By: James O’Shea

01-LauncherThe first time I saw one I knew I had to have one. It’s a giant slingshot, or catapult, made of a pouch attached to two loops of surgical tubing.  It was originally designed to throw water balloons down the beach.  But they were quickly taken off the market once it was discovered how dangerous they were.

I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to use it as part of a street show? But what to throw?  I quickly settled on food as a launch object, having been in many food fights in high school, and always found them entertaining.  I use it in street shows all the time. I do have rules: I never aim to hit anyone, I aim to come close.  02-DinnerRollAnd I only throw something that I can hold up in a court of law and say, “Your honour, it was a dinner roll.”

My goal is to entertain, and animate the street, not to injure.

And the truth is I usually aim at people who look innocent.  I always ask the audience, when the bread is loaded and ready to fire, “Do you think we should do this?”  And they always scream at me…”YES!”  So I am not solely to blame.

03-TieDiedYou get the best response from the crowd if the food falls close to the target.

One of the best targets over the years was at a party being held at one end of a large grassy field at a university.  We, the crowd, at one end of the field, were watching the other end of the field for potential targets. And then he appeared.  To this day the perfect target.  Tie dye shirt, sandals, long stringy hair and beat up clothes.  A real wannabe hippy!  He looked like he was drawn by Crumb.  Perfect!  Launch team to places! Load!  Audience countdown 3,2,1!

In this case I was throwing a jelly roll.  In North America that is a light sponge cake with red Jelly filling rolled up into a tasty treat.  It’s fairly heavy and you can get a lot of distance with it.

04-JellyRollThe hippy, if it is fair to call him that, was striding along, hopefully stoned, minding his own business on a sunny day, when WHAM!  A jelly roll falls out of the sky, right at his feet! It bounces once and rolls to a stop.  He stops.  We hold our breath.  He looks straight up into the sky.  Where could it have come from? We die laughing.   Then he stops and looks closer.  He picks it up.  We hold our breath again.  He wipes a bit of grass off it.  No!  Yes!  He takes a big bite out of it and keeps on truckin’.  Goodbye! He walks out of the frame.  The audience shits themselves laughing.

People always ask me have you ever hit anyone?  When they ask this I always pause, and then I say, “Yes.”  I’ve hit a few people over the years.  But often they didn’t know it was me, because I was 200 feet away.05-TapeMeasure

Once in Grand Prairie Alberta, Flying Bob and I were flinging donuts down the street and the audience was all having a great time, and we were about to move on to the next bit,
when into the circle bursts Rob Williams and he is holding one of our donuts which we
06-Donuthave just fired down the street, and he has an RCMP officer in tow, and he shouts “There officer!  Right there!  Those are the guys who hit me with this donut! I’m sure of it!”  And the audience, without any prompting whatsoever, goes ‘Ooooo….’

Now this was awkward.  The cop was real. And we did throw the donut. Rob is a fellow performer, and the problem was that he is an excellent actor, and he was playing the part of the outraged citizen to the hilt.

07-cops-and-donuts“See,” he yells, “See how the curve of the donut matches this mark on my head?  I was injured, and I want them brought up on charges.”

The cop isn’t sure what to do and asks me, “Did you throw this donut?”  “I’m not sure,” I answer, stalling.  “Can I see it?”  But the cop won’t hand it over: it’s the law of cop donut attraction—one of the founding principles of the universe.

Luckily at this point Rob pushes his luck.  “I’m an innocent taxpayer,” he rails.  “I’m enjoying the public space and this is common assault!  Common assault I tell you!  These hooligans….”

When the cop looks back at him I quickly grab the donut out of his hand, break it in half, throw half to Bob and stuff the other half in my mouth and start getting rid of the donut.  Bob does likewise.  The cop knows there wasn’t much of a case to start with, and now without any evidence….  08-crumbsHe gives one last apologetic look at Rob, dusts the crumbs off his hands and turns and leaves.  The audience cheers, Rob leaves in a huff, Bob and I finish the show and split a decent hat. Also it is the one and only time I ever stole a donut from a cop, and that is no easy trick.

09-SocietyOften it by breaking society’s rules that we get a clearer idea of what those rules are.  Throwing food at strangers is clearly wrong.  But: what is a public space and who owns it?

Who owns the street?  The city?  But surely that is me and you.  We are the city.  The city is not the buildings, without us it would be various piles of bricks.  The truth is we share it.  We take turns. You might put out a blanket and have a picnic in the park. Go for it. For a time it is your spot. There’s some dude sleeping under a bridge. The poor fellah. Let him sleep. Maybe some kids build themselves a fort in the forest. Good. There’s a man on a soap box yelling about Jesus.  After all, Jesus was all about the yelling.10-Soapbox  Hot dog vendor on the corner. I’m hungry! Here comes a fat lady speeding along on a medichair smoking a cigarette. Sexy! And occasionally if the weather is good, and the crowd is right, perhaps a performer shows up and shows you something you’ve never seen before. Passes the hat and then is gone. It’s all temporary. All of it. So let’s cut each other some slack, share what’s there, and enjoy the pageant. And if you do get hit with a donut out of nowhere, remember the hippy. Pick it up, dust it off and take a bite! And keep on truckin.11-bite

5 Responses to Slingshot

  1. David Aiken says:

    If you do get hit with a donut out of nowhere, pick it up, dust it off and take a bite! And keep on trucking.

    Now if only everyone took this to heart!

    Thanks for the reminder to not take things too seriously!

  2. Lee Zimmerman says:

    I think I might have been that hungry stoner.
    This is freaking hilarious, James!

  3. Glenn Singer says:

    Nice one James. Excellent use of dangerous child’s toy. And that Rob Williams cracks me up.

  4. Dana Smith says:

    I recall a derelict low rise inner city building in Edmonton, abandoned and in disrepair. James improvises over the course of a whole string of shows… at first the building is merely in disrepair, then he claims it is by force of his voice that the building has been shattered and then abandoned (everyone was to come out with their hands up…) then… in the next show he slings a pastry at the thing and urges audience members to come closer and stay longer unless they wish to risk his finding out where they live and doing to their homes what he has done to the derelict building. Remember that James sports a Cheshire like grin that a mother can do nothing but love. Our beloved James is the adopted son to his audiences mothers. Here is wit not just unbound but slung.

  5. dave says:

    I remember flying debris performing at a racquetball banquet in 1986 (or thereabouts) in saskatoon. It was a medieval themed banquet right besides the courts. You guys set up and then began to try and get some semblance of order. Unfortunately most of the parents were drunk already and it was really loud. I remembed one od you guys looking around at all the kids and players and looking at the other guy before shrugging and roaring, “My lords and ladies, may i please have your f$#%ing attention!”
    It worked! Everyone looked over (for the most part) and the dinner entertainment was saved!

    Sadly, the event scarred me and i ended up being a street hustler working for bathsalts but you know, it still makes me laugh to this day. 🙂
    Best wishes to you guys

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