Do you like them?
You're walking down the street minding your own business and suddenly some guy is in your face juggling a bowling ball, a rubber chicken and a cross-country ski - is that fun?
Well, yes, sometimes it is. I've seen some great buskers. Some of the best musicians I've seen in my life have been playing in the subway or on the sidewalk ignored by almost everyone (and often by me).
This year at the CNE in Toronto we watched a guy try and do a routine that involved laying down on a bed of glass while someone stood on a bed of nails on his chest. I say "try" but actually the routine was good - it was just going on at the same time the planes were practising for the air show so everyone in the audince kept looking up to the sky.
All this is by way of explanation, of excuse, for how I got myself into a street performer's act in Dublin.
Normally if a busker asked me for help I'd run away. But here I was walking down Grafton street in Dublin with a video camera in my hand and I stopped to watch a guy set up his act. I kept the camera running. The act started. The guy was enthusiastic and funny but the audience was deadpan.
I started to feel for him. I was thinking about that poor guy at the Ex.
The next thing I know the guy on Grafton Street, Figo he calls himself - is standing in front of me asking to borrow my jacket. And to make it worse, he'd already asked another guy who refused. I could see this guy's act slipping away and I felt for him. I've given readings in front of two people, I know what it's like when the audience just isn't interested.
So I hand him my jacket.
And good luck to him, I think.
But the next thing I know, he's pulling me out in front of the audience.
Wait a minute, this isn't what I signed up for. My jacket, okay. I didn't even mind that he was joking how he might set it on fire while he did his trick with the cigarette (he was making it disappear, saying it would only take about five minutes as he smoked it. He also said he didn't actually smoke, that was just for his act - he was up to about thirty acts a day) but there was no way I'd go out there in front of the crowd.
But I do like to see a big crowd when I do a reading.
So maybe this busker and I were sort of in it together. I couldn't very well ruin his act, he's some guy trying to make a living.
The next thing I know I'm handing my video camera to a woman beside me and I'm in front of the crowd.
Maybe I don't like a big crowd for a reading. Maybe that intimiate connection between a writer and a single reader is the way to go.
Or maybe I should dress up in red tights and make cigarettes disappear.
But Figo made the cigarette disappear and didn't even burn my jacket.
Great, now I can get off stage.
Oh wait, what's this? Now he's blowing up a balloon and saying he's going to swallow it. Good for him, I'll just get my camera back and film that, might even put it up on YouTube, the guy is pretty entertaining and what's this?
Now he wants me to walk around in front of the audience holding the balloon.
Did I mention the Bobby hat?
Then I probabkly also forgot to mention he's asked me to walk around looking as "butch" as I can.
The really sad thing, now that I see this picture, is that's exactly what I'm trying to do.
Before he swallowed the balloon, though, he put a rubber glove over his head and blew it up.
The rubber glove, I mean, not his head.
But really, he's just getting warmed up.
The big finale involves Figo laying down on a bed of broken glass.
And me standing on his chest.
Now it really feels like that poor guy at the Ex who couldn't get anyone's attention. I can't give up on Figo now.
As he's setting it up he asks me how much I weigh and I think does Ireland use that weird "so many stone" meaasurement because I have no dea how many stone I am and if I say ____ pounds will anyone get it and then I realize I'm not going to put a number on it, so I just say, "Too much."
He's a good performer, he can work a crowd and Figo goes with that. Makes a bunch of jokes that good Canadian diet and pats my stomach.
So here I am in front of a big crowd of people showing off my fat stomach.
Figo and I are no longer in this together. I am going to put my full weight (however many freakin' stone it is) on him. Oh yeah, baby.
He gets a kid out of the audience to help me balance.
He tells the sudience if they don't each put at least five Euro in his hat he'll go back to his old job of selling drugs to children and the kid who's supposed to help me balance says, "Can I have some."
This is the same kid who, when Figo said not to worry, he wasn't going to burn my jacket yelled, "Burn it."
Now I'm going to stomp on Figo and then punch this smarmy kid in the face.
But I can actually hear the glass crunching as I step on this guy. His face is red and he's tensed up every muscle in his body.
This is actually pretty cool, this guy is really trying to entertain this crowd.
And the kid manages to keep my huge body weight steady for ten seconds, so good on him, too.
Now I'm actually excited to be a part of the act.
The audience does a big countdown from 10 and when they get to, "Zero!!!" I step off.
Figo jumps up to accept the appluase and I see chunks of glass stuck to his back.
He's right, I think, that deserves five Euro.
Figo tells me it's only like two bucks.
All in all a pleasant afternoon in Dublin.
Though I can't help but think Peter Rozovsky comes to Ireland and he sees the hurling final, a once in a lifetime exciting game, and I get to stand on a man's chest.