Category Archives: Books

I’m currently in the process of getting my first novel published. I’ll give you the inside scoop of the process.

Crumbs of cinnamon buns

“Well, I’m excited to be here and by excited I mean I want to do something, and by something I mean I want to give you the best 20 minutes of entertainment packed into 60 minutes that you or any audience has ever seen.”

Backstage before the show goes up our one man solo production team is bounding about fleet of foot and fogged of mind. As ever I am prepping for one more swig of the unquenchably intoxicating elixir of performance life.

This present decade proceeds at a more measured pace. The previous decade each year I made some 500 appearances before my audiences.  

There is a backward and forward command of your material when working so incessantly. In place of such a regime I am now deploying a more rambling-rollercoaster-improvised style. Like a pesky fly the improviser dashes from one near death like moment to the next dodging the swatting like silence while awaiting another sure laugh to land. The beloved house fly dodges web and window sill while dreaming of succulent crumbs of cinnamon buns. Authentic laughter is no less delicate and uncertain a fated final end.

While working with my show-dog Lacey our five thousand performances once developed was ‘error’-tight with minimal variation between any two performances. Improvisation demands that our work be fueled by cognitive super powers. We live and die by such gambits. Rare is the performer that can rise to the occasion 500 times each and every moment of every show across the timeline of a year. There must be such a talented soul buried out there in this sea of performing humanity.

Between June and July I’m figuring I will launch somewhere near one hundred shows. By the end of July the audiences and performances sent into mayhem, mirth and orbit will then return to earth. Instead of landing the shuttle in the Mojave it will be a Prius motoring southward over and around the Canadian Rockies, pondering life along the Grand Ronde River, lingering on the backside of The Sisters, Oregon and finally safely back in the hangar where we make our home in this sprawling sea of high priced real estate famously named California.

It’s one thing to be the world’s great lover and it is another thing entirely to be the world’s greatest lover’s lover.

Listening to their every word, laughing at their every joke and then it’s back into the bedroom.

All the cards, the flowers and chocolates… and then its back into the bedroom.

This isn’t just about love, this is about the championship of love, you hear that inner voice that says, “go on kid, you can do it, take one more for the team.”

Now you know that there is no way out other than going all the way in.

She’s perfect and you’re perfect. The whole thing is perfect even though you know there is no such thing as perfect and even that’s perfect.

polishing the tile

Mated Pair

June 10th I roll eastbound. The author of Hot Spring Honeymoon will thread his way from one geothermal wonderment to the next. Rehearsing lines, writing more material, finding a good shade tree where I can juggle will be part of each day. Making miles east will be a second duty. There is an art to being somewhere while you are trying to get to somewhere. They are one and the same. Road warriors know how to drink up every inch of the two lane highways.

Once I arrive in Ft. Collins, Colorado I’ll hustle down to Old Town and pitch up and throw a few shows down while I am there enjoying the guest services of my always much younger sister and brother in law.

Rules seem to be important to understand for those people not in the serendipitous business of sidewalk entertainment. The key to a successful career in busking is to never ask for permission and always ask for forgiveness. When ordered to shut down best to move along so as to get along. In a nutshell that’s the long and short to the busking game. Smile, appear to be reasonable, act compassionately toward officials fearful of a creative uprising breaking out upon the sidewalks of their free speech infused constitutionally guaranteed democracy. Street is the ultimate rule of law.

North from Ft Collins we’ll next take on Thermopolis, Wyoming and her astounding geothermally heated waters. After taming that frontier town we’ll circle north then west for Chico Hot Springs on the northernmost boundaries of Yellowstone before stopping in Helena, Montana where I’ll drop my wife so she may return to California for further explorations in all things to do with a major home remodeling project that at that date is scheduled for completion.

For pure comedy I’ll roll north and cross into Canada and streak north where I’ll be appearing at the 35th Edmonton International Street Performers Festival. I first appeared at this much heralded busking tsunami in 1987. All these decades later being invited to appear at the event dwarfs my wildest expectations. There is not a more lucky so and so. More to come

Bop Infused Moonshot

“Try not to applaud when I make a mistake, you’re only reinforcing bad habits.”

Jefferson Street 1980

Coffee and Keyboard

One of the grittiest hand to mouth hustles ever invented in this world of hard knocks is busking. No contracts, no off site gigs— just pure hat and more hat shows. “Hat” is street pidgin for money. Conjuring up legal tender from out of the thin blue is the real magic. Motivating someone you have never seen before to open their wallet pluck out a bill and voluntarily hand it over never ceases to be anything less than the biggest pop you’ll ever know. It is a spine tingling page turner with the best ending you’ve ever experienced.  A reliable pitch works from here to eternity any time, any day, all year long— she’s always there for you. A sweet pitch where you may go play king’s any day you want is life emancipating.

This lightning bolt street performing epiphany hijacked my not yet completed journey to adulthood. Somehow I had come to believe the world I wanted to live in was about running wild and being free. Anxious family and friends thought I was headed toward a cobblestone catastrophe. Destitution and insolvency were bookended plotting points. There is no getting off the road, There were no lucky breaks, no easy streets on this obstacle strewn unpaid parking ticketed path. You can’t undo what you’ve bet your last glimmer of hope on. An emergent busker is a go it alone type drowning in a world insisting on orthodoxy. There has to be no other way out— this is your fated Tombstone. Conformity is a stinking stalemate. Faith in the kindness of strangers is your North Star. You set out to do so many shows, as far as an eye can see, until you’re at risk of being buried in a sea of nickels, dimes and quarters.

Stalling is what you do when the famous ego induced death spiral—fear of rejection—has you cornered and on the ropes. I’d put off trying my luck on the sidewalks of San Francisco so long that the present moment was now a fresh unused January 1980. Waking frightened with a stomach tied in knots I drove into Fisherman’s Wharf. What I can remember was a crazy early morning— the sky a muted overcast blotted daybreak—  Jefferson Street was empty— but for the mournful seagulls, barking sea lions, and this one tentative performer preparing to place his great expectations on the line.

Making it to the tippy top of the small time sidewalk show I’d need to find a way of delivering my best razor sharp fifteen minutes. Running too long was too much and too short added up to too little. All in, from start to finale, was not one second more than one quarter of one hour’s journey to glorious acclaim or crushing defeat.

I jiggered the running order, discarded one routine added another. I invented jokes there and then, whipped up wisecracks on the fly. This is throwing it down. Street performing is about owning every inch of the self-claimed constitutionally guaranteed concrete stage. This is the pedestrian’s coliseum. You are an entertainment gladiator.

Raspy voiced, drained— the grinding first day exacted the last bead of sweat. Sidewalk shows are a monument to repetition. Over and over the same routine altered on the whim and the will was retried and refined. Improvement inched uphill— grudgingly.

In a scalding hot-heartbeat the first weekend flashed by. Twenty-four shows reverberated across the pavement like a trumpeting bop infused Miles Davis scorched earth- note perfect- improvised melodic soul-aching out of this world moon shot. Escape velocity sent this one and only into busking orbit. I was a man on a mission.

Gut wrenching images of audiences walking away before I could pass the hat tortured my lean confidence. Curious youngsters begging parents wanted to stay to see what happened next. Preschoolers recognized the infant mortal fragility disguised beneath my thin busking veneer pleaded whining at full lung to see what further trials this odd bit player would be forced to endure. More than a few lovely’s lingered. A beat cop standing in scuffed shoe leather  ordered I watch my crowd size. Merchants stood in their doorways half curious, inconvenienced, not yet convinced— smoking cigarettes. Assorted stubborn misfits, the grizzled survivors of the sidewalk scene all too pressed by their own scramble to make ends meet had not even a spare moment to fritter away calculating the odds of my surviving. My peers didn’t need to know— they knew. Those relationships would grow if I could make my sidewalk show stick. Jefferson Street was wide open if you were foolish enough. Here was untamed frontier, civilizations western most outpost, an emphatic continental end of the line— the leading edge of some one of a kind infinitely-dubious vocational enterprise.

First and foremost street theater is about profitably stopping people dead in their tracks. Two becomes four, four turns into eight; eight becomes an engaged audience of fifty. Practitioner’s of this centuries old enterprise have an eye, feel the vibe— know how quick they’ll draw a crowd—  how long they dare to hold them. Change the show’s length, alter the pace, adapt to live another day— execution is the whole enchilada. Wily busker’s got this one word— survival— tattooed across their chest— there is no second chance, prosper or perish, show up, play big, be present for the only moment that counts. Get real you overzealous flame throwing heartbreaker’s or sit back down— life is short.

Chicken on the head

“I know what you’re thinking. What a horrible way for a chicken to have to make a living. Well, there are a lot of chickens working at Safeway and they’re not having half as much fun.”

Word Count 2208…

The Chicken on the Head Routine

Uncle Ray’s playing two trumpets simultaneously was his tour de force sidewalk show closer. Squeezing a drum between his knees, strumming a guitar, tapping his drum with a brush, keeping time with a tambourine taped to his boot, wearing a vintage leather aviators helmet, goggles, playing the same four or five songs for the simple reason that the four or five he played were the songs that paid. The dual trumpet bit was  icing on the cake, a signature bit, always the attention grabber.

The two of us shared the same piece of sidewalk, same days of the week and same hours of the day. As audiences go his people were my people, and mine were his. Ray was a colleague. I knew what he knew. There was mutual respect. Banging out three or four hours on Jefferson Street one more day was to defy the odds.

 When Uncle Ray wasn’t working the pitch on Jefferson Street he was in a club. I never asked his age. Best estimate he was a youthful fifty-something. Ray worked his spot, made his nut, spent the rest of the week playing jazz around town in the clubs. The lanky gentleman was a military veteran, served in Viet Nam. Bald, bearded, Ray as the result of a misaligned jaw spoke with an unique palette induced effect. The busking bugler was well loved, had a lady and a colorfully curtained Volkswagen bus he used for winter stints in Baja. Ray and his lady-friend shared an upscale apartment at the corner of Euclid and Masonic. This was a classy upscale view pad. There was a balcony, parking, floor to ceiling windows. Uncle Ray lived in style afforded to a man capable of his dual trumpet skills.

Word had come down that the San Francisco Police Department had made a sweep of Fisherman’s Wharf. Street acts were arrested in mass. There were no questions asked, no warning given. The police pulled up, handcuffed the so called public nuisance, tossed the riff-raff into the paddy wagon and took the perpetrators downtown. By chance Ray and I both had  the day off. We’d missed all the fun.

Soon enough we’d got word that the orders for the sweep had come from Central Precinct in North Beach. Most know Central Station by its nickname: Keystone. Out on the street rumor was the Captain  wanted it known that until further notice the streets in his precinct were closed to busking. If anyone didn’t get the memo, someone had a problem, thought this was some kind of misunderstand, then the Captain would be more than happy to set the misinformed individual straight on who was actually running the show.

Four of us go down to see the Captain. Took about two seconds for the front-desk duty-officer to size up the four patsies disturbing his peace. Annoyed, but then the Duty Officer was born annoyed, got off his chair double clutched his scowl, then marched us down the hallway  into the precinct Captain’s office.

Seated at his desk with his lieutenant standing at his side the precinct Captain gave the appearance of being absolutely in charge of every square block under his command.

Our Captain  was Italian, suave and groomed to code. Sizing us up wasn’t even tic-tac-toe, the former beat cop had us pegged. We were maybe a troupe of Boy Scouts out on their first field trip. None of the four of us had an prior’s mostly on account of dumb luck. We had not heard gun shots, been in a fist fights or had any experience trying to make nice while cuffing a man twice our size. Our precinct Captain was concerned about pimps, muggers and burglars. Our coming to protest our busking associates being arrested was quaint. All we were doing was wasting his time, he wouldn’t say as much, but all there was for us to do was wait for the Captain’s final  decision to penetrate our thick skulls. We were the piece of his official duties that fell under the heading of community relations. This was the first time for us to try playing the change the Captain’s mind game whereas the Captain hoped it would be his last. The learning curve was steep. He had an edge. He was paid to wait.

Part of the Captain’s job was every now and then while waiting for a group aggrieved citizens to see the light, well he’d have to take a brief moment out of his busy schedule for the purpose of explaining the facts of life in the event certain present individuals in his company might well still be confused about who was actually in charge of the City’s sidewalks. He’d had it much tougher. We were almost fun.

Our Captain had worked his way up the ranks. Starts out in traffic, domestic violence, vagrancy that sort of thing. Later he’s in homicide, sex crimes unit, tactical squad, undercover narcotics investigators—the Captain is busy fighting crime and keeping the peace. The thing to know is that it was an embarrassment for a San Francisco Police Officer to have to go to Fisherman’s wharf and have to crack down on the street performers. Putting a tear eyed street performer in the slammer put the jinx on a cops career. Police work entailed fighting up to no good paroled felons. Sensitive street performers weren’t even clowns.

The precinct Captain gestures with the wave of his hand, “Take a seat.” He closes a file on his desk. “You want a glass of water?” None of us are thirsty. “Coffee?”

 The Captain pushes his chair back. On the wall behind him are photographs of the many very important people he has posed with over the course of his years of service. There are pictures with Willie Brown, Herb Caen, Joe Alioto, Tony Bennett, Turk Murphy and Vince Guaraldi. All the famous fat cats were mounted behind the precinct Captain in neat black and white eight by tens.

Smiling with an ever so slight brooding undercurrent he attempts to explain the situation. “My Lieutenant here, I had asked if he would take me for a drive through Fisherman’s Wharf.” The Captains cadence had a slight lilt, a bit of a rhythmic hop, skip and a jump. He continued, “Merchants had come to us with concerns, they had some complaints about street performers. Merchants said things were getting out of hand, that the police were going to have to do what they have to do to take back control of our public thoroughfares.” Our Captain smiling and seeming relaxed looked sympathetically toward his assembled quorum. “I told my Lieutenant I wanted to see the situation for myself- with my own eyes. I mean I like street performers—who doesn’t like street performers? Everybody likes to see street performers. And so with an open mind my Lieutenant and I, the two of us, we go for a drive in my precinct. Get it? My precinct. I got the wharf, North Beach, Chinatown and a piece of the Financial District under my watch. I’d rather be sitting on Telegraph Hill drinking scotch and watching sunset, buy even a Captain can’t always get what he wants. You see, this is a part of the City I have been put in charge of, it falls on me to do what I have to do to protect and defend this part of town. Day and night, three hundred and sixty five days of the year— what happens out there on my streets is on me. Isn’t that right Lieutenant?”

The Lieutenant nods his head affirmatively having not heard truer words or a more coherent explanation of how the world works according to the San Francisco Police Department.

I think one of us tried mustering the courage to get a word in edgewise. The Captain raised his hand,  “hold your horses,” he said, “wait just a minute, you’ll get your turn.” The Captain would let us speak just as soon as he has had time to complete his thought.

Our dapper Captain his shirt pressed, badge polished, possessed a swarthy olive complexion that displayed patches of enthusiastic fits of red as his circulation increased. Nobody could not notice pitch black hair and the touch of grey at his temples. “It is a beautiful day. Fisherman’s Wharf is packed. People visiting the City, pedestrians are trying to walk down the sidewalk. Now, first thing I notice is this musician. He’s got a guitar, guitar case in front of him, someone is going to break their neck tripping over the thing but never mind our musician is playing music. I like music, my lieutenant likes music— everybody loves music, who doesn’t love music?” He wasn’t asking a question. “But, the musician is playing music in a doorway, and this is a doorway to the entrance of a business, a business I might add that pays business taxes for the pleasure of being engaged in commerce here in this great city. Now, this musician he’s blocking the door and people cannot get in and cannot get out of this establishment on account of the musician and his crowd blocking the doorway because of his playing music. You get the picture? This is something I do not like to see,  even though I love music as much as anyone, who doesn’t love music?” He plays cool again and wants to make another point. “So, we continue driving down the street. I’m a little upset, you’d be upset, but you’re not me, thank god for that, so I tell my lieutenant that let’s continue, let’s continue to keep an open mind, let’s go down the street and take a look at any further situations. Me and my lieutenant, we want the big picture, we want to know what’s going on. I mean the point I’m trying to make is that I have an open mind, maybe I do not understand, maybe there might be a simple explanation for the circumstances of the musician having to locate in a doorway. I don’t know. So far nobody has been able to explain these things to me. Let’s keep going, let’s find out what else there is to see. So, we drive a little further and we see a mime. OK? He is miming. I ask the Lieutenant to stop so we may enjoy his show. I don’t know. He thinks he’s funny, the mime is miming as I said and I guess, best anyone can tell, his act is supposed to mock people walking by while he is standing still. Then, when someone walks by he starts moving and he starts imitating people that are trying to walk by, to me it was more like he was mocking the pedestrians trying to pass by, he was making fun of the visitors that have come to our city, in my opinion he is insulting these people. I’d go so far as to say he was victimizing these innocent. He was not my idea of funny. Nothing about his act appealed to me. All I can tell you is that I am disheartened by what I see. Isn’t that right Lieutenant?”

The Lieutenant rubber faced, also Italian frowns in agreement with his precinct Captain.

“I ask my Lieutenant to go ahead, let’s keep going, let’s see what else we can see. We drive a little further until I see this crowd of pedestrians, and they are spilling out off the sidewalk onto the roadway, as they cannot get around, their egress is completely impeded. There was an unsafe situation right there before my very eyes. Someone could get hurt. Pedestrians belong on sidewalks not spilling out on the street. I ask the Lieutenant to stop. We are discussing the unsafe situation we are witnessing. I don’t even know what this street performer is even supposed to be doing. This entertainer he’s saying something to the crowd. We cannot make out what he has on his mind, it is impossible for us to see there are so many people between us and this street performer.” The Captain’s voice rises. “Then, next thing I know this street performer, he is up in the air balancing on some kind of gizmo he lights up some torches, we got an open fire on my sidewalks, we got a violation right there, and then this street performer I don’t know where it even came from but he puts a live chicken on top of his head and then so help me God this completely out of control individual starts fire juggling for the crowd.”

The Captain looking down mindlessly thumbing the file on his desk lost in thought. It was a moment before he could find the words. “One thing I will never allow is for anyone to come into my neighborhood and think for one second they can get away with lighting three fire torches and then juggle those torches while balancing a chicken on his head.”

ooh-Pin-Her Part Tree

“My flight up to San Francisco was a little bumpy, but the water landing was very smooth. That was a real professional pilot flying that plane…”

More Northwest

Work pulled my low-budget quest for entertainment immortality as far as ten degrees latitude north of San Francisco. After playing a noontime date I made a turn and put some south backtracking down the interstate. After a rough and tumble forgettable “nooner” at South Seattle Community College it was all I could do to keep my head above water. My self-confidence was in tatters. After threading my way south on Interstate 5 in heavy commerce laden traffic I veered off to the east taking a twisting road paralleling the Cowlitz River. I was back out on the road where a down in the self-esteem department showman could use road miles to regain his footing.

Mount St. Helens had been rumbling— an active volcano might be something to see. Rain was predicted as ever to continue without letup. As the crow flies I was twelve miles north of a mountain sized time bomb you would never know was even there.

Highway 12 would take me over the Cascades to Yakima. My next dates were in Cheney, Pullman and Moscow. On the eastern slope rain was forecast to ease up. Like that clouds dissipated— sunshine cheered the weary soloist. There was hope after all.

Tracks of my Years

I traveled through brush-steppe country crossing the Columbia River at the Vernita Bridge. Here of all things in a state famous for its lumber was a treeless landscape. Driving east irrigation pivots dotted the rolling barrens. The town of Othello was allotted less physical endearment than most other remote farm communities. Town folk were more likely here because they were born here. Home— I have come to believe is karmic. Pilgrim showmen are taught about the peril of permanent residency in their first thousand outbound miles.

I set up out on the lawn for a “nooner” in front of the student union building at Eastern Washington State College. I had drawn an audience of three hundred, a sizable potentially rollicking horde for a no-name small-time traveling juggler with not much more than a performing dog and dozen goldfish. The show was designed to catch, build and hold a crowd of undergraduates. Then there were laughs. Applause points ranged to respectable— not more.

At Evergreen State in Olympia my noontime show had been not as big but turned out to be more energetic. I am 29 years old. My sixty minutes remained a work-in-progress. After most of a decade of trying to figure this thing out I had to face up to the fact there remained much to be done.

At the end the show in Cheney a friend of the “circus” waving to me during my one hour set rushed forward at the end thrilled by my chance appearance at her school. Two fated talker’s is what joined up—a couple of ear chewers. I’d first come to know my relocated friend from dates I played in Fresno while out on my first national tour. In 1974 I was then a traveling performer with the Royal Lichtenstein Quarter-Ring Sidewalk Circus. Her home had been a stopover where her parents three-ring sized hospitality was teased as the ultimate soft spot on an otherwise austere list of one day stands. Augie, her father, by unanimous consent had long been enshrined the maker of the world’s greatest pancakes. Each hotcake was ‘from scratch made batter’—  an example and temple to the  high griddle arts. With outsized pride Augie’s daughter could barely contain her excitement waiting for the show to be over. After she would commenced to behave exactly as her family had trained her to. Having grown up around sawdust, tent poles and canvas she had literally been reared by parents that taught there was virtue in helping to care for the world’s smallest circus. Not lending a hand to strike the rigging and loading out would be  unforgivable. Familiar generosity silenced my pangs of isolation. Here was an example of how distance amplifies companionship. A traveling one man entertainer, go for broke type, was a particular kind of comic telegram and messenger in this era. Showmen arrive to far off corners carrying eyewitness insights into the lives of other people and remote hard to get to places. My Fresno friend demanded we depart immediately and on her dime for the nearby pizza parlor where we would burn the building down by force of fever pitched family informed comradery.

A week and half earlier in Olympia I had met a baker. In this instance I’d stayed up all night making bread with a sleep deprived crew of longhaired bandana wearing misfits. Helping at the bakery created a sense of my belonging to something all Cascade, Olympic peninsula and Northwest. I wasn’t simply passing through, I was a welcomed part of the vital enterprise of making this a better world by preparing fresh baked bread here on the southern tip of the Puget Sound.

Weeks before in Eugene I’d fallen into a clever back and forth with a blue eyed reddish blonde ruddy cheeked girl-woman who had recently returned by sailboat with her family after an eight year circumnavigation. There were practical concerns expressed whether she would manage to be happy living in one place now or ever. Fending off the peril of  maturity in honor of her free spirit she’d of liked to have dropped everything— joined up and taken off on tour with this jury rigged traveling enterprise. A narrow bunk didn’t worry her, she had put up with less. Touring would have been an easy and more familiar path. Going harbor to harbor, town to town could be an appealing form of land-yachting. Wanting to drop everything and run off on impulse with a kind of a sailor you didn’t even know the first thing about was not an uncommon desire.

Local actors from the theater program at Centralia Community College held a post- performance gathering in my honor. Together we danced, drank wine and exchanged tall tales about the fated struggles stand-ins, bit players and movie stars confront on their road to fame, gossip and paparazzi ruin.

Western Rangeland Touring

I had been out on the road six weeks. The hour long set had been much changed by the hundreds of sidewalk shows in San Francisco. New and better material was the result. Next goal on my infinite to-do-never-finished list was putting my best thirty minutes together. Whether it was sixty minutes, thirty or fifteen each show’s length was its own puzzle demanding its own particular answers. A showman among many pieces of hard earned wisdom becomes with more first hand stage experience a living breathing compendium of human nature. Being funny is one skill. Having the talent to disguise the lapse of time another. Stage time translates into a deeper seeing into the reins of our common human bonds. More time hustling on the sidewalk back on the streets of San Francisco was indelibly inked into my calendar. Instincts told me I would be all the wiser for doing more shows out there on that hardest of tarmac hard spots.

Mount St. Helens continued making news. US Geological Survey had deployed instruments to measure the mountains increasing bulge. Uncertainty prevailed. The volcano might not erupt at all. Then again there was no predicting how big a volcanic event there could be if this mountain let loose. A National Public Radio station from Spokane reported on the unstable volcano. I was three hundred miles east standing at 2352 feet above sea level, one-thousand miles from San Francisco. I’d traveled north and east as far as this up and coming showman would go. I had been holding up out here in the rough and tumble, but still there I stood between the places I had been and the places I was going. I gave in and amused my wanting off the road and allowed my mind the pleasure of anticipating my return.

edited red star

oPeNer Part Too

“This is a family show. After my show you’ll all want to go home and start a family.”

North Tour 1980

After four months playing the sidewalk in San Francisco I pulled up stakes and trucked to the Northwest. Instead of fifteen minute shows I’d present my one hour set. Instead of a sidewalk I’d play college campuses. Getting amped up for twenty-five sidewalk shows squeezed into three days was a gut busting iron man competition. I needed a change-up to my routine. The hope was I’d come back from the tour recharged. Sidewalk shows are always uphill at full speed from start to end. Contracted college dates dialed the intensity of a show back. Instead of sprinting I was long distance running. 

I traveled solo with my performing dog, chicken, cat and dozen goldfish. I had a sleeping bunk, cooking gear, suitcase, shave kit, typewriter, prop case and  costume. Under my front seat were a set of chains for my tires in the event I encountered snow or ice. Cooking was done off my tailgate. The price of gas was my mortal enemy.

I was hopping from date to date. My California plates were a tipoff. Provincial types reckoned I must be an infiltrator. Alternately conscious sympathizers saw me as an out of bounds homeboy on the prowl, they recognized the desperado— I was pegged a soul searcher. Six hours from Stockton and I was in Ashland, Oregon, six hours more and I’m asleep in my bunk in Corvallis.

At the end of any day I might have not spoken to another soul. Touring can be as simple as sixteen hours of bittersweet lonely silence fueled doubt. I encamped along lakes and rivers. I’d stock up on food, get out of town— sit still. Weekday’s out thirty miles from any population center was all wind whistling through the pine needles. I made small talk with local ranchers. Sometimes a highway crew was repairing a nearby roadway. Most of the week after a show I’d be camped alone.

This road dog veteran polished the skillful means of being comfortable in my own skin. I had a good bed in my truck and screened windows. I’d wash my pots and pans, brush my teeth. The dog, cat, chicken and goldfish rested easier once I settled in for the night. I’d try to finish my chores before sundown then curl up on my bunk with a book.

Once on the road the pace of life will work out best by keeping your wits about you. Getting into the rhythm takes time while you adjust. The idea is to not fixate on the destination. You will want to appreciate all the in-between moments, make each leg of the tour matter, the journey itself is the spacious location, the string of dates becomes a feature length wide screen modern day sprawling epic. It was alternately either all Clint Eastwood as Bronco Billy or Charlie Chaplin out there. Waking up, making cowboy coffee, caring for the animals, getting the truck started, leaving plenty of time to get to the venue for the show, this is how to bring composure to each new crack of dawn. You can’t let emptiness rattle your nerves.

I sought out insider knowledge from incidental conversations about the places I was passing through. If I needed a nap I’d pull off the highway slow roll down a dirt road park beneath a shade tree climb onto my bunk and fall asleep relishing the stillness. You want to take the time and make the effort to fill the five gallon jug with spring fed drinking water. I did all my own oil changes, kept my brakes adjusted, greased all the zerk fittings. The idea was to keep ahead of trouble, be sure to fix a problem before you had a break down.

I’d play a date and after go to the local bank where the check was drawn. When my wallet was flush I’d send the extra checks by mail to my bank back in California. I’d pull off and use a pay phone to get in contact with my answering service operator. I’d practice juggling and hand-balancing in parks. Product development required staying in shape and coming up with new tricks. I wrote music and lyrics for the ukulele. I tried teaching my dog Sunshine a thing or two.

I corresponded with clients. Solicitous letters were composed on my Smith-Corona manual typewriter. I kept a calendar with potential appearances marked in pencil. Once a client confirmed I inked the date in with expectation and permanence. In the event a booking was contracted I queried the surrounding communities for more work. Festivals, fairs, schools, libraries, and park and recreation departments were all targets of my mailing campaign. Once I had finished one show I turned my attention to finding an engagement for tomorrow. A sober eyed fiduciary responsibility to keeping the theatrical enterprise afloat filled my day and night. 

This past winter before heading north I went bar hopping and whiskey drinking. I befriended members of the Charlie Musselwhite Band at a down on your suburban luck saloon in Sunnyvale, California. Charlie’s players were moving north with spring. I’d pulled into Eugene and so was the band. Tacoma same thing. Between sets I’d drink beer, shoot pool and small talk with Charlie’s sidemen. My juggling business amused the vagabond musicians. They were envious of my running a solo entertainment enterprise. Unaware of a variety entertainer’s austere road life they instead traveled by automobiles and stayed in what I imagined were luxurious economy motels. Charlie seemed older than the hills even if he wasn’t. Musselwhite and his band all drank hard. The Chicago trained harmonica bluesman was punching out one-night stands trying to keep food on the table and a roof over his head. Charlie’s band was rarely asleep before dawn. You could be a blues player, do all that drinking, smoking cigarettes, skirt chasing-tom catting but that wore on a body  and you’re bound to wear out sooner than later. Charlie eventually stopped his liquor drinking. Sobriety is likely a lot to do with why he’s lived such a long life.

Charlie’s guitar player had quite the way with the ladies. The handsome picker had two or four aching to be his one and only. He’d come and gone through Tacoma enough to have made some sort of lasting memories with his throng of heartthrobs. He’d tried taking one on the road. Hard as he tried the guitar player couldn’t make that kind of arrangement stick. Music making seems to be more soulful when powered by heartbreak, two-timing and everlasting unfaithfulness. Charlie’s band was versed far more completely in all of these matters than some upstart one man variety show act. Even a better than fair looking comedy juggler was no match when going up against a quartet of rhythm and blues infused Don Juan’s.

Opener… Street Theater 1980

This is opening rewritten fragment to longer piece… about 800 words of 9000.

Desk

“Try not to applaud when I make a mistake, you’re only reinforcing my bad habits.”

Jefferson Street 1980

One of the grittiest hand to mouth hustles ever invented in this world of hard knocks is busking. No contracts, no off site gigs, just pure hat and more hat shows. Hat is shorthand— by hat I mean stone cold cash you can count out and hold in your hand after a performance. The lightning bolt street performing epiphany hijacked my not yet completed journey to adulthood. Somehow I had come to believe life was about running wild and being free. Anxious family and friends thought I was headed toward a cobblestone catastrophe. Destitution and insolvency were bookended plotting points. There is no getting off the road, there were no lucky breaks, no easy streets on this obstacle strewn path. You can’t undo what you’ve bet your life on. An emergent busker is a dreamer drowning in a world insisting on orthodoxy. There has to be no other way out. This is your fated Tombstone. Conformity is a stinking stalemate. You set out to do so many shows, as far as an eye can see, until you’re at risk of being buried in a sea of nickels, dimes and quarters.

I had been stalling. I’d put off trying my luck on the sidewalks of San Francisco so long it was now a fresh and unused January of 1980. I drove into Fisherman’s Wharf, it was a crazy early morning— the sky a muted overcast blotted daybreak. Streets were empty but for the mournful seagulls, barking sea lions, and this one tentative performer preparing to place his fateful future on the line.

Making it to the tippy top of the small time sidewalk show  I’d need to find a way of delivering my best razor sharp fifteen minutes. Running too long was too much and too short added up to too little. All in from start to finale was not one second more than one quarter of one hour’s journey to glorious acclaim or crushing defeat. I jiggered the running order, discarded one routine added another. I invented jokes there and then, whipped up wisecracks on the fly. This is throwing it down. Street performing is about owning every inch of the self-claimed constitutionally guaranteed concrete stage. This is the pedestrian’s coliseum. You are an entertainment gladiator.

Raspy voiced, drained emotionally, the unrelenting grinding first day exacted its toll. Sidewalk shows are a monument to repetition. Over and over the same routine altered on the whim and the will was retried and refined. Improvement inched ahead uphill— grudgingly.

Devilstick

A More Present Era Likeness 

In a scalding hot heartbeat the first weekend flashed by. Twenty-four shows reverberated in my head like a broken record. Gut wrenching images of audiences walking away before I could pass the hat tortured my lean confidence. Curious youngsters begging parents wanted to stay to see what happened next. Children recognized the infant mortal fragility disguised beneath my thin busking veneer and pleaded to stay to see what further trials this odd bit player would be forced to endure. More than a few lovely’s lingered. Standing in scuffed shoe leather a beat cop ordered that I watch my crowd size. Merchants stood in their doorways half curious, inconvenienced, not yet convinced smoking cigarettes. Assorted stubborn misfits, the grizzled survivors of the sidewalk scene all too pressed by their own scramble to make ends meet had not even a spare moment to fritter away calculating the odds of my surviving. My peers didn’t need to know, they knew. Those relationships would grow if I could make my sidewalk show stick. Jefferson Street was wide open if you were foolish enough. Here was untamed frontier, civilizations western most outpost, an emphatic continental end of the line— the leading edge of some one of a kind dubious vocational enterprise.

Street theater is first and foremost about profitably stopping people dead in their tracks. Two becomes four, four turns into eight; eight becomes an engaged audience of fifty. Practitioner’s of this centuries old enterprise have an eye, feel the vibe— know how quick they’ll draw a crowd—  how long they dare to hold them. Change the show’s length, alter the pace, adapt to live another day, execution is the whole enchilada. Wily buskers got this one word— survival— tattooed across their chest— there is no second chance, prosper or perish, show up, play big, be present for the only moment that counts. Get real you overzealous flame throwing heartbreaker or sit back down— life is short.

edited red star