A Liar and a Thief

Last month, I went out to perform magic on the street.  Between shows, I noticed a guy standing on a crate about 30 feet to my right.


“We’re having a trivia contest here and we’re giving away cash!” he said.  “Free cash if you can answer these trivia questions.”

That’s the kind of pitch that will gather you a crowd.  People lingered, wondering what the catch was, and then he would launch into the questions in a loud bark.

“What is money made out of?”

“Paper!” somebody would yell out.

“No!” he would answer.

“Plastic!” another person would yell out.




Audience members would fumble their way through all the possible responses, and then, after a couple minutes, somebody would yell out, “Cotton!”

And the guy would smile and hand out a $5 bill.  That attracted even more people.  The guy was giving out money! 

“What color is the sky?” the guy continued.

“Blue!” somebody would yell out.






After a few minutes, somebody would yell, “Clear!”

And the guy would give out another $5 bill.  The guy was giving out money!

After a few questions, the crowd had grown quite large.  At that point, the guy would change his tactics a bit.  He would address someone in the audience directly.

“Sir, are you a good person?”


“If you can prove to me that you’re a good person, then I’ll give you a $20 bill.  Stand on that crate opposite me and answer my questions.  If you’re proven to not be a good person, I’ll still give you $5.  Is that fair?”


And then the spectator would step onto the crate.

“Okay, first question: Have you ever told a lie in your entire life?”

There would usually be a pause, and then the spectator would answer, “Yes.”

“Okay, second question: Have you ever stolen anything in your entire life?”

“There would be another pause, and then the spectator would answer, “Yes.”

“Okay, so you’re a liar, right?  And you’re a thief, right?  Do you feel that you deserve this $20 bill?”


“But you’ve already confessed that you’re a liar and a thief.”

That’s when the guy would launch into his sales pitch, which turned out to be pure evangelism.

“But even though you’re not a good person,” the guy would continue, “Jesus was sent down from heaven to take away your sin….”

It was vicious.  First, he lured spectators with the promise of cash prizes.  Then he asked a representative spectator some personal questions.  Then he would twist their answers to imply that the spectator was an awful person.  (After all, just because somebody has lied a few times in his life doesn’t make him “a liar,” and the same applies to the thief appellation.)  Then he would sell his gospel as if he were selling soap–spiritual soap.

Sometimes, he would point to his golden retriever, which was a darling dog that lingered behind him.

“Isn’t he lovely?  Doesn’t he look happy?  He is, in fact.  Unfortunately, we brought him to the vet a few weeks ago, and it turns out he has a terminal illness.  Vet said he has only six months to live.  So he’s walking around happy as can be, but unfortunately, a death sentence is just around the corner for him.  And so it is with all of you.  You may be walking around happy as can be, but a death sentence is just around the corner for you.  Will you be ready?  Have you asked Jesus into your life?”

I was performing out there for a couple of hours, and the longer I listened to the pitch, the more it depressed me.  In fact, I became quite depressed, which certainly isn’t my way.  Each time he told the dog story, he would pronounce a different death sentence on the dog: sometimes it was six months, sometimes two months, sometimes nine months.

So, Mr. Soap Salesman, why do you think you deserve my trust when you’re a liar?

After listening to him for a couple hours, I cut short my magic performances.  I couldn’t take listening to his spiel any longer.  And on the drive home, I felt the weight of humanity weighing on me, disgusted at the lies and truth twisting that people would engage in just to prove that they were right and everyone else was wrong.  The only way I could dig myself out of the funk was to think of something lovely.

When I get home, I thought, I can put Lulu on my chest and pet her face.

And when I got home, there her furry white face was gazing at me behind the glass balcony door, gazing longingly in at me, hoping that I would bring her in and put her on my chest and pet her face.  And that’s just what I did.  It wasn’t a reasoned philological argument.  It wasn’t a spiritual accusation.  It wasn’t intellectual at all.  It was just petting Lulu’s face, which is one of the most wondrous things in the world.

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The 10-year-old Who Made Me Wonder

Today, I performed on the street in Monterey for four hours.  During much of that time, my mouth was going at full speed but my mind was sitting on the sidelines saying, “My God, when is this going to stop?”  Because the crowds kept coming and throwing money into my hat and people came up asking how much it would cost if I came to their house and did a party and people came up saying, “I saw you the other day and we live out in Palm Desert and want you to come out there!”

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Finally at 7:30 pm, I got a little breather and shut down for a few minutes.  I was hungry but I didn’t want to eat because I had to work.  I don’t dare count my money during a show–bad luck–but I knew there was a lot in there.  No matter how good I’m doing, I don’t go easy on myself, I just continue pushing.  It is a job, after all, and there are people in offices pushing themselves even harder.

Recently, there was a homeless guy playing guitar next to me on the wharf.  It was about noon on a sunny day, and the guy was making a little money.  Pretty soon, his friend comes up.

“Hey, you’ve worked hard,” he said.  “Let’s go have a drink.”

So after only an hour on the street, the guy packed up and start his drinking for the day.  That’s the antithesis of my style.  What I believe in is work for as long as you can and as hard as you can.  You can worry about the aching bones tomorrow.

Suddenly, this 10-year-old Hispanic kid shows up.

“I saw your show, and you were great,” he said with this great smile.  “So I wanted to give you these.”

He held out a jumbo wrapped chocolate chip cookie and a cannoli in a to-go box.

“Thank you very much,” I said, smiling.

“My father owns a bakery.”


“Over there,” he said, pointing, and he slipped me a business card.

“That’s great,” I said.  “I’ll go over and visit before I leave.”

Around 8 pm, the crowds had pretty much dispersed and I packed up my gear and walked down the street.  Strangely, though, there was no bakery where the kid had pointed.  I walked up and down the street, but no bakery.  So I pulled out the business card and looked at the address.  It was nowhere near here.

So I walked to my car, packed my gear into it, and typed the address into the GPS.

“No such address,” the GPS said.

It was very strange.  Why would someone print up cards with an address that didn’t exist?  I wondered for a moment whether it was a scam, but I couldn’t figure out what his angle might be.  He had given me something, he hadn’t taken anything.

Then I looked at the business card again.

Angelina’s Heavenly Bakery

And I smiled, wondering about something impossible (but then, my business is the impossible): Was he an angel?

She Was High All the Time

Last August, I was performing on the street in Monterey for a couple weeks.  One couple caught my eye.  Andy was a homeless guitar player and his girlfriend Mona played the bongos.  She was high every time I saw her.  In fact, once I saw her loitering in a parking structure, and she didn’t even recognize me.  Looked like she didn’t even know where she was.  It was such a shame.  She was a pretty girl.

Mona and Andy performing on the street, August, 2012

When writing my newly published novel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, I inserted them into it.  They’re the couple, Brescia and Memory, from whom Dante tries to buy a car with a fake registration, but which transaction opens up a whole other can of worms.

“Her name was Memory, although behind her back, all the guys called her Mammary for too-obvious reasons.  She was wearing a tank top, exposing her labyrinth of tattoos that ran up and down her arms.  Her purple hair shone in the morning sunlight like neurosis, a gold ring glistening on her nose.  She was making an iced coffee, and loudly.  From the creases on her forehead, Cat just knew that she had troubles like a bramblebush.  Looking at her, Cat was lost for a moment in Memory’s patterns of ink and skin, art and flesh, cause and consequence, symbolism and dysfunction—in fact, each of her piercings seemed to Cat like a medal commemorating its own dysfunction.”

Last week, after a year’s absence, I returned to Monterey to perform and saw Andy, playing his guitar on the same old wall.  I said hello.

“Hey, dude,” Andy answered back.

“Hey, where’s your girlfriend?”

But at the mere mention of her, Andy’s whole face changed as if a storm had suddenly moved in.

“In a ditch dead somewhere, I hope!”

It seems like mayhaps they had issues?

Be a Street Magician!

All this talk of busking reminded me that I published a book on busking in 1998.  It’s called Be a Street Magician!: A How-To Guide,  and it’s officially out of print, but I do have a couple boxes of books left to sell.  You can buy it for $50 on Amazon, but I sell it for the original list price of $40.


A Simple Little Thing

Last August, I performed magic on the street in Monterey for a couple weeks.  I made a few fans, including a young woman named Jessica, who said she was stunned and even mesmerized by my magic.  I like to hear that kind of thing.

“I could have watched your show all day, but my friends pulled me away,” she said in a message on my Facebook fan page.

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When I returned this week, Jessica brought her daughters, 7-year-old Ashley and 4-year-old Allison, to see what had so mesmerized her.  While I was preparing my show, Ashley came up to my table and smiled, which is one of the things that makes life worth living, children’s smiles.

“I saw you in a video on YouTube,” she said, beaming.

“Oh really?”

“I wanted to see the trick with the red balls.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, but I didn’t bring the red balls with me,” I said.  “But wait for the show.  I think you’ll like the Linking Steel Rings trick.”

I got a crowd right away, and 10 people mushroomed into 70 without me even trying.  I invited Ashley onstage with me, and she glowed.  Jessica took a video of the show (see below).


Afterwards, Jessica and her children put some generous tip money into my hat and left to see the seals at the end of the wharf.  But the best tip of all was Ashley’s smile.

Accidentally Famous on the Street

Last August, I performed street magic for two weeks on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.  I had a good time and polished my Linking Rings routine.  When summer ended, I left.  Last week, I returned.  Within the first ten minutes, a homeless guy called over to me.

“Hey, I know you!  Welcome back!”


He was big and smiley and had wild hair and a booming voice that filled the waterfront.

Then another homeless guy called over a big hello, too, even repeating some of my joke lines back to me, saying that he had appropriated them for his own show.

“Reach into your pockets and take out a 5-dollar bill.  Keep that for yourself and give the rest to me!”

I didn’t begrudge him stealing the line from me; I had stolen it myself.

Playing the street is an on and off thing for me.  I started busking in 1994, when I was trying to get good at stage magic.  In 1998, I published a book called Be a Street Magician!: A How-To Guide (Aha! Press, http://www.amazon.com/Be-Street-Magician-David-Groves/dp/0966814703/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214804689&sr=1-1), which made me semifamous in a niche audience, magicians.

These days, the vast majority of my business consists of big-paying inside gigs.  But when business is slow, I like to road-test my new material by performing on the street for an endless stream of new audiences.  Last week, I happened to get hired to perform for a couple of fancy parties at the classic-car show in Carmel, so while I was up here, I decided to play the wharf.

My first day back on the wharf, I did well.  I was even approached by a couple who saw my show and wanted me to come to their 6-year-old daughter Jasmine’s birthday party the next evening.  We negotiated on the spot.  They wanted me to go down $50 on the price.  I said I would do that if they bought my newly published enovel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, and got five of their friends to do so, as well.  I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t brought all my best kids’ show props–the die box, for example (see video).

The next day, a Sunday, I went back out to the wharf to get in a couple hours of busking before the party.  A man walked up to me with his kid.

“I’m glad you’re here!” he said.  “I saw you yesterday, and I liked it so much that I brought my boy to see you!”

It was strange to make such an imprint on this community without even trying much.  I felt like I was becoming accidentally famous.

In one of my audiences was an 18-year-old guy with the wild hair of an intellectual.  He said his name was Forrest.

“Man, you must get all the damn Gump jokes,” I said.

“Stupid is as stupid does,” he said, grinning.

During the show, I ended up casting aspersions on Forrest’s wealth because he lived in Seaside.  Everybody laughed.  Later, when I held out my hat for tips, Forrest came up and dropped in a $20 bill.

“Not all people in Seaside are poor,” he said.

I couldn’t believe I had benefited financially by making Forrest feel insecure.  It seemed to be against my philosophy of life, which is that being relentlessly positive is the way to happiness and wealth.  Still, I didn’t give him the twenty back.

Come evening, I did the kids’ show at the park and kicked ass.  Afterwards, two separate guys came up and asked me if they could have my card.

“I live in Los Angeles,” I said, handing it over, but then warned him.  “I’d have to charge a lot more for the show.”

“How much?”

“Like $1,200 at least.”

“That’s okay.”

IMG_3849It was a good weekend at the wharf.  Tomorrow, I’m going to try to play the local Farmer’s Market (see photograph above), which is so packed and busy that it looks promising.