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The International Writers Magazine: Lima People

Street Actors in Lima
• Joey Carney
Photo Faviola Torres

I haven't every really seen another city in the world where people are as resourceful as in Lima, whether the con-artists, the beggars, the businessmen, or the real artists. In the United States or Europe people waste so much that the bums live well digging through garbage. There's too much competition in Lima.

Lima Actors

You see strange people some days. One day there was this guy coming down a major avenue, Faucett, completely butt ass naked, in the midday sun, when everyone was with their families buying lunch in the market or coming home from school. And he was completely unabashed by it, like he maybe didn't notice. Everyone was completely ignoring him, sort of falling into the ruse, as if they didn't notice it either. But I couldn't really hold myself back, and sort of burst out laughing and started staring at him. When he passed he stunk, had a long brown beard and his hair was a little matted. People talked after he passed, sort of shocked by it.

Maybe this guy lived down by the beach, closer to Callao where it stinks of sewage not Miraflores, where there´s an artificial beach and they polish the rocks and give surfing lessons to tourists. Where this guy lived you could walk down there below the cliff, but no one goes there except the lost ones wondering and picking up drift, with little temporary shacks made up of the extra wood, the freedom of subsistence. From time to time they venture up, needing food, to sell what little shit they have. They look right through you. I like to think of them as the penitence monks of the modern age, watching the waves come and go.

But not everyone in this city is lost. There's another guy who makes goat sounds, we´ll call him Goat Man. Goat Man stands at major intersections, he was left behind somewhere, no one cared for him, and bahs in a really loud voice, you could hear him all the way from my apartment. Then he walks between cars and people give him money out of pity. One day Goat Man came to the intersection in a suit. He was dressed in a nice suit and he was bathed and his hair was combed. But he was exactly the same. He made Goat sounds in his suit. I wasn't sure if the suit was his own idea, in a shrewd investment to make more money at the intersection; or if someone took pity on him, and took him in, cared for him, dressed him, and wanted to get him a minimalist job (and that Goat Man had escaped back to the life he loves, away from the cares of society).

Goat Man soon had imitators. The imitators stand downtown, very shrewd at lunch time, by the nice stores where all the money is. But you can tell Goat Man is sincere, he has an innocent look in his eyes. The imitators always wear sunglasses.

There´s also Robot Man. Robot Man goes all in silver, clothes and body painted, in homemade get up with cardboard and this mouth piece (perhaps a part from a squeaker toy) that he manipulates to make robot sounds. But Robot Man isn't a bum, he's an artist. He has various acts, the most ingenious of which is the money jar (also silver) which upon moving in robot metal moonwalk in front of the cars, he looks into the jar, shakes it upside down in metallic fashion, and makes cute robot sad-sounds, upon which the audience is elated.

The trouble is that this act takes too long. Factoring in both the slow moonwalking and the time to look in and move the jar, it leaves scant little time to walk between the cars. 45 seconds at quickest, and few lights in Lima last that long except in heavy traffic. And people are too pissed off in traffic to give money. Robot Man has followers too, they also act in the city center. But these aren't so good, they're kids, I get the feeling that perhaps they're disciples of Robot Man, practicing in front of people for the effect. Now, when you walk the streets, there are sellers selling the Robot Man mouthpiece that makes these noises. They're packaged and becoming popular.

The best is the Acrobat Boys. Acrobat Boys are truly acrobats, they come from the cerros, are poor, pretty young. Acrobat Boys have an act where they do a flip over the other crouched down a little. Then one throws the other up in the air and he does a double back flip. But then 3 of the kids crouch down in a row, and one of the kids does a flip over all three kids. This takes the whole 2 lanes, the kids basically flies across the whole road. Then they clap, pump up style, do a little cheer. The athletic acts always do this. I saw holes in their shoes, bugging one of the kids on the hot pavement, needing new shoes badly. They were good, they didn't have imitators.

Dancing Fool had a mannequin, he was a hippie. He loved his mannequin greatly, she had on this skirt, it was cheap but elegant, and a wig, and had perfect breasts, wide eyes. They swayed along the sides of waiting buses, in long and passionate swirling, twirling and footwork on the side of the bus. At the end he dipped her, a long, arched dip, and kissed her on the lips deeply, laughing, because his girl was there for real, she dressed stylishly and was handsome, held out the hat smiling along the side of the bus. Dancing fool wasn't a regular, he did it only for a while, his real girl wasn't there the next time, maybe he left her for the mannequin. He didn't smile at the kiss the next time, was bitter. Mostly he just liked to dance.

On Faucett there was a girl that lived around there, he was really a guy, a transvestite it was easy to tell, but I stared at her hard one night because I was curious, she didn't look like anyone else in the neighborhood, had on the purple Janice Joplin type of hat with dingleberries, like hanging from a lowrider in the 70s. I think she mistook my look for desire, or maybe it was because I was the only gringo in the neighborhood and stood out, but she was madly in love. I returned it with polite small talk. She told me "God bless you" the day I moved away.
© Joey Carney

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