I saw a lot of things Friday during our Great Bear Writing Project scribbling marathon. This Michael Jackson mime was just one of them. He’s been a fixture on President Clinton Avenue for some time, actually, and I remember seeing him dancing there last year. The point is, he wasn’t making a fast dollar off of someone else’s tragedy. He was going to work in the Little Rock River Market just as he has for at least a year now, maybe longer.
I wish I’d taken a picture of him before, because he’s changed his appearance drastically. Not that my cheap-ass cell phone photo does him much justice anyway. A year ago this MJ mime was leaner, wore a black leather jacket, black pants, a white t-shirt, and one of those studded leather belts. The music on his boom box belted out “Billie Jean” and he danced silently in half white, half black face paint. He drew a crowd. He was good. I put a dollar in the bucket by his feet and he tipped his black fedora.
Like any good mime, he said nothing. His eyes were unsettling, though. He had a way of catching me looking at him, making me look at him, a playful, almost hyper-awareness something between mind-reading and telekinesis. There were moments as I stood there on the sidewalk watching him lock and lean that it seemed possible he was truly channeling Michael Jackson and Mr. Jackson was enjoying pulling off the hoax.
So he stuck with me. There are people like that who linger. I’m sure it happens to all of us.
Friday, there he was again. This time the mime had spray painted all his clothing silver. His face was also silver, except for the dark black circles around his eyes. It was almost 100 degrees on Friday at noon and the sun was a demon, but there he stood layered and painted without breaking a sweat.
This time there was no music coming from the boom box, and his movements were angular and brief. No dancing, really. When I came near, he offered penny candy and smiled when I refused. There were several of us on our way to find lunch so there was a moment of discussion while I dug in my purse for a dollar to leave in the bucket at his feet. There was a small clutch of onlookers watching the mime and he was mindful to keep moving, continue the show.
Each time I looked up, though, he was staring through me. His eyes were pained in that way quiet students agonize when they know the answers but can never summon the courage to make a voice. Not smiling against the pain, but beside it. He was so blindingly silver all over that it hurt to look back.
All through lunch I wondered what it felt like to hang your ambition on a suicide. Last year we didn’t know about the intravenous drips and astronomical pill-popping, although we weren’t surprised to find out. How did this kid find out when his mime-channel died? Was he on the street popping and locking to “The Way You Make Me Feel”? What did he do in that very afternoon, right there on the sidewalk in full persona? When someone told him, did he finally break character and speak?
Maybe he’s just a regular guy who walks off at the end of the day, buys a pack of smokes out of the bucket-money, and picks up Taco Bell for dinner. Maybe he’s a cad who beats his girlfriend or an identity-thieving con man. Maybe a frustrated actor trying to make it big in the wrong city. Who knows.
I just know there’s a story there and he’s not going to tell it, at least not to me, not in the street, not when he’s Michael.