authentic, particularly the magic. He wanted to hire Jim as a consultant to coach an actor in street magic effects as well as switches and picking pockets. We couldn’t believe an opportunity like this passed our way, and spent hours talking with him about different magic effects that could pose as acts of intrigue.
The business man, brushing invisible crumbs off his costly gold cuff links, asked us to meet him the following afternoon around two at his office on the 52nd floor of Rockefeller Plaza in the RCA building, where we’d talk further. Jim and I floated out of the restaurant, psyched about being considered a part of a pilot series.
Excited, we rode up the elevator the next day in our busking attire, undeterred by the receptionist’s cold looks as we approached her domain.
When I presented the man’s business card and said we had an appointment with him for two o’clock, she seemed puzzled. “No one by that name works here,” she said and pointed a nail at the phone numbers on the card., “And those don’t match any numbers for our NBC offices.”
Shocked and then angered by the bizarre, elaborate hoax, we couldn’t believe he’d sucker-punched us—a major blip in our radar. Who was he? What would possess someone to make up such an outlandish story? Smarting for days, we never could figure out why and never laid eyes on him again.
A Tale of
Taken with my Pinocchio show in the French Quarter, the manager of the Lakeside shopping center in the suburb of Metairie, hired me
to work with Santa.
During the last week of Christmas shopping at the mall, not only did kids get their pictures taken with Santa, the package offered a bonus photo with Pinocchio.
I waited behind my cart, a new rig that allowed me to stand, a step up from sitting on a stool with my old rig. I stretched, yawned, and batted my eyes, the sequins pasted on my eyelids flashing in the light. But the crowd of kids in front of me stood in shock—traumatized, not thrilled. One started screaming, another broke into tears, and the rest followed. It was total pandemonium.
Parents chased after toddlers who fled the scene in terror, and those unable to calm down their kids in the throes of hysterics picked them up and hauled them off. Both the manager and I were horrified. He wasted no time hustling me out of there while saying he just didn’t get it. Neither did I. It was an odd psychological phenomenon, a tale of two sides—kids in the suburbs were freaked out by my character as opposed to those in the Quarter who loved it.
I waited outside in the giant parking lot for a taxi, shaken by my fifteen minutes of infamy. By the time the cab dropped me back at our apartment on Dumaine in the Quarter, far from the hell of suburbia, I laughed at the sheer lunacy of it all.
Other buskers relentlessly teased me for days. They’d stop by my spot on Jackson Square, scream in mock horror, and run away. One witty soul yelled out, “PINOCCHIO unleashes MASS HYSTERIA in MALL!”
The Hustlers on
Hustlers worked the shell game on one end of a main shopping street called the Kalverstraat,
one of our favorite spots to busk.
They knelt on a piece of cardboard laid out flat on the ground, using matchbox tops as shells and bits of foil from cigarette packs rolled into peas. A beefy guy, adept despite his meaty fingers, struggled to his feet. Pain reflected in his broad face and ice blue eyes.
He said to Jim, “I can see in your eyes you know the moves before they are done.”
“Gambling’s a sucker’s game,” Jim replied, the top of his head barely reaching the blond’s shoulders.
A strangled cough shook the man. I looked up, staring at the thick network of scar tissue braided through one of his eyebrows and down a cheek, but he ignored me and jabbed a finger at Jim’s servante.
“I want to know these cups of yours.” He held out his hands, palms down, and they twitched and jerked as if afflicted by palsy. “See? I have lost my nerve. No one knows of this. How do my people survive? This terrible thing happening to me is no good. Show me how to make the cups work.” His eyes pivoted from Jim to something behind us. An ugly look cut across his face. I turned around. Two cops hurried toward us to break up the group of gamblers.
Jim said, “We’re headed to the tourist center café on the Leidseplein. Come see me.” With a hand wave, the Romany melted into the stream
“He isn’t losing his nerve,” I said. “He’s sick. Looks like symptoms of Parkinson’s, just like my dad.” “That makes sense. And he doesn’t want to admit it.”
At exactly five o’clock, the Romany sat down at our table. A young girl slipped into the seat next to him. Her eyes fastened onto me. “Show me how to make the cups work,” he said, leery of the surroundings. The girl shifted uneasily in her chair.
“Show me your method of picking pockets,” Jim shot back.
And he did. Then Jim demonstrated all sixty-four moves of the Cups and Balls. Afterward, something spooked the two of them because they vanished from the café as silently as they had appeared. When we looked out the window, they disappeared behind a large platform stage being erected on the square for the Festival of Fools.
We never saw them again.
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