Without a ride to gigs, one Detroiter's puppet show remains obscure
Published: November 7, 2012
That Saturday, he gathered his puppets, dismantled his stage and packed his black shroud. And he did it all for nothing. He never made it to the show because his ride fell through.
"I don't even want to talk about it," he says the next day, shaking his head. Then, as if to sum up what happened in a few words, he adds, "Oh, man. My brother."
Banks needs rides to get around town because he's been handicapped most of his life. He's got ankylosing spondylitis, which he refers to as Bamboo Spine. It's an arthritic condition that causes the spine's vertebrae to eventually fuse together into a solid, single bone that leaves the body contorted and difficult to maneuver.
He can barely get around his small booth, let alone from a bus stop to his destination. He can't drive a car, though for a time he figured out how to do so using wooden canes to reach the pedals on the floor, but he really needs a vehicle with hand controls. So despite his ambition, despite his commitments and appointments, he's at the mercy of others if he needs to get someplace.
Banks talks about all this as he sits on a stool inside his booth on a chilly autumn afternoon. His walker stands nearby, his cane stays in his hand. The crowd is thin today at the bazaar, and apart from a few hellos from others who work here, nobody's shopping in his booth.
He leans over and picks up a puppet, a white-haired dog wearing a leopard print costume and red sunglasses that he named Diamond. The dog starts rapping along with a Queen Latifah CD. And Banks breaks into his toothy grin again.
Barely a minute passes before several people have gathered, staring with amusement. They can't help but smile or chuckle, because the sight of a fuzzy rapping dog is genuinely funny. The dog beckons the crowd, strokes its own hair, puts its hand on its heart, waves its arms wildly. For a few moments, it's as if the puppet gives him a chance to express the movements that his own body can't, and the delight on his face steals the show.
And when it ends, his audience melts away. Nobody pays him for the entertainment, and nobody buys anything. Banks goes back to waiting quietly as the TV flickers and the puppet goes back to being lifeless on a shelf.
A few days later, despite missing his gig the weekend before, he was invited for the next week's Halloween show at Bert's. And Saturday is here! He was planning to be there by 10 a.m. to set up for the noon show, he says excitedly. This time, he insists, one of the organizers has promised to pick him up and take him there.
Ten o'clock comes. So does 11. And Banks is still at home, waiting for a ride that would never come. He leaves voicemails and waits. Nothing. By mid-afternoon, he's given up.
"She never did show up," he says, his voice dispirited at the end of another day's defeat. "I called her and it just seemed like she had a lot on her plate."
Now he missed both the Halloween party and the weekend bazaar that day. "I'm starting to see that I won't be able to do outside performances," he says, forlornly. "When you have a handicap and you've had one all your life you begin to learn certain things. You begin to learn how to have patience and how to do things more efficiently, so when things just don't go, you don't let it bother you. You can't let it frustrate you. You have to squash it and then just move on."
For now, he says, he'll just focus on making DVDs of his performances until someone else comes along and decides that his puppet show is worth being shown elsewhere.
Until then, his puppets come to life only in the shadows of his dimly lit booth, animated at whim, unseen by all but those few who pass by when there happens to be a spontaneous lip-sync-a-long. At least, Banks says in self-consolation, he can put on a performance or two at the bazaar the following day, and draw some appreciative smiles, maybe even a paying customer.
All he has to do is find a ride there.
Detroitblogger John is John Carlisle. He scours the Motor City for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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