For the last three summers, I sat downtown in front of the Antique Mall in the sweltering heat, trying to sell snow cones and listening to the same guy belt out the same chorus of the same song for six or seven hours straight. Even though most days were dull and lonely, sometimes interesting situations arise on a Mass Street corner during the summer, and here are some of the most uncomfortable and memorable:
1. Dennis talked to me about Las Vegas and shaved ice safety. For those of you who have never had the absolute pleasure of meeting Dennis, you are truly missing out. Stay on Mass Street long enough, and one can often find him clad in a colorful clown outfit or a female cat suit or a pair of bright red biking shorts, fashionably coupled with a polo shirt under a suit jacket with three-quarters of the sleeves chopped off. Usually, he is cheerfully pushing a baby stroller with a ragtag mannequin named Sheryl in tow. He loves Las Vegas and cats. Every time he promenaded past my little ice stand, he would lean over and warn me of the sharp shaver’s perilous blade, remind me to be careful, show me a Las Vegas pamphlet, and then shout, “See ya later, Honey Bun!” as he resumed his afternoon stroll.
2. A-One rapped for me and tried to sell me his CD. A-One is a pretty cool cat, cruisin’ around Mass Street with his wheelchair and his music. He rapped for me once, stacking rhymes in such a way that about every third word would be left out on a radio edit. After he finished, he wanted me to buy his CD, but then the owner of the Antique Mall came out and told him to “move along” if he was going to “use that sort of foul language” so I (thankfully) never had the opportunity.
3. A lady had a pet bird … and roly-poly. A woman who frequently sat on the corner of the adjacent alley stole a baby bird from a nest above the merry-go-round next to my stand. I’m not sure how she pulled it off, considering the nest was twenty-plus feet up there and she was not in the most athletic of shapes. For a couple weeks, I had the pleasure of watching her treat the bird like her own child. Unfortunately, her bird eventually flew the nest to seek its fortune, and the lady filled the void in her heart with a roly-poly (or tw0).
4. Jerry sang the same song a bazillion times at least. His name isn’t actually Jerry, but that’s what the ice stand employees call him. His repetitive belting of obscure eighties music didn’t bother the passerby because he or she only heard snippets, but the street performer charm wears off and annoyance and irritation set in after six or seven hours. The customers’ jokes about him serenading me got old pretty quickly too.
5. An elderly woman walked by carrying a toddler-sized bunny from Hell. I wish I had taken a picture of this, but I just sat in silent horror as the woman slowly lugged the giant demonic rabbit past me and onward to commit unspeakable acts of evil.
6. An older, not-actually-homeless guy asked me for help with his cellphone. He also told me he hoped to make enough money that day to avoid getting his electricity shut off, which isn’t a common homeless person problem, but he tipped me five dollars for his $2.50 shaved ice, so I can’t complain.
7. Some guys got mad at a different not-actually-homeless guy, and Larry had to chase them away. I felt like I was watching one of those shows where “viewer’s discretion is advised” and there is an abundance of screaming and threatening throughout the episode, but this was in real life. The assailants were not appreciative of the panhandling lifestyle, and they made that loud and clear and scary. The experience only lasted like 30 seconds, but it seemed like a full 30 minutes before the Antique Mall owner broke up the squabble.
8. A guy gave me a love poem he “wrote” himself. He came to the ice stand everyday and ordered shaved ice with all the flavors on it. One day, he gave me an “original” poem that smelt heavily of cologne and read strongly of a poet better versed than he.
9. The balloon man liked to talk to me. Sometimes good things came out of that, but most of the time he just told me about upcoming circus events.
10. More people have pet bunnies and snakes than one would expect. This isn’t a particular moment, per se, but until working downtown, I thought sighting someone walking a bunny on a leash or balancing a snake on his or her neck was to downtown Lawrence as a Sasquatch encounter was to the forests of the Pacific Northwest.