What A Gimmick!

Posted by admin on July 18, 2016 in Pirate Adventures |

My life is one gimmick after another. I don’t mean this in the negative sense of the word. I’m not talking about “a devious aspect or feature offered up so that you’ll purchase something.” No, I’m talking about the more classic form of gimmick: “a novel or ingenious device, something that is supposed to attract attention.” In short, schtick.

You can use schtick if you like, but I prefer gimmick. I just got used to the word back when I was first learning to be an entertainer. It all started with the band my brothers and I had. We mostly played novelty songs, you know, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor and My Boomerang Won’t Come Back.

Yes, pretty gimmicky. Downright schtick, actually. Like all gimmicks, I knew early on that this style of schtick wasn’t my schtick. As soon as I could figure out how to unravel my sad little life, I left it all behind in what became know as “The Renton Years.”

By then, of course, I had found the Seafair Pirates. The old timers in the group were gimmicks personified. The master of all gimmicks was Weaver Dial, a guileful rogue if ever there was one. I could finish this entire RobZerrvation talking about his gimmicks alone, but I will give you just one. Famously, Weaver had a really long striped sock. At the top, he sewed the clasp of a small woman’s coin purse. When it came time to pay for a drink, he would reach deep down into his seabag, pull out the sock, unroll it ever so slowly down the bar, labor to unclasp the clasp and reach way down to the bottom. This took him so long that the bartender usually just said with a smile, “Forget it, it’s on me.”

I fell in love with gimmicks. One of my favorites was Spike the Wonder Dog, a battery-operated dog with an eye patch and earring. He would bark, then sit down in the street. I knew his actions, so I could make it look like I was commanding him. “Sick ’em!” I would yell, and off the dog went. When he sat down, I would remonstrate him loudly, then wag my finger. As I did, I would stealthily slip my finger into his mouth and act like he had bitten me, running down the road, trying to shake him loose.


The Kid Catcher backfires again.

Yeah, cheap schtick. But it sure made people laugh, almost as much as my Kid Catcher and my radio control shark, which is hilarious to see in action. It’s an inflatable shark, mind you. On a bright orange car. Yet still, the kids jump and run when it heads their way.

That’s the beauty of good schtick. As a performance artist, a well executed gimmick is as good as a top hat and a dozen rabbits to pull from it. The crowd, young or old, in a park or half drunk at a bar, loves it universally.

Over the years, I have had many gimmicks. Some have stayed with me forever, like the 24 Hour Marriages and Mark the Shark. Others have come and gone. I still have Bob the Mobster Lobster that I can tie onto my buttocks. Every time a kid points out that it’s following me, I run faster. For some reason, I simply can’t get away from it. (Cue the laughter now.)

I’ve also met Mom over the years. I met her most recently in Edmonds. She’s always unaware that her “son” is about to walk up to her yelling, “MOM!!! Why did you leave me in the Kmart parking lot!? Look what’s become of me!? I’m a pirate (with pathetic, mock dread and sadness).”

I used to worry that if I shared my gimmicks with others, they would steal them. A few have tried. Famously, a fellow mate tried to do the Kid Catcher gimmick. The net he used ended up wrapped around his legs and the kids yanked on it, dropped him to the ground and caught themselves a pirate.

Not quite the way it’s supposed to work. That’s usually the case though. The beauty of a gimmick is that it has to be performed. Without the performance, it’s just static stuff that may not make a lick of sense to the person who sees it.

I’ve always been blessed with that ability to see things that aren’t there. I like to think it’s because I always misunderstand the world around me. I misinterpret what I see.

Thank God. While others see an innocent ponytail scrunchy, I see a five minute improvisation about the Tidy Bowl man and his missing life ring. If nothing’s around, I can simply say the word “Cocoon,” and go off on a Scottish accent tilt-a-whirl that will have people projecting beer from their snot boxes.

I can’t seem to stop either. I have several reduxes of past gimmicks; one is the fencing sword that looks like it runs through someone when you poke them with it. It’s still in the undone pile. The shark was much easier. A quick trip to eBay and Amazon and all that was left was to blow hard and charge some batteries. Wait, that sounds a bit dirty.

And then there’s the desire I had one day to save some pirate’s mortal soul. I will admit this inspiration came from dear Paisley, a pirate I knew in Tampa who would dress as a nun and perform last rites, reading random scripture from the Bible while offering up communion Nilla Wafers.

About a month ago, I thought I could improve on that a bit. Sure enough, Amazon has cases of communion wafers and grape juice so that I can save sinners wherever I go. I still have to figure out how to substitute cheap wine for the grape juice though.

When I do, you’ll find me in a bar, tossing over one of these kits whenever it appears someone is about to stray. Too much lust in their heart – communion kit and a quick smack on the forehead to absolve them of their sinful ways. Too much drink – a communion kit, a smack on the forehead to absolve them of their sin and prompt removal of further temptation, which I will pour unselfishly into my tankard.

I know. I just can’t help myself. Gimmicks are everywhere in this world of ours. But I have come to learn that a gimmick has to speak to you; it has to be yours and yours alone.

Originally, Weaver tried to give me an old piece of wood with a rope on it. The schtick (and everyone can play right along here) – that I was “walking the plank.” Groan. Weaver could have made it work though. He could make anything work. I let him walk the plank in the end. It wasn’t me. But he did give me an appreciation for the magic of performance art, one where anything and anyone, can become part of the act.

In the Emerald City, ordering up a party cup of Communion wafers from the Lowest-Price-Christian store on Amazon,

  • Robb

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