Tag Archives: homeless

Gimme Shelter

I’m a magician, storyteller, busker, motivator, mentor and a showman. Yet … I try to avoid labels. I am Hannibal. I’m the only one that can do that. I follow my road and I do my utmost to enjoy the scenery (whatever it is) while I walk it. I’ve won some awards, but I’ll never be waving them in people’s faces. I’ve lost more contests than I’ve won. Experience!

Last week I went out busking for experience. Money is fine at the moment, but for great rehearsal time, especially of material ‘in development’, there’s nothing better than a raw, honest audience that has no stake in liking you, or even sticking around. Plus, and I love this term, I hijacked many souls with joy. I put in some sweat equity and forged some time … the nights were beautiful and the people were great. I truly love working the street in the spring and fall.

A young gentleman approached me between sets and we made some small talk. People are fascinated by this kind of theatre and the people who brave the unknown, the unusual and present their craft. I like to think they get to live a little vicariously outside their lives through me. Meh. Ego?
At any rate, we got to taking about street performance and street preaching and street hustlers. He mentioned that he did some volunteer work at a few shelters and that the people there would enjoy a performance like mine. Did I ever do charity work?  I told him that I do, occasionally, and asked what he had in mind. It seems one of the organizations works with women and children, homeless and in poverty.

Have you ever had a moment when your heart just gave you direction, and you knew instantly that it was the absolute right thing to do? I’m not trying to get too ‘woo’ on you, here, but I caught a spark. Over the course of the next hour, and filling in details for a couple of days, we put together an event. As you know, I occasionally throw a dinner theater evening with local restaurants. I thought: why not give this audience that experience? Here’s what we did.

The children were in one room, a sort of makeshift cafeteria. I was to perform for 20-30 minutes and then they were going to have dinner. While I was with them, the grownup women had a ‘candlelit’ quiet meal. Because I really wanted my hands in as many aspects of this as I could, I made two crock-pots of spaghetti and one of beef stew. The food was a hit, and I had nothing to bring home after.
When I finished my show with the kids, I moved to the other room and performed my after-dinner show for the women. Now … I don’t do kid’s shows. I was very nervous about bringing them quality … very. To my delight, they were a perfect, respectful audience. they got my corny jokes, they were right with me for the magic parts, I really couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids. They loved the show and I fell in love with them.

The show for the grown-ups? EVEN BETTER. They were happy, they were sarcastic, we had some great interaction and a lovely chemistry. The elf boots SLAYED them and I had a line after the show to have a boot made. (You have any idea how hard it is to do origami with tears in your eyes?)
They sang along to my song. They SANG ALONG to “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”. I stayed and swapped some stories and yarns and a few close-up card tricks.

I’ve worked all over the world. I’ve never been paid better than I was for this show. They made me wealthy. I’m repeating the experience for a different group later this week. I really cannot wait.

All of that to say: You have something to offer someone. You have talent and ability to lift someone out of their situation, if only for a moment. If only for a day. You can read books, brush and cut hair, give manicures … anything to make someone on the low feel loved and valuable.
I distracted them from harshness, I showed them love and joy and card tricks. It cost me nothing. Nothing. They left their harsh reality and saw … hope?

In the best of worlds, gods, I wish for that. To give someone hope …

You can, too.

 

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Mr. Nickles

Speed Street Charlotte is a unique street festival. Themed around NASCAR, it takes place on the weekend of the Coca Cola 600 in May. Several full city blocks are closed for the weekend and tens of thousands of people crowd the streets of Uptown to celebrate. The event has hosted Carrie Pickler, Styx and Cheap Trick for headliners.

For the past few years I have been hired to work ‘Street’ style magic during the festival in order to add some flavor and fun. That’s where I met Mr. Nickles. That’s not his real name; I only knew him as “Scott”, but I’ve come to think of Scott as Mr. Nickles.

Mr. Nickles is a displaced citizen – an urban outdoorsman – an economic refugee. What my Grandfather used to call a ‘hobo’, my Father called a ‘vagrant’ and I used to simply refer to as ‘homeless’. I don’t know the current PC term. Mr. Nickles is a man in an unfortunate, tough situation. (I’ll discuss flowering up a problem with pretty language another time.) He is a human being.

I was working my table, gathering some crowds and doing my magic thing when Mr. Nickles ambled over to see what the fuss was about. He seemed a bit put out with the crowd, but seemed to enjoy what I was offering. If you’ve seen me work, you know there’s a bit of storytelling before the ‘magic effects’ begin. Mr. Nickles was very attentive, laughing in the right places and getting into the spirit of things. A tourist passed by and dropped a dollar on my table, so I swept it into my hat. Mr. Nickles followed it with his eyes and I remember thinking, “When this bit is over I’m going to buy that man some lunch. He’s enjoying my show and he looks like he could use a pal for a little while.”

Then the effects started. When the first ‘magic moment’ hit, Mr. Nickles was visibly stunned. I let the moment sink in and watched to see his reaction. What happened was unexpected and a bit humorous; he dug down in his pockets and pulled out … a nickle. He placed it carefully on the table where the dollar had landed a moment earlier and he whispered, “Do some more, please.” So I did. After the next ‘magic moment’ in the routine, Mr. Nickles again dug into his pocket and placed another nickle next to the first … and then another, and another.

Every time something magical happened, this gentleman dropped another nickle (no quarters, no dimes, no pennies; it seemed he had only nickles in his pocket.) Every time he plugged another nickle down, he grunted under his breath. “Damn … whoa … huh … gosh …” I began to tricks and crack jokes just for him. The crowd around us got bigger – like this was the show. It was a great moment of theater. The crowd was laughing at us and with us; I was in physical pain from holding my joy in. Mr. Nickles was laughing right along at the whole situation- happiness dancing in his eyes. The nickles piling up on the table added to a very surreal scene.

Inevitably, the time came when he reached in his pocket and came out empty. “Aw” he said, “I can’t watch no more – I’m outta money.” I assured him he could stay – he didn’t need to pay me to watch. (Though, truth be told, I was swiftly running out of material. It was not going to be long before I came up empty, too.) “No” he said, “I’m out. That was a really fun time. I haven’t laughed that hard in years.” He shook my hand and we were startled by the sudden applause of the crowd. They had seen a great show, a wonderfully real, human moment and they were showing their appreciation. I looked back around to see Mr. Nickles walking on down the street. I was about to call out to him when he started making a wide circle, so I watched to see what he would do. Meanwhile, I scooped the pile of silver into my hat. (There really must have been 60 or 70, at least.) I kept an eye on Mr. Nickles, because I intended to give him the tips that were rapidly piling up on the table and in the hat.

Here’s the best part;

As the crowd was just about dispersed, I looked up to find my new friend standing at my elbow. Before I could  say anything, he asked “Hey man, you got any change? I need to make a phone call.”  It seems that he had forgotten giving his money away to me. After a moment I poured the collection of shiny Jeffersons out of my hat for him. You would have thought it was a pile of gold bricks. His face split into a huge grin and he all but jumped up and down in glee. He stuffed his pockets full, and then I bought us a couple of NASCAR hot dogs.

I have worked for some great, memorable audiences. I’ll never forget this guy, ever. He not only made my day – he became a part of a very unique, impromptu, magical show.

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