Nobody tells you about the science of the street when you first find yourself there. Hitting the streets is one thing, but no one tells you that it hits back. Conservation of momentum I guess, old Newton was right!
At sixteen I found that I was free to do what I wanted after almost 12 years of group homes and foster care. I’d been with several families throughout my childhood having never found that ‘forever home’ they talk about on adverts for dog shelters. That’s where I went wrong! I should have been taken in by the animal welfare society instead of a succession of group homes! As a kid, puppy dog stares were my speciality.
At 16, with the blessing if not a few misgivings of the last family, I set out two days after my ‘birthday’ into the world and within a month was on the streets. It wasn’t that I’m a junkie or deadbeat and couldn’t hold down a job. More the jobs I could get at that time couldn’t hold me. Working fast food, deliveries or customer service counters (though the latter did allow me to talk to people) were not fulfilling. And let’s face it, it’s not that I wasn’t without a few talents.
Clever fingers, a winning personality and an insatiable mind meant in good times I could make it as a street performer. I can do anything from close up magic, juggling, stunt, even a little fire-breathing though that made everything taste of kerosene for a week. When street performance didn’t pay, there was always pick-pocketing and the more simple cons that left people feeling good about paying for my meals. I got by.
But it’s lonely on the street, even if you have friends and you never ,ever safe. Nothing is forever, nothing lasts or has any permanence. No one can be truly trusted for long, everyone is working their angle. I don’t sleep well as it is, on the street or in a squat I don’t think I ever sleep more than a few hours a night. It starts messing with your head.
Summer 2012 found me in a squat by the river not far from my regular haunts. There were others; junkies and worse that went through the place, but I kept to myself and learnt quickly to never leave anything behind I couldn’t do without. Not that I had much and no savings to speak of, but it was the height of the tourist season and street performances were paying well, especially if I wasn’t the one doing the performance; if you know what I mean.
Walking amongst the crowd looking like just another European backpacker, invisible as everyone’s attention is drawn to the action in the centre. A part of the people and not part of ‘them’; and parting them with their cash. The secret predator amongst the shoals of gawping tourists.
It wasn’t until I was sorting through my ‘takings’ for that morning that I realised I’d picked the wrong pocket. A driver’s license, credit cards and even the family photo of a well-known gang leader. He was a fixture of the streets, the legitimate businessman, someone even the police and politicians listened to. Even then the streets of London are covered with CCTV. It wouldn’t have taken him long to discover my face and from there my ‘name’ (I’ve never been one to give the same name twice) and most importantly where I stayed. I had no doubt that anyone I knew would tell this guy and his ‘associates’ everything they needed to know. I had to do something quickly, but what?
Running away is always first on my flight or fight list. Only problem is that takes money and a current passport; neither of those things I had. You also need a place to run to, which I don’t. Except maybe… nah, I don’t know the old country and it doesn’t know me. Nothing for me there. Besides, I didn’t think this particular ‘gentleman’s’ reach was so short it couldn’t get me wherever I holed up. There is fight, but I’ve never been much of a fighter. A man of words and well placed gestures has always been my way. And how would I fight an organised crime syndicate, it was laughable. No, I had to find another way and fast.
So I photocopied the content of the wallet, wrote a short note and sent the whole lot to myself at the address of the first group home I lived in, Mr and Mrs Morris of Slough. I figured they’d send it onto the next and then the next address I’d stayed over the years. With luck it would take a few weeks for the letter to make it to the last home who I still kept in touch with. By then, I’d have collected by mail no harm done.
If not they’d open it and read my letter. At least someone would know what happened to me.
Then I dressed myself in my best clothes; which is to say I stole a reasonably well fitting suit out of a dry cleaners delivery van. I figured white t-shirt with business suit and plimsolls would look respectable and sporty. Thus dressed I made my way to the office of the gentleman in question.
Obtaining an audience was the easiest part of the plan (getting past receptionists is a breeze with a sweet, well meaning attitude with the appearance of being exactly where I am meant to be) holding my cool in front of a man that could have me beaten senseless or worse was quite another.
He sat behind his black high gloss desk, a view of the Soho district he dominated through a floor to ceiling window behind him.
“So what do we have here? Another street artist?” He asked after looking me up and down a few times.
“Well spotted, sir. My name is Eric Leomund (see what I mean) and I was supporting my friend at their performance this morning.” I said respectfully with a casual air that hopefully suggested that I wasn’t intimidated.
“Really? I didn’t see you.” He looked at me and then to a bodyguard to stood by the door. He shook his head as well.
“I help get the crowd excited about the performance, applaud and ‘ooh’ at the right places. It was in that capacity that I found this…” I pulled out the wallet and went to hand it to the gentleman. The bodyguard quickly stepped up and took the wallet from me, checking its contents before handing it over to the gentleman.
The gentleman also checked the contents of the wallet, everything was there, I know, I made sure.
“You found this, after the performance?” It was one of those questions not said as a question, and I could see that my story was a little thin.
“Yes sir, lots of things are left behind after performances, but nothing as surprising as a wallet of a prominent business man as yourself.” I smiled, which was hard to keep up under the tidal pull of suspicion.
“And you didn’t think to ring before now?”
“As you said yourself sir, I’m a penniless street performer. It’s often easier to walk something back to its owner than find the change for the payphone. I apologise for the delay, I got here as soon as I could.”
“Uh, huh.” The business man sat back in his leather chair flipping his wallet between pudgy fingers. This took some time and I could feel the sweat rolling down my back and sticking my shirt to my skin. I didn’t flinch, nothing but shere balliness was going to get me through this.
After seeming hours (in hindsight more like 10 seconds) of this basting, the gentleman leaned forward.
“So, you are a street performer. What’s your bit?” He said with a cool interest and I let go the breath I’d not known I’d been holding.
“Close magic, sleight of hand is my speciality, “ And I pulled out my cards. I always carry my card, you never know when you need to distract someone with a little hocus pocus. The bodyguard jumped in again to take my cards, but this time the business man waved him aside and beckoned me over.
I spend 15 minutes running through my usual routine of self-deprecating humour distracting from my sleight of hand and had the businessman and his bodyguard scratching their heads.
“Can you do this on a stage or around tables in a club?” Asked the business man after I’d returned his card to him for the fifth time after we’d torn it up, burnt it and flushed the pieces down the ensuite. I told him I could and he offered me a job warming up the crowd for his headliner each night.
“But if I catch you using your fingers for anything other than magic I’ll have Reg here cut them off, are we clear.” He said. I replied to his message was clear and we shook hands. Ohh, that Timex on his wrist was so tempting. Classy, not like a gaudy Rolex. I let it lie.
From poverty, to near death to almost stardom in one afternoon. Such is my life. Momentum is a funny thing, but one thing is for sure, you can’t take advantage of the extra lift it can give you if your not already moving.