“Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But I always will be true.” ~Tom Waits
Another story from the street: It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Yesterday was full of fellowship and love with Dawn’s family. This past week has been full of triggered memories, so I was awash in nostalgia. I thought it would be interesting and fun to dig out the street table and do some busking in uptown Charlotte. Sharpen my wit, work on some new material and street test some ideas. So … I put on my armor (vest, bowler, apron, tie-dyed shoes) and set forth to ambush the unwary with laughter, amazement and love.
I set up in my old haunt at the corner of College and Trade. Nice traffic to and from the arena and outside my safety net within the EpiCentre. I wanted honest reaction and immediate feedback. Be careful what you ask for …
I ran through a few sets and had some fun people. Toward the end of one routine I notice a young (mid thirties?) African American man hovering around the outskirts. My initial impression was that of Theo, the wisecracking thief from the first “Die Hard” film. As the hat came down and the crowd slowly dispersed, ‘Theo’ sidled up to stand beside me. He had a handful of tracts. Uh-oh …
“Why do you stand here seducing people with your evil and witchcraft? Don’t you know Jesus promised Hell to all those who invoke sorcery?”
I attempted to compare my act with movies … actor playing the part of a magician, right? He had none of it, the more I tried to calmly and rationally explain my position, the louder and more rabid he became, trying to over-talk and over-volume me. Finally I gave up and reset my table to draw another crowd. ‘Theo’ tried to step in between me and the people I was talking to, but he was rebuked by a nice lady who was just trying to enjoy the show. Next he tried snatching my buttons and sticker off the table, but I just took them out of his hands gently. No idea what he thought that would accomplish. as I took my materials back ‘Theo’ shouted:
“Now he’s trying to steal my Bible! Someone call the cops!!”
I pointed out that he had no Bible to steal. He cried that it was on his cell phone and I had tried to rip it out his hands to break it. By now we had a nice little audience, including a bike cop who heard the commotion and came over to investigate. I returned to the group and started in on my opener, trying hard to ignore the argument that was taking place just behind me. ‘Theo’ was telling the officer that I had tried to knock his tracts from his hand and steal his Bible. I had ‘assaulted’ him by poking him with my belly. The cop (a guy I know, he’s watch many a street show and knows exactly what my demeanor is and how I deal with people) took me aside and asked if any of the accusations were true. Of course they weren’t, but he had to ask. ‘Theo’ demanded that he write up a report, but he declined as there were no witnesses, no one was injured and ‘Theo’ was clearly still in possession of his property. The cop asked ‘Theo’ to move to another part of the street, but (being the fine, upstanding American he surely is) ‘Theo protested that he could stand anywhere and say what he wished, “Read the First Amendment!”
I turned back to the group waiting for me at my table and determined to just ignore him. ‘Theo’ began walking in a circle around me and the crowd, which was getting bigger due to the spectacle. He started chanting – and I’m quoting directly now:
“I rebuke this sorcerer in the name of Jesus! Do not let his lies infect the minds of the innocent! He is a child of Lucifer, I beseech you Jesus to bring a swift death to him! Infect his children with cancer! Cast him down in the dirt and let him suffer among the vipers!”
This was repeated as he march around and around. I was stunned to say the least. It took everything within me to NOT take a swing at him. I was an angry human, and I’ve been known to use my fists in my darker past. Meanwhile, the crowd grew and grew. Money was tossed on the table before the hat even came near, cheers and laughter filled the street. I know some of it was put on in order to drown the rantings of ‘Theo’, but it was an awesome spectacle! I wound them up to a fever and ‘Theo’ fanned the flames. On a strictly monetary note, I doubled what my usual take would be for a night like this. Three things happened in that little time span: 1) I ‘preached’ my philosophy of love and art. 2) People were inspired. I didn’t give up, even in the face of harsh adversity. Allow me that taste of pride, please. I won’t dwell there, but I’m proud I held my ground and didn’t engage him on his level. and 3) ‘Theo’ killed his credibility and made a fool of himself. He preached hate, and hate has no place in a Hannibal show.
I finished, let the crowd go before we blocked the sidewalk traffic completely and set about straightening up. There were now 4 or 5 of Charlotte’s finest and a couple of security guards from the Epicentre and the Ritz-Carlton around. ‘Theo’ was very upset that they weren’t doing anything to stop me. He was demanding to see my permit, cursing and insulting me to my face. It made me kind of sad for him. ‘Theo’ came in close for one last prayer. He whispered it so just I could hear:
“You’re lucky there are cops here and cameras. Next time I see you, it will be just you and me. You remember the story of when Peter cut off the soldier’s ear? Well, that’s me. You won’t be laughing then.”
It was then that I let my emotions and tongue get the better of me. “I’m laughing now, though. You just helped me make a ton of money and a whole bunch of new fans. You were my bitch, and you danced right to my tune. I hope you’re here every night I work. Don’t expect a cut, though.” (Please forgive me, I feel horrible about that explosion, but this is full disclosure, warts and all.) ‘Theo’ was so outraged I thought he was going to swing at me right in front of everyone. I packed up my table and walked off. I wasn’t the bigger man; I stooped to his level, but I did walk away. As I went, I heard the officers restraining ‘Theo’ from following me. He was screaming about his rights and how Jesus was going to rain fire down on me.
I don’t know how to wrap this up. What did we learn here, friends? Take a long, honest look at what you are sowing. Are you spreading love or anger? Listen to the words you say. There was a passage Dawn used ot quote to the kids; she drew it out and it hung in our kitchen. “Life and Death are Created in the Mouth.” I wonder what the children in my audience thought of the whole carnival? Whose message got through the strongest? What was sown in their hearts?
Finally: I can’t count on ‘Theo’ being there all the time. Who wants a job protesting me? We could clean up!
“I know a place where a royal flush,
Can never beat a pair,
And even Thomas Jefferson,
Is On The Nickel over there.” ~ quotes from Tom Waits are from the song “On the Nickle”. It seemed appropriate.