Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time with my singing potatoes, but lately I find myself remembering an event that happened some 20 years ago. I can’t say exactly why it’s been on my mind these days but it has been on my mind.
As some of you know, I used to be a juggler and a street performer. As such, I would spend most of my time in Washington Square Park with the other jugglers talking about things like the bounce of a good silicone ball, the best type of ignitable fluid to use on juggling torches (lamp oil burns longest but white gas burns brightest), and the best “collection” lines to use while passing the hat. The highlight of my year was attending the International Juggler’s Association convention which is a gathering of hippies, hobbyists and Atlantic City performers that, as you can imagine, makes Kidscreen look like the big time.
One day in the 1980′s, a juggler associate of mine and I went to see a mutual friend who was performing at the toy store, FAO Schwarz. His job was to greet customers when they entered the store and do a little show for them. As it turned out, this was a particularly slow day at FAO Schwarz. We were, in fact, the only two people watching our friend perform in the large, toy-filled lobby. He was juggling, doing silly walks, and occasionally honking a little red horn which echoed throughout the toy store.
After a few minutes, two Hasidic gentlemen came into FAO Schwarz. They had long gray beards and they wore the lovely, austere black coats and big black hats that you often see in the streets of Williamsburg or Jerusalem. The two Hasids paused in the lobby of FAO Schwarz to watch the juggler as he performed his routine. Our friend seemed pleased with the additional attention, and he began to do some of his better tricks. He mimed that he was inside a glass box, he balanced a stuffed alligator on his nose and he ended his routine with a pratfall by some Big Wheels.
The two Hasidic men watched attentively and, at the end of the act, which had been performed mostly for their benefit, they didn’t applaud but, rather, began to speak to each other in low-tones. After a few moments, they approached our friend. He seemed eager to hear what they had to say. Perhaps they would even give him a gig somewhere? The older of the two men gently put his hand on our friend’s shoulder and, with the solemnity of a father talking to a son, he said, “This is no way for a man to make a living.”