Friday, May 28, 2010

The Great Zucchini

The Adventures of Rick O'Shea, part IV

In a previous post I mentioned that Rick had moved his kite shop out of his home and into a waterfront location on the city's Southbank Riverwalk.  The store became a focal point for buskers and artists and drum circles of all kinds.

They attracted so many people that their performances were formalized into events called, New Vaudeville Nights. They were very informal events, featuring whomever happened to show up that particular evening and they were free and open to the public. 

The performers would station themselves in the center of the expansive boardwalk, the audience forming a circle around them.  It was up close and personal and the evenings were filled with smiles and laughter.  The star attraction at these events was a newcomer to town who called himself The Great Zucchini.

Zucchini was a classic street performer.   Fire eating, juggling, slight of hand and balancing acts all performed during a running commentary of timely anecdotes and one-liners.  Dressed like a French mime with painted face, striped shirt and ballet-style pants and shoes, he would walk the boardwalk during the day, working for tips as he pulled quarters out of a child's ear or gathered a small crowd as he juggled balls over his head, behind his back, under his legs and over his shoulder, all the while balancing a juggling pin on his nose.

During the Vaudeville nights Zucchini often performed with his teenage son, Stefan, an engaging and precocious young man whose brilliant smile could make girls swoon.

Zucchini and Stefan would throw the pins to each other and catch them over their heads, behind their backs, while turning in circles, and while spinning hula hoops.  It was a great show capped off by Zucchini's fire breathing act.  The huge ball of fire blown into the air never ceased to bring forth oohs and aahs and an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience who quickly filled the duo's tip jar in appreciation.

At the time, I worked for a non-profit where I organized several special event fund raisers.  I often employed Zucchini as entertainment.  I would have him wander through the crowd at a banquet performing his slight of hand tricks or juggling at the entrance to an event as he welcomed our patrons.  No matter where I used him, he was a crowd favorite and always brightened the evening.

And then, one night while I was sitting in the circle surrounding his and Stefan's performance on the Riverwalk, I looked across the way and there she was... Shannon!  Her eyes met mine at the exact same moment and we couldn't resist rushing right into the middle of the show and into each other's arms for a great big hug.

Zucchini and Stefan didn't miss a beat.  Grinning from ear to ear, they continued pitching their pins around us as we embraced, and then over and around us as we finally realized where we were and ducked and dived out of the way.  After we got settled she introduced me to her new husband, Raji, an Anglo-Indian computer geek who seemed like a really nice guy.

I couldn't wait to ask about her brother and his family in New Mexico.  Was there any news?  To my surprise, a giant smile came over her face and a twinkle to her eye as she said, "That's him right there.  Zucchini is my brother."

"No way!" is the only response I could manage.

Later that evening, the three of us sitting on a bench together laughing over the improbable coincidence, I asked Zucchini if the whole thing was for real.  He said, unfortunately, yes.

He said he and his family had been out of town on vacation when the Three Mile Island accident occurred.  As they were returning home they saw several people they knew speeding in the opposite direction.  They knew immediately that something was bad wrong and flagged down the next friend they saw.  When they learned of the problem, they left their children with their friends for safe keeping, and he and his wife, both of whom were safety technicians at the plant, went in to do what they could to help.

What they found when they got there was a full-blown melt-down that had somehow failed to totally breach containment.  They also found that the filters designed to stop any radiation leaks were quickly overwhelmed and freely spewing contamination into the environment.  They pretty quickly got it under control but by then, the damage was done.

In the days following, the power company and the government put a tight lid on communication with anyone outside of the plant, especially the media.  Then the cover-up began.  Zucchini couldn't stand the fraud and blew the whistle to the local media.  The rest of the story you know from my last post.  Deliberate or accident, after the death of their brother-in-law they figured there was no sense hiding any longer and so they moved to Baja Georgia to be near Zucchini's mother.

For ten years they had lived in the deep mountains of New Mexico, completely off of the grid.  No running water.  No electricity.  He said that they cut and stacked firewood all summer so as to get them through the brutal winters.  Their nearest neighbor was an eccentric old hermit, a retired circus performer whose stage name was... The Great Zucchini.

Having no marketable trade other than that of nuclear technician and finding it emotionally impossible to plug back into the system, Zucchini borrowed the old man's moniker and put the tricks and stunts he had learned from him to good use as a busker.

Sadly, several years after this story their beautiful son, Stefan, was killed in an accident.  He and some friends were pushing a stalled car off of a dark road when they were hit by another driver who saw them too late.

Devastated, Zucchini and his wife again retreated into the obscurity of the mountains.  I haven't seen or heard from them since.  Shannon and her husband returned to England where, I assume, she still resides.  And me, I'm here still spinning yarns.

And so ends the Adventures of Rick O'Shea.  At least... for now.


  1. Wildly entertaining again, Mr. C! However I'm also a bit disturbed by part of your tale, because I was living within 10 miles of TMI when it happened.

    At least I was upwind.

  2. Help me out here.
    In Florida the reactors are privately owned.
    Take Turkey Point (good name for a nuclear power station) 2 miles east of Homestead, Florida, this station is owned by Florida Power and Light.
    If it had a meltdown, FPL has to do the clean up and pay damages. (read you! Dumb ass)

    So, just who was after Nouveau Zucchini C’est Magnifique?

    Who paid them, and how did they get paid?

    Did they drive Volvo Sports cars?

    Did they drink Martinis?

    Inquiring Minds and all.

  3. Punch -- TMI was/is in Pennsylvania; it was probably the Amish mafia.

  4. I really liked this! It was easy to read and follow...even for me. lol
    Nice work and what a great story, Mr C!

  5. Oh yes, a great story. I remember three mile island, but I was young and in Canada, out west, and appreciate the inside info.

  6. My blog won't let me comment on my own blog. I'm getting really pissed, but here goes again...

  7. Holy shit! It worked. Now I'm too upset to comment. But thanks everyone anyway!!

  8. That is what you get for F&%#@*G around with TMI. Putzz.

  9. Some sad tales there my friend, but you painted a fantastic picture and I would love to have seen and met Zucchini, and Rick and yourself for that matter. Still, I'm impressed that Zucchini pulled coins out of kids ears. I've tried that with my kid but all I get is ear wax.

  10. What a much sadness AND survival, reinventing oneself. I love the name. The great vegetarian-named performer! Our nonprofit community here could use an infusion of someone like that!


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