The man's name, I would later learn, was Mitch. But for a long time, I knew him only as "The Turtle Man".
The Turtle Man performs yearly at our local renaissance festival, Scarborough Faire. I called him the Turtle Man because his show involves racing turtles. Actual, living, breathing turtles.
He'd given all of the turtles names and personalities, such as "Englebert Dump, a sad excuse for a turtle," a huge, lumbering jack ass "for whom I have no respect". And the tiny, yearning "Englebert Lump, who has never finished a race despite a heart full of dreams."
Image of the Turtle Man, in colorful pants, holding one of his prized racing turtles
While you do get to see the turtles race eventually, the majority of the show consists of the Turtle Man donning various silly costumes, informing you of turtle safety ("Should any of the turtles climb over the protective barrier, grab the closest small child and throw them at the turtle"), and making fully grown men squeeze Martian Popping Head Dolls at unruly turtles.
He delivers the entire show in a dry deadpan, and when he's done with all the preamble, he hits you with the following bombshell before raising the the barrier and finally allowing the turtles to race: "The next time you start to feel a little self-important, just look in the mirror and repeat the following words: 'I spent thirty minutes watching four turtles DO NOTHING.'"
It's awful. But it's WONDERFUL.
I adored him. I wanted to BE him. I had raised the Turtle Man in my heart to the level of Hero. Just imagine! Not having to waste time sitting behind a desk, because you're outside, making horrible puns and hit-or-miss jokes about turtles!
The fact that he was so old only made me admire him more. I tipped him as well as I could. I hoped that every dollar I could spare would afford him the opportunity to keep doing this, to never have to give up on his joy. I made a point of talking to him after every show I watched, just to make sure he realized how much his performance affected me. He told me that in addition to traveling around with his turtle show, he also wrote poetry. He told me this so many times that I began to realize he never remembered me from previous years.
Talking to others who worked the Faire, I learned that I was not alone in my affection for Mitch the Turtle Man, not alone in calling him a hero. Several Faire employees had also been touched by his sense of humor, personality, and that he continued this work even into his old age.
But he was already old when I first saw his show, and that was well over a decade ago. Every year he gets older, and I find myself worrying. I sometimes go to Faire for the sole purpose of checking on him, to see if he's still alive. His show slowly fades into a shadow of previous years. His voice goes a little more each passing year, so that if he's facing away from you, it's very difficult to make out his words. I watch him and worry, "Do these people like him? Do they see the genius of his show? Or do they see him, an old man barely able to focus on his own presentation, and feel sorry for him?"
And am I worrying that others feel sorry for him?
Or do I worry that I feel sorry for him?
This is an entry for Week 1 of LJ Idol. Read the other fine entries here.
*For those of you who aren't already in Idol, jayus means: “From Indonesian, meaning a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.”