A small crowd of slightly sunburned Alaskans gathered around a secluded back corner of the Anchorage Market and Festival two weeks ago. Uncontrollable giggling from young children and the occasional chuckle from an unimpressed adult could be overheard as a traveling street performer known simply as Timon cut small pieces from a white rope and let them fall to the street.
“Kids, your parents will pay you a dollar for each piece of rope you pick up and put under your pillow tonight,” said Timon with a facetious grin.
One child looked up hopefully at her parents before lunging forward to grab a piece of rope and stick it in her pocket.
“Oops, that might not be a happy parent but oh well,” said Timon before he magically reconnected the severed pieces of rope.
The 20-something year old New York born performer has only been working as a full-time magician for less than a year but it was a dream he's carried with him since discovering Robert Nelson in high school. Nelson, perhaps better known by his stage name “The Butterfly Man”, was a research chemist at Vanderbilt University turned professional street performer. His daring act consisted of juggling, fire eating, ax juggling, skillful heckling and of course, a reveal of his large butterfly tattoo which rested square on the top of his balding head.
Not unlike his role model, Timon too left the world of academia to pursue a life on the fringe.
“The schools I went to aren't important but I essentially studied liberal arts because for a while, I thought I wanted to be a creative arts therapist.Then I got really into dancing so I transferred schools to pursue that but after a while I figured it was silly to get a degree in something that wasn't really practical. So, I transferred a third time and studied business because I thought if I was going to be doing art I didn't want to be one of these people who has no idea how my damn coffee shop is run,” explained Timon.
Although Timon may have learned how to run a coffee shop, like most college graduates today, his educational background had little do with his first job. While living in a remote cabin in California, Timon taught himself how to tattoo with what could only be described as a janky tattoo gun that ran on a generator supported by D-cell batteries. By tattooing people he met, Timon was able to earn just enough money to sustain himself while continuing to live off the grid. Evidence of his art can be seen in the form of free-flowing, organic designs tattooed on his hands and arms.
After nine months of relative isolation, Timon did want any logical person would do – he drove to Washington to join the circus.
“I had a friend who was working at the Zoppe Circus and he told me that if I could get to Washington in two days that I could get a job as a roustabout,” recalled Timon who says that after working with Zoppe, he has yet to find another job that has challenged him.
In true gypsy fashion, a mere nine months passed before Timon decided it was time to move on again. Perhaps empowered by the hard labor of setting up and breaking down a circus, he entertained the idea of pursuing training to become a daredevil motorcyclist with another traveling circus. This time around, reason won out and Timon decided to abandon the enterprise in exchange for returning home to New York. As one would expect, his decision involved a love interest – unfortunately, things just weren't meant to be.
“I wanted to be in New York because I fell in love with somebody and for a while, things were really nice. But it didn't work out,” said Timon matter of factly.
Free from the ties of a romantic partner, Timon hit the road again until he settled on setting up a home-base in New Orleans.
“New Orleans is a city where you can perform on the street year-round, so that's why I have been able to start working full-time as a street performer,” Timon explained.
But not surprisingly, the promise of a new adventure called and Timon made his way up to Alaska to spend the summer performing in Anchorage and building log cabins with an acquaintance he made somewhere along the way. Though he is not sure how long he will stay put, he is happy to live in the moment.
“I love that moment when you see a kid and they are just having a lot of fun. Sometimes you can do this really simple trick of making something disappear in front of someone's face and the reaction a kid gives you is just magical! But you do the same trick in front of someone in the 20s, 30s or 40s and they don't give a damn – life is too complicated and there are too many other things to worry about,” said Timon with an air of wistfulness. “It's like if something doesn't happen on your SnapChat then it didn't really happen.”
Still, despite the challenge of capturing the imagination of cellphone-obsessed crowds, Timon believes in the dying art of street performance almost as much as he believes in the importance of transience.