Mike The Juggler.
I met him in my first year here,
I was down for university.
He was up for throwing tennis balls about.
Full of piss I was, as was usual then, and I marvelled
as the man – a throwback to some sort of carnival barker,
barking mad perhaps, but hey, who’s to judge – would
throw these balls about and grimace beneath his little woollen
He seemed to be selling some strange magic.
That he was amazed by his own ability to circle four
balls in the air; more amazed than anyone else.
Well, almost anyone else…
I’d stand there captivated. Talking to him, probably
thinking I was taking the piss. But amazed, also. Engaged.
Enraged with whatever else was going on in the world. Sometimes.
Mike The Juggler
was a regular to visit on a Thursday
or Friday or Saturday night.
There in Manners Mall,
tossing his balls high in the air…
We’d shake hands, and he’d hand me the tennis
balls to have a go…
I could juggle three. And I had this stupid pantomime
thing I would do.
I’d start with one. Throw it up. Catch it. Again. Again.
Then add a second, and would make it like I was learning to
ride. My training wheels guiding me as the two balls circled
And then…magic! I’d slyly add the third. And around and around…
Sometimes passers-by clapped – sometimes my mates with me had a chuckle. More
often they told me to “hurry up…”
Mike The Juggler tolerated all this. He always had the upper hand, the final say.
He’d puff at his smoke and then signal that I should add a fourth ball. And that’s
when the game was up. I’d make the cut-throat sign and hand back the tennis balls.
I’d be on my way.
And he’d be off on his way again. Balls in the air, three feet high…and then higher…
I visited Mike because
I could say what I liked.
I was never under the impression he was ever listening.
Sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Someone who is never really listening.
One night he asked me if I wanted to buy a CD.
It was 1995.
Of course I wanted to buy a CD!
That’s what I had moved to university for – after all.
He had a small box of CDs with him there in the mall, stashed under a jacket. He looked right
and then left, as if crossing the road. And then right again.
And when he was sure no one was looking he removed the jacket and let me look at the 30 or so CDs….
I can’t remember a single one, other than the one I bought from him on that night.
It was new out at the time. It wasn’t one of their best. Or it was. Depending on who you were.
But what it was – was $5. And that was a bargain back then. He had set the terms. I felt around in my
pocket for a fiver.
And we both left happy at the exchange:
To buy one of the worst R.E.M. albums from one of Wellington’s best street jugglers…
Well, why not…
(Of all the R.E.M. albums this is the one you are most likely to (want to) buy from a
street juggler, right?)
For a year or so I would stop in on Mike The Juggler.
You could say at that time we both had a few balls in the air.
But I know that the day he rolled his eyes at me was the day I knew I was doing something wrong.
No more visits to Mike The Juggler.
But he’s still out and about, on the cold streets, doing his thing.
Tennis balls in the air. Down Courtenay Place. Down Lambton Quay.
He’s always walking around town, with a little court-jester strut. Carrying
two shopping bags. New World shopping bags. They have what he needs
to get through the day.
Still with the hat. The track pants, the jersey. Still with the juggling, the smoking,
the gnomic grin.
He lives up the road from me now. Over 20 years on from when I first met him.
I never see him juggle, we never speak, he doesn’t know who I am.
But I know him. He’s Mike The Juggler
He’s never changed. He’s a reminder of who I used to be.
I saw him once, years ago, at the supermarket.
Guess what he was buying?
Fucking Tennis Balls of course. Loads of ‘em.
He walks by me most days now, still with these New World shopping
And I wonder what he’s hiding?
For a start, the supermarket he was shopping in was a Countdown.
So there’s proof he’s hiding something.
Just lately I’ve started listening to “Monster”
For the first time in many years.
Strange currencies, indeed.
“These words haunt me, hunt me down, catch in my throat…”
Thanks, Mike The Juggler.
At the very least