When you start out as a performer, especially a 'variety artist' like a juggler you have to take a lot of crappy jobs. Birthday parties are a great example. Early on in my career I managed to book an event for my home town festival where I was to stroll around the park grounds and juggle for people waiting in line for hot dogs. Next stop...SUPERSTARDOM!
It was commonly known that I was doing this for $50.00 for my 5 hours of work, something of a humbling experience. Along with my juggling duties, I was to make the dreaded balloon animals for anyone who wanted them. To add to the pain, in the crowd was my first ex-girlfriend and the guy she left me for. THIS was an awful gig!
During the day, I had to try and entertain many of my small-town pseudo-friends and endure the insults from high school classmates, most of whom wanted to kick my ass most of the time. I got to watch as my former grade school teachers chatted with my parents about how I was a brat in their class and it figured I'd end up like that. My teenage need for a little gas money and a desire to fuel my need to become an entertainer was what kept me there.
I've always thought I had whatever was necessary to make it in the business. Perhaps my own fear of failure and lack of drive keeps me at the level where I am. However, what happened on that particular day provided a spark of incentive to never completely give up hope.
I ran into a man who worked at the local paper and wrote a story about me after I won a local talent contest. Small towns are always looking to find something to print in their papers and upon occasion, I was a suitably interesting topic.
This reporter had his little daughter with him in a stroller. I'm not sure exactly what her age was but I am confident that it was still counted in terms of months as opposed to years. This girl was about the cutest kid on the planet. She was so cute, could have been on a baby food jar - blue eyes, blond curls, rosy cheeks, even the drool coming out of her mouth was cute. It pains me to say this because I DO NOT like kids and don't find any of them adorable! That being said, she was adorable nonetheless.
I stood there talking to the reporter and catching up a little bit. The daughter was fascinated with my red suspenders and cool shoes. I eventually began juggling for her and trying to solicit a smile or some sort of expression from her. She did end up smiling a bit and seemed to enjoy my stupid antics.
It was a bit hard to get those reactions because she was sucking on a pacifier pretty hard and Lord knows that a babys binky is a sacred object. No baby or parent ever wants that thing to leave the mouth. I'm not sure if its because the kid will start crying or if it will deflate like a balloon and start PBbFFFtppsst-ing through the sky. All I know is that a kid of that age rarely takes the chance of losing the pacifier by smiling or laughing too hard.
By this point, my Mother came by and also joined in the side conversations with my friend. I continued entertaining my audience of one and got those cute little kid laughs and grins that make parents dash for their cameras.
Now don't think for a minute that I'm going to give you the whole maudlin the smiles on the faces of children is why I do this crap. It is not. I do it for the money and my own need for attention. Even when rejecting this clich, what happened next stuck in my mind.
It became time for my friend and only audience member to leave. I asked him if he thought his daughter would like to have a balloon animal. You always have to ask with a kid that age because you don't want the little buggers to bite them, pop them, and maybe choke on a piece of a balloon. What a waste of a good balloon. Ba-Dum-BUMP! He said it would be fine if I gave her a little souvenir from the show.
I made a simple balloon dog, a staple in the balloon animal industry, and kneeled down to give it to her. She sat there, chubby cheeks, curls, binky, and all, staring at the balloon, not knowing what to do. I tried to look friendly and non-threatening, moving slowly and telling her in a soft voice it was O.K. to take the balloon.
The moment stopped and became quiet. We all watched the kid. Eventually her small hand took the balloon out of my hand. She looked at it very carefully and inspected it as if she were the quality control expert for the entire balloon dog industry. She then looked right back at me and, with her other hand, took the pacifier out of her mouth. Instead of doing the typical baby thing and putting the balloon into her mouth she handed me the pacifier and smiled as she began playing with the balloon.
To all witnesses it appeared as though this was suitable payment for a job well done. We all laughed a little thinking about the thought process that made this little girl determine that my entertaining her was worthy of some sort of barter or exchange. The dad stood amazed and remarked about how she never let the pacifier out of her sight.
It was such a completely pure and genuine indication that I had done a good job entertaining this one person I almost became teary-eyed. Her innocent gesture, this simple gift of the only thing she possessed and bestowed value upon in return for my services, was profoundly more significant and fulfilling than any paycheck. I spent the rest of the day holding my head up a little higher and thinking about one of the best performances I'd ever given and how only a few people saw the show.
I kept the pacifier and walked away. The kid started crying but I didn't care. I was a star now! She should have thought about the consequences of her actions before giving it away. Learn about lifes little cruelties now, baby cuz it don't get any better, I thought. Near as I figured, I taught her a valuable lesson that day. Years later, I sold the damn thing on eBay for enough money to buy a marijuana joint and a bottle of Mogen David. Good times, good times!
NO! I didn't do any of that. What kind of jerk do you think I am? The story was just getting too sweet for my tastes.
I gave the binky back and she made attempts to give it back to me. I guess she did not understand that I was already getting paid and my contract rider had no stipulations about receiving a used pacifier. When I managed to make her understand she could keep the pacifier AND the balloon she smiled the biggest smile I'd ever seen and cradled the balloon, keeping it close to her heart.
Some performers spend their entire lives wondering if they made a difference on anyones lives. The worry that they will not be remembered or appreciated is always there. Every performer spends time fearing the possibility that were not connecting with our audience or were in the wrong profession. Its a horrifying prospect because the applause and laughter is sometimes the only indication that were any good. On that day, I felt I had made the right career choice.