Round Clear Silence


By: Karl Saliter

Enlightenment can hide in the steel wheel within a disposable lighter. Or a music stand. A dented metal water bottle you got from the lost and found. It can be earned from several years spent on the mat in the monastery, faithful to the ringing bowl. Or randomly land on your shoulder like grace herself, as you open a can of tuna for the cat.

I arrived in Halifax Street Performers Festival midday, was given my apartment key, and almost floated into my temporary bed, letting the flight dissipate into the past, letting the world spin by awhile. Caught my breath a sec. Assimilated.

John came later. He is a different sort of act. There is a quiet comedy throughout his being, a dry, engaging voice, which I find very real and refreshing. When you ask John what he does, he looks you dead in the face and says, “Fuck all.” He is a fantastic human statue act. They are rare. (The fantastic ones.)

03-uni I’m a comedy juggler—my finish is flipping fire and knives around up on a ten-foot unicycle while playing the harmonica. I’m very biased towards skills and comedy. As a rule, I roll my eyes at statue acts. But I love to watch John. So do people. John transports them into a state of wonder, and causes curious whispers of “Look there.” He calls himself the Invisible Circus, dresses in an otherworldly silver costume with a conical hat, and blows bubbles from a plastic sword. He crushes it. We had met the year prior, performing at the Singapore River Buskers Festival, and I’d found this redheaded Londoner much to my liking. Tripp came later that day, long and lanky with a huge massive enormous rope-walking show. Picture a slack rope, strung between two seven-foot-high 2×4 “cross beams,” like a tall letter X. It is held up by anchoring to a light post on one end, and by ten volunteers on the other. A skinny dude in black pants and a black-and-white striped tee shirt walks, perfectly confident, to the middle, and tells the crowd why he does this.

“I’m a middle child. Can you tell? I mean, look at me. Look at me!”

In that line, Dextre conveys the beating heart of the street performer. There is a second line, in common use among us:

“I open the fridge, the light comes on, I do twenty minutes.”

Something about our crooked tribe needs attention like most folks need oxygen. We wither quickly without it, and generally, will find a way to create it, no matter what.07-oxegenAt work, gathering crowds of hundreds from nothing, we cultivate attention by being interesting and crying like a baby, in turns. Crying for attention is just as it sounds: point-blank asking, cajoling, demanding people to come to the edge of our space and look. Being interesting is multifaceted. Intentional costume, mindfully placing props like some secret ancient Tai Chi Ritual, marking off a sacred circle with rope, chalk, bottled water, orange cones, plastic chain.08-cone “Don’t come here. Something is about to happen.” We fabricate an event vacuum which we intend to fill.

The three of us were there 10 days before the main festival started, hired to tour partner festivals at Saint John’s and Sydney before performing at the 1200-lb-gorilla of festivals, Halifax. We were glad to meet. We meandered through the city, looking over the performing sites, learning who we were. Talking, listening, we walked the miles of our common ground at dinner together. We ended the night in John’s apartment at 11-ish, breathless with validating ourselves to each other, exploring laughter and companionship.
It was soon to tumble into events: more performers were heading to airports. There were to be crowds of thousands and huge circles of laughing, clapping people who had come from all over the world to watch us. That would be just fine.

10-crowdThere are few creatures on this earth quite like the street performer. We are perpetually 12 years old, with the above-mentioned “Look At Me!” gene informing most moments, if not completely running the show. We need validation from people—ideally, from hundreds at a time, wrapped in prolonged laughter, followed closely by lots of cash. But in a pinch, we’ll settle for individual admiration. It’s kind of an eye-roller.

Vonnegut called human attention “something new and wonderful on the planet,” and for street performers, it holds fascination. When we get together at these festivals, a shitstorm of competitive storytelling and one-upmanship is the norm. It is raw ostentation: primal childhood hunger as only the most insecure can provide.

Countdown was upon us. We were there, plane rides over. The hunger would soon be sated. The show was about to get on the road. Urges, needs and cravings were to be felt and satisfied. John even got a wife from Saint John. 11-BlueThere were fascinating ladies, Les Neirides, goddesses in blue face and body paint, and one of them would like me. She would walk up to me, body, spirit, and mind, in that order, too close, more than I could handle, and tell me: “I know what it is to eat a color.” I would be fascinated beyond my ability to think. Life was coming at all of us: no parachutes anywhere.

I walked out to the balcony. There was the bubble sword. Irresistible. I blew a few bubbles, and as we were on the 4th floor, they lingered for a long time. John took the sword and blew some with smoke inside. Magical. He did more, perfectly clear this time. His many years spent working the sword showed. He held and moved the sword using his wrist, the air, the balcony itself to its best advantage. Blowing bubbles was John’s self-expression. His bubbles had certainty. Mastery creeps up on performers. Do anything for twenty years, and if you are even partially awake, you’ll get great at it.

12-bubbleJohn pointed out something as we stood watching: a most temporary climate condition. It was an unusually hot moment in a wet, velvet purse of a night. The bubbles were not sinking. They either followed the uncertain breeze, hovering, or floated up. We paid close attention, focusing. Three very talkative men, men driven to chattiness by invisible genetic coding, grew silent as the bubbles caused quiet. We were swept inside them, glad to go. They floated over Halifax. We lingered long, watching.

Nothing happened and nobody spoke. Irrelevancies watched irrelevancies. The most sophisticated temporary universes ever invented observed inchoate, short- lived soap planets orbit around what amounts to more of the same. Carbon-based life forms reflected on each other. Life caught a glimpse of itself in the mirror, and confronted with shocking silence, stilled.

I know what it is to have the transparent eat you.



17 Responses to Round Clear Silence

  1. Lee Zimmerman says:

    “…a wet, velvet purse of a night.”
    This was beautiful, Karl.

  2. checkerhead says:

    Lots to wrap your head around in this piece Karl – Thanks for joining the team!

  3. Tim says:

    Wonderful. Just….. perfect.

  4. Dana Smith says:

    Finally the patron saint monk of a street act brings his presence to the moment. I’d say a big sloppy kiss is in his future and I’m volunteering Miss Behave to bestow the lad with her pair of eager lips. To survive the journey of street is to keep laughing into the audacity of the risk. And perhaps when we peel off the bandage and look deep into the wound we find the purposeful tool we call laughter as tonic and salve to the nightmare that awaits a failed gambit that lands a broken soul back in the straight world we all know as the real job. So, at first street is an escape vehicle, but further out into deep space we travel, the longer the flight, the more it becomes a journey into the center of our human ‘beingness.’ Of course we use slander, sexual insult, put-down, bluff and guile if it suits our purposes, but we also deal from a deck of cards fair and square, “I’ll show you mine (the show), and then, you to show me yours… (Laughter, applause, and a tip…)” Karl just raised the bar and hit one over the fence and beyond the moon. This website is starting to get rather classy…Bravo mate

    • karl says:

      Wow, Dana. I’ll be a little while digesting that. I’m grateful to read those words. This piece meant a lot to me, and hearing feedback from people like you, who I admire, in this thread, is a balm. Yer da balm.

  5. Dick Finkel says:

    Another tasty chunk of reflection. Thanks Karl; and hats off to Dana for his response. Bravo, gentlemen. Aaaaannnddd, ongoing gratitude to His Checkerness for his commitment.

    • karl says:

      Too right, Dick, David’s work here could easily be described as tireless, and at least in my case, the pool of writers might be called a bit tricky to work with. 🙂

  6. JoAnn Noakes says:

    Well put! meeting the people behind the acts is what I enjoyed most in my 20ish years as a volunteer at the Halifax International Buskerfest. Check out my tribute to Buskers in the August edition of Our Canada

  7. Jeff Moche says:

    Karl, really well-written and enjoyable. It swept me up and into the narrative, floating like a bubble on your words. Buoyant and transporting.

  8. martin ewen says:

    Exceptionally well written. It’s kinda codified. Unapologetically gleefully parsed such that only the vacuum fillers fully identify.

  9. karl says:

    From a writer of your talent, Martin, that is a genuine compliment. Thank you. Long time between kisses, my friend. LOVE the clown burial car idea. Hope you are well.

  10. Maru Garcia says:

    Delightful And Fascinating, Like You

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