The story of my arrest in Clearwater Beach reminded me of an incident at Jazzfest that I had wanted to write about.
I do not have an orthodox look. Granted, I’m not rocking face tattoos, giant ear gauges, and stud spiked jackets, but a simple mohawk and an orange shirt tends to be enough for me to stick out of a crowd. Just yesterday I was headed to a Starbucks near Disney World to write a little of my previous post, and on the way up to the door I walked past an Asian family of seven or eight. The patriarch of the group looked at me and said something to his family, and as my hand grasped the door handle, in the glass reflection I could see the entire group turn around to stare at me. As I pulled the door open I turned around to give them a knowing smile before walking in.
I don’t even have my hair designs styled, and I’m wearing none of my fluorescent colors. What is toned-down by New Orleans standards is still an outright spectacle in Florida. This much I expected, and I knew it would probably be in my best interested to get some neutral colored shorts and other alterations to help me chameleon my way through the conservative state.
In a street theater crowd, it is natural and nigh unavoidable to have people that walk away in the middle. This is usually a good thing, because what is happening is your audience is being purified and filtered through your sense of humor, and your overall character. If there is a snooty older couple that is not laughing and appears to not be enjoying themselves, or a group of teenagers spending more time on their phones than watching you, it is better for the overall health of the audience if they walk away.
One of the countless things I learned from the wizard Warpo, god/grandfather figure of the street magi in New Orleans, was this: if they don’t laugh at the first few jokes, they’re probably not going to laugh at the rest of them, which means they’re probably not the kind of people you want in your audience anyway.
Allow me to connect a few of these dots…
I choose my unorthodox appearance because it serves several purposes. I am in the business of capturing the attention of strangers. If I’m trying to get a crowd, appearing a little unusual can help with the beginning of that process. But when I’m not on stage, my appearance is still drawing attention, positive, neutral, and negative. Many, many conversations have been initiated by someone coming up to me and complimenting me on my hair, my shirt, my shorts, and/or my hat. These are the kinds of people that I WANT to be talking to, the kind that are comfortable approaching a (strange looking) stranger, and expressing their appreciation. The conversation often quickly transitions to the topic of magic, and suddenly I’ve amazed and connected with someone that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to give my gift to.
On the “negative” side, I have developed a strong grasp of my insecurities by showing my colors, taking risks and putting myself out there. After a few years of standing out, I am now quite comfortable with walking through a crowded room and seeing the stares, whispers, nods and laughs. If there is a group of college kids ridiculing me from across the diner, I simply wait until I know they’re looking, vanish the salt shaker, give them a smirk and then go about my business. I am an entertainer, and even if they are not laughing with me, I still enjoy giving them an experience. But those quick to judge are generally not the kind of people I want in my life anyways, and though it’s not foolproof, my appearance does seem to filter out some of those people.
The arrest isn’t going to change anything about how I present myself. I like the attention, good or bad, because it is a tool I can use to my benefit. If I had the choice (which we all do), most of the time I’d rather make ripples instead of leaving no trace in the environment around me.
I attended the last Sunday of Jazzfest with my father as my last big New Orleans experience of the season. A visit to Jazzfest was how I was introduced to New Orleans, and it was a fitting way to say goodbye. It would’ve been close to $70 for me to get a ticket through the office, so I headed up to the gate to purchase a ticket from someone trying to get rid of one. I had my fluorescent shorts, bright shirt, mohawk and hair designs. I hadn’t made it twenty feet in the outside gate before a African American man with braided hair wearing an African styled shirt approached me and said “You need a ticket? Come with me, we’ll go in together”. He sold me the ticket for $40 and as we parted ways inside the festival gates I expressed my gratitude.
“No problem, mon” as he gestured up and down towards my clothes, pointing his finger at his head as he said
“I respect your mind.”
That’s the kind of person I want in my audience.