Archer Pechawis


From 1984 to 1986, I was a street juggler. I told funny stories, punctuated by clubs and torches thrown high in the air. I loved being a street juggler. I loved the romantic life, I loved the adoration of the crowd. But most of all I loved the elasticity of time.

Certain activities promote a different experience of time. For the crowd the torch went up, and the torch came down. But for me time would slow until the torch turned lazy loops, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It would reach its apex, hang there, and then slowly descend, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It was so beautiful.

During my last season I had a contract at EXPO 86. My costume consisted of a white tux shirt with the sleeves cut off, a black bow tie, black tux pants with black suspenders and black high top sneakers.

One hot August day I was working the Egyptian Pavilion, a massive pyramid with a huge plaza in front. It was a hard place to work. Audiences were intimidated by the enormous open space. Getting people to form a tight crowd was difficult.

I played a half-mask character named Blue who set up the show and got the crowd together. Recently Blue had taken to imitating people and today he was red hot. After twenty minutes he had gathered a crowd of five hundred people. The space in the center was too big for my little juggling show, so I just let him go. People would walk through the middle of the space and Blue would follow, mimicking everything they did. Eventually they would realize they were the butt of a joke being enjoyed by five hundred people and would hightail it away, much to the hilarity of the crowd.

It was perfect. The crowd was loving Blue, and by extension, me. Clowning is a weird sort of schizophrenia. Blue was a completely separate character from me, with his own personality and motivations. When I wore his mask I was only the observer who made sure things didn't get out of control. Clowns will be clowns after all, and large crowds are fickle, temperamental beasts. But today Blue's instincts were flawless.

Then he appeared: the perfect victim. A small man, short dark hair, kind of nerdy looking. Backpack, coke bottle bottom glasses, dark trousers. A white shortsleeve shirt with a pocket protector! He looked like a high school math whiz from the fifties. He was irresistible.

Blue locked on and went to work. Nerdy Man had a timid gait that Blue imitated perfectly. The crowd began to titter. People can be so cruel. One side of the crowd was the four-hour line up to the Egyptian Pavilion. To prevent riots young women had been hired as "lineup information agents". They explained how long it would take to get inside, and what wonders one could expect, once there.

Nerdy man walked up to an agent. She was a pretty "girl next door" type, maybe sixteen years old. Nerdy Man began to pepper her with questions. She did her best to answer while Blue stood behind him, aping his every move. The girl was turning red and beginning to stutter. The crowd was loving it.

Still trying to get answers to his complicated questions Nerdy Man shrugged of his backpack. In a moment of pure comic genius Blue shrugged off his suspenders. The girl let out a little shriek and turned away, choking with laughter. The crowd went insane.

I basked in the adoration of five hundred people, who for that moment thought I was the funniest man on earth. Life was beautiful.

The sound of five hundred people laughing and clapping is hard to miss, but Nerdy Man still hadn't clued in. It was becoming cruel. For a capping joke Blue ran his hands in front of Nerdy Man's eyes. The crowd began to laugh, but Nerdy Man didn't react.

I was making fun of a blind man.

Certain activities promote a different experience of time. I realized Nerdy Man was blind a split second before the crowd, but that split second stretched into eternity.

I had done the unspeakable. Not only had I made fun of a blind man's disability, but I had implicated five hundred innocent people in this despicable act. I imagined my starring role in the first lynching in the history of the World Exposition. My contract was over. My career was over. I had died and gone to hell.

Have you ever seen a large crowd turn on a performer? Seconds before I had been bathing in the golden glow of five hundred adoring fans. Now a low, menacing growl rose from five hundred angry throats. The crowd began to hiss.

Suddenly Nerdy man spun around, looked me up and down and yelled, "Hey! How long have you been standing there?" Again, a split second stretched into eternity. Nerdy Man wasn't blind, he was just stupid! Time resumed, and the crowd exploded into cheers and laughter. We were all nice people again.

I ran back to my trailer and shook for half an hour.