Thursday, February 17, 2005

mr. sticks

Ft. Myers Beach feels like a sad little beach town at night. Lots of bars and restaurants that I remember as bustling nightspots years past but no-one in them. Rumor has it that Hurricane Charlie had his way with some of the big gulfside hotels, but even the small oldstyle Florida motels were near deserted. Super brightly lit beach-junk stores light up the night you can see from space but no-one is shopping.

I like to visit "The Beach" every once in awhile because Sanibel is so quiet at night and sometimes I need a dose of bright lights, the sound of bad rock sung to a karaoke machine and an ice cream cone. And you know me, I like to walk down the fishing pier over the gulf and look at the water.

At the foot of the fishing pier there is a little square, bordered by a few outdoor cafes' and ice cream shoppes. In the evening, a continuous program of street performers amazes and annoys passersby, us included, like a mini key west, a mini mini key west.

Somehow, to Kates chagrin, I get fascinated by the pitch of a street performer. His voice is raspy, high pitched and annoying and he has a pronounced lisp. I don't know what he does, but he has a golf bag full of things that he's handing to volunteers, a stick, a paddle, a tube and a pitchfork. He has the prerequisate short ponytail, black greasy hair tied back hard, a black outfit with flames on it, and a microphone clipped to his lapel that crackles on and off. The crowd is small and he tries his best in his annoying way to get more people in to see him.

We stand on the edge of darkness, away from the small circle, on purpose, so we can get out of there when it gets ugly, whatever gets ugly. He is "The Stick Man" and he announces that he doesn't usually do this show for such a small crowd...tells passersby not to stop, as it's the "small" show and there's no room. Wisely, they pass by. His pitch is abrasive. He pulls people physically and roughly from the outskirts of the circle. He tells abrasive unfunny jokes. He claims he holds world records (at whatever it is that he does) and that he has performed in "fifteen to twenty" countries. At some point he asks a woman to stop videotaping because "cirque de soliel wants this routine but I won't give it to them...I am the only one who knows this and I'd like it to stay that way".

We are considering an escape to walk up the pier but I can't move from my spot in the shadows...until he moves me. He rushes me and insists I come to the circle. I shrug my shoulders as if I don't know what he's saying. He says something else and I grunt some russian sounding sylables as I look at Kate, speak a gibberish question and shrug. "What language do you speak?" he asks..."sprachen ze deutsch? habla espanol?" I shrug in innocent nonunderstanding. "Where are you from?." he asks, and I reply in multisyllables that sounds like eastern european mush. With this, he grabs my wrist hard, physically, roughly, pulls me towards his arena. I yelled "polizia!" to no avail.

He is still working the passing and peripheral crowd for audience. We are to stand at the edge of the circle and as we edge back and yells at us to get back on the line. While he is working the women in the crowd he calls them "hon" and does innapropriate physical things, little face hugs and forehead kisses. You could see the discomfort, not delight, in every victims face and the way they fended him off, but it didn't matter. At one point, he saw a teen boy on the outskirts and ran to him, picked him up and literally flung him over his shoulder and carried him 30 feet around the circle and plopped him down. The kid, with surfer skateboard duds was obviously embarrassed and pissed.

The act, when it finally arrived, was pretty good, except that he was so annoying and abrasive. It's hard to describe, but he twirled and flipped large items with dowel sticks; a stick, a paddle, a pitchfork, claiming world records, telling us when to clap and when to cheer, trying to generate the enthusiasm he might have had, had he maybe been a less caustic person.

After we threw a five into his bag, we took a walk. Later, like the only two cars in Kansas, on the empty streets of the Beach, "Stick Man" is walking our way. Kate says "oh no, there's stick man". I see only a dark shadow approaching us, but it's him. I forget his moniker and I call him Mr. Sticks. He doesn't correct me.

Curiosity forces us to asks questions. He tells us how it's hard to find a shirt with flames that isn't polyester, because polyester melts during the flame portion of the program. He says he wants to do fire and bed of nails but the chamber of commerce won't let him yet, but it's in the works. He is hyper and "on" as he brags and lisps with a heavy canadian accent . His world records are all things he invented and he is the only one who does them.

We bid farewell and he walks darkly towards his camper which is parked in a bars' parking lot. We walk away stunned. My wrist hurts, a memory of a special special evenings entertainment.

3 Comments:

Blogger elp said...

I've seen the Stickman show repeatedly and think that you're insensitive to someone who seems to try his best doing something that he obviously likes doing! I've been watching him for years now, in different countries - which you appear to not believe - and think that he's got a great show!
By your crude comments on his performance, by chance do you have a problem with someone making a living doing something that they're not only good at and enjoy - are you possibly jealous? Commenting on an "annoying" voice and a "lisp and heavy Canadian accent" is ... in the worst taste that I have ever heard. I have NEVER seen him "grab people" to the point of upsetting them as you have informed more than once in your article.
Personally, I think that if you want to write something this unpleasant that has your personal preferences to vocal pitch, clothing and personal style, then email to your friends who will agree with you wholeheartedly on being biased and having a friend that is so obviously biased!

10:01 PM  
Blogger steve rosen said...

thank you for writing, elp.
i am describing the scene the way i saw it and felt it, no disrespect intended. i like street performers, and we did give him money. if i said i found him annoying, thats me, saying that I found him annoying, my personal experience. as to the lisp, i was just describing a scene, pretty truthfully, inluding the rough way that he grabbed people, myself included. cheers!

12:38 AM  
Blogger steve rosen said...

you can see stickman and some of his act (apparently after his equipment was vandalized) in a piece of a documentary made about him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=af_kEX9O6mg

1:14 AM  

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