Unofficial Sword Swallower

[Originally written 9.19.03]

It happened on Thursday while I was doing my usual ritual of putting a hanger down my throat, when suddenly it went almost all the way down.  You can imagine my inexplicable happiness with this.

Today I managed to get it all the way down; the only part that was sticking out was the curved handle of the hanger, and that was so I could pull it back out.

There is no feeling like it in the world.  The first thing I wanted at that moment was to share my exhiliration with someone who could be proud of my accomplishment.

As thrilled as I am, it seems valueless if I can’t celebrate with someone who understands, and I can’t force people to have that feeling or have them know why this is so important to me.  Either you get it or you don’t, and honestly, most truly just don’t fucking get it.

After not hearing from Jon for a solid week, he invited me down to the Shore.  While I have no idea what he’s been up to, I don’t want to burden him with this torrent of emotion that has plagued me since our last meeting.  Sometimes it seems better to just leave things left unsaid, because there is no doubt he values me as a friend.  He has personal issues that he keeps to himself, and I don’t want to stick my nose into his business.  Nor do I want to overload him with my own.

At least I got to spend time with someone who can be happy for me.  Rolled down to South Jersey in the early evening, listening to my surf mix tapes which aways seem to make that drive go by fast.  It was good to see him and be caught in a huge hug as soon as I walked thru the door.  That was before I even said anything, but as usual he was just glad to see me, explaining that he had taken a trip to the desert and had no way of contacting me.  While he never really has to offer up that kind of information, I do appreciate it.

Then it was down to business, which was me being excited and rambling about how great it felt to swallow a coat hanger.  The smile that lit up his face was phenomenal, and it was followed by even more hugs along with congratulations.  Jon insists that we have to celebrate, so we climb into his Chevy and I have no idea where we were headed but I’m bursting with joy.  When those pine trees came into view, the realization of what the destination was hit me.  Three painful months had passed since we last set foot in the Pine Barrens, having buried our Family because some ignorant assholes felt it was best if they were dead.  In all that time, we never spoke abou the tragedy, tho it always lingered with us.  At the moment it didn’t occur to me why he selected that location, but I know now that it still held meaning for him.

The funny thing about plant life in New Jersey is that it has great resilliency and the ability to repair itself, because we could not tell where that fateful fire had taken place.  We did happen to find a few decaying wooden monuments that had been ued to mark the area; everything else minus a few trees was pretty much the same. 

Jon tenderly took my hand in his, a wide vareity of emotion swelling in his eyes.  It’s not often that he gets so serious, and I knew whatever was about to happen would stick with me forever.  He tells me in his blunt way of speaking how incredibly proud of me he is and that my undying spirit has been motivating him to have he desire to perform more.  The words that followed were filled with passion and were exactly what I needed to hear.  From then on, we would both put forth the effort to carry on the legacy of our Family.

Celebration commenced with a fat blunt, swigs of ‘shine and ‘shroom juice and then an offer of something else I had never done before.  While I have been aware of Jon’s drug use for a while, there are some things we just didn’t share because he respects my choice not to do them.  However, I will not deny that I have been curious, and cetainly smoking ‘proper blunts’ falls into the category of hard drug use compared to just weed or mushrooms.  Sure, we dropped acid on the Wonder Wheel, but that was a special occasion and not something we did ‘for fun’.

So when that white powder made an appearance, there was hesitation on my part.  Jon certainly wasn’t pressuring me, jut merely suggesting that if I really wanted to try it, I had the opportunity to do so.  Of course he would be there for me if any bad feelings arose, and if I didn’t like it, he would be sure not to offer in the future.  That old cliche of you only live once entered my mind, so I said fuck it and took the glass straw from his hand.

Suffice to say we spent hours in the woods, laughing and talking loudly even tho the only things we may have disturbed were the trees, plants and whatever wild life was slinking around.  It was certainly one of the most intese trips I’ve ever had, with strong hallucinations and extreme feelings of euphoria.  By the time the sun came up, Jon was sober enough to drive, tho definitely still stuck in the throng of everything we put into our bodies.  We collapsed in his bed when we returned to his house and stayed that way for most of the day.  It was so incredibly comfortable, and I was in love with how awesome it felt.

Part of me wanted to shar thise with him, but as usual I bit my tongue and kept these thoughts to mysef.  It was hard, especially since he held me close as we waited for sleep.  Now I am unsure of what to say or think, but I know that there will come a point where I have to speak up before I miss my chance to do so.

Coney Island Therapy

[Originally written 4.22.03]

When you realize things are about as bad as they can get, they can only get better.

Saturday it was so damn beautiful outside, I made use of the new cell phone and sent a text to Jon.  He just so happened to be up my way, so we met up in Newark and we headed out Coney Island in his Chevy, windows rolled down and blaring some great tunes.  Lit up a joint while crossing the Verizzano and I was starting to feel better.

It was great to be by the sea, and with my best friend to boot.  We strolled around so I could take some pictures of the Cyclone in action, the demise of the Jumbo Jet and some shots of the Bowery.  Then we looped back around to ride the Cyclone a few times, which made for some great stress relief.  How nice it is to have the breeze in your hair and face, waiting for the train to get to the top of that lift hill, pausing for a moment before you plummet down towards the ground and the swoop up again right before you crash into it.  Why something so simple brings me joy, I have stopped trying to figure out, and just loved every minute we held hands and shouted with glee.

Dropped my camera off at his car, where we had a few bowls and some mushroom tea.  Then wandered down Surf Avenue hoping that the museum was open.  No dice, but wait…there was a sign that said something about the sideshow, which had literally just opened for the season, so we decided to check that out.

It was standing room only, so we crammed against a wall to watch the show, and I was sure to pay careful attention.  After all, I want to learn from these people in order to be a better performer myself.  I loved how the audience reacted to Insectivora eating her various tasty bugs.  Classic hilarity.

There was a brief intermission [as people were sucked into the Blow-Off] where I got a chance to chat with Eak.  He was saying how there is a sideshow revival, and I commented that it was nice people are interested in keeping such a great tradition alive. [One that I will be an active part of in the next few months.]

The show started up again and I was more a student than a spectator.  Watched every facial expression, listened to the way the patter was delivered and studied the way each performer presented their acts.  Jon leans over to tell me that he sees what I’m doing and gives me a nice hug, adding how pleased he is at my eagerness to learn.

The highlight of the show was when I [once again] was invited up on stage.

Let me interject here to say that every time I go up there, it feels so natural, and I know this is what I was meant to do.

Assisted with the sword swallowing act performed by the amazing Tyler Fyre.  Was definately a willing volunteer, as when he asked if I had any experience swallowing sword [we ain’t talking about metal blades here], I enthusiastically replied “Yes“.  Then he asked if I’d like to swallow the sword, and I said sure.  [Which I know wasn’t the response he was looking for, but playing along wouldn’t have been as much fun.]  He then said that he would do it instead, instructing that when he leaned over and winked, I would pull the sword out of his mouth.  [Had done this same routine the Great Fredini during the sideshow school, so I knew exactly what to do]. He had some trouble getting the blade down, due to the fact that it was still kind of cold in the bulding, but once it was down, he leaned over, winked and I pulled the sword out.  Applause for me.

Then I fell for the kiss-on-the cheek routine.  Not sure why I didn’t think of of it at the time, until as I go to kiss his cheek, and he turns to kiss my lips instead.  My face must have been so red.  More applause for me and I took my seat again, with Jon doing his duty of busting my balls.

Great show over all, and I must say it was definitely worth going.  Said good-bye to my friend since he had to be off and do some stuff, but not before letting me finish off the tea.  That was definitely the hardest part of such a fun-filled day, but Jon promised that I would be hearing from him again soon.  At least I  slept pretty well that nite.

Today was pretty much uneventful. On the bright side, I found Dressed to Kill.  The shirts were so drool-worthy.  [If only I could find some long skirts].  Found a kick ass shirt with a sideshow banner on it depicting the Human Blockhead.

Perhaps one day, I actually will meet that certain somone that appreciates my bizarre beauty. If only the circus would come to town and whisk me away…I would be so happy.

How great technology is, that you can sent a note to your friend via phone while lamenting in an on-line journal and suddenly get a smile on your face.  No, drugs will not ‘fix’ my ‘problems’, but they sure make me not give a shit for a while.

Simple Joys of Life

[Originally written 3.13.03]

Didn’t go to school yesterday.  Not like it matters much.  My attendance is too good. Yea, I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true.  Technically, I can miss a whole month of class without it effecting me, except that I’d be graduating later, obviously.  Packed my things to stay the nite at Jon’s place and quickly departed.

My intent was to go to the DMV to get a new license.  However, I did not get there until 1:30 due to traffic on Morris Ave and spending half an hour  trying to find parking.  Then I walk in, sit down and walk back out, as I was not going to wait on that long ass line.  Came back to the house to retrieve the form I had received in the mail to renew my license [I didn’t do that sooner why?  Oh wait, because someone suggested a photo ID is better than a non-photo ID—as you can’t get a license with a photo via the mail], went to the post office for the $16 money order and mailed everything out.  One less thing I have to do.

Since I had some time to kill, I dropped off the roll of film with last Friday’s Coney Island photos at Wal*Mart.  Stopped off at CVS and was happy to finally have found the smokes that I have been looking for, except that they weren’t cherry flavored, but I was so happy I didn’t care.  [Yea, I know, I’m going to kill myself.]  Went back to Wal*Mart and picked up the photos; the wonders of one-hour processing.  They came out damn nice, so I am very pleased.  Seems every set that comes back gets better and better.

Arrived at Jon’s house around five.  He immediately rolls one and lights up.  Get stupid instantly on only half a joint. [Some seriously good green he has].

Showed him the photos and tell him my plan.  His friend has some studio space where they hold these artsy fartsy shows from time to time.  Would like to collect various images of different focal points in Coney Island, blow up the good ones and make an entire CI inspired exhibit.

After much smoking and just hanging out, we got hungry.  Instead of waiting for the chicken to defrost, he ordered Chinese, and I made a cucumber, green pepper & asparagus salad to tide us over. ::yum::  Dinner was then had a short time later.

That’s pretty much it, aside from smoking ourselves stupid once again.  Due to the warm temperature this weekend [us Jerseans get excited when it gets 40+ degrees] we will be going out.  Not sure what we are doing yet, but it will certainly be too damn nice to sit inside.

Seriously think we smoked too much, because we both got out of bed thinking it was after eight.  So I throw on my ‘bare minimal face’ and prepare to gulp down my coffee when I glance up at the clock and then the television.

Is that the right time?” I asked, as it was only 6:30.

There was certainly minutes to spare for a bowl before I had to hit the road.  It would be worth the hour plus drive to go to school considering I had a nice relaxing evening with my best friend.

Had some good after lunch conversation with Shane—he is the one with the thick sideburns I had been checking out when he first appeared in school—about random things.  He complimented my silver ring and showed me the one he had.  The conversation was actually that of an intellectual nature, and this is the kind of people who I like to be friends with.  In that respect, it kind of sucks I will be leaving in less than a month, but plan on making the most of it while I am there.

Trying to get a metal hanger down your throat is not as fun as you think it is,  but damn it, I am going to keep up the practice.  Then I can further disgust those that seem not to like me with my display of putting a large metal object down my throat.

Coney Island Sideshow School

In 2002, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Coney Island Sideshow School.  At the time, I had been taking frequent trips to the Island, which often included paying admission to see the sideshow and on occasion the burlesque show.  Discovering that there was an opportunity to learn the things I had witnessed filled me with joy, to the point where I had a hard time even properly expressing how thrilled I was.  Noted here, I had been friends with Jon for about two years at the time.  We often discussed performing together, which came into reality in May of 2001 when I was introduced to the members of  Outlaw Cirkus and subsequently became part of the troupe.  Unfortunately, due to constant drug use, Jon was not in the right frame of mind to beome the mentor he wanted  to be, but we had numerous shows together with Outlaw Cirkus nonetheless.  When he learned that I had enrolled in the sideshow school and saw that I dedicated myself to absorbing everything I could, he made a promise that upon graduation, we would have a serious discussion about becoming long-term partners.  However, those stories are meant for a different time, and instead I am sharing my experience as a stundent in Coney Island

11.18.02 What I learned in Sideshow School

My weekend technically started on Friday.  Woke up to go to school, but upon checking my e-mail prior to departing, something better came up and I didn’t go.

Instead I hung out with Jon at the diner, and while he didn’t say much about the absence of metal in my face, he did mention that he thought I looked fine the way I was.  The encounter had to be brief, but he promised we would have an outing after my sideshow class.

To keep it short and sweet, over the course of three days, I was introduced to where the sideshow came from, what it was all about and learned some history of Coney Island itself.  [Most of which I already knew].  Invaded our nostril cavaties with Q-tips to prepare ourselves for the Human Blockhead, stuck matches in our mouths to get used to having fire in our faces for fire eating, and put wire hangers in our mouths as a preliminary step to sword swallowing.

There are only five other people in the class, one of which happens to be from Jersey.  So I have his contact info and said that maybe in the future we could work together.

Was surprised at how many members of the press were hanging around, as I didn’t think that many people even knew about the classes.  A film crew from the Discovery Channel was there for fuck’s sake.  They took our names and asked us where we are from and why we were there, so on and so forth.

Watched a few performances by Todd, the Great Fredini and whatever that other guy’s name was.  He was really good at the fire-eating.  Learned how to stick our hands in an animal trap, walk on glass and how the electric chair works.  Moved on to small torches and putting nails in our noses.  We learned Carny speak—which I want to start using—and other great things.

There really isn’t any big secret to be revealed.  The great thing about a sideshow act is that—for the most part—what you see is absolutely real.  Sure there are a few gaffes here and there, but when you see someone swallowing a sword…well, what do you think they’re doing?

There are three basic types of sideshow performers: the working act, the freak, and the self-made freak.  [Kind of aiming to be a part of the latter category, which I have to say I am rather proud of.]  To be clear, I’m not going to jump ahead and say I’m great at anything right now [except for the Human Blockhead], but I definately have the hang of it, and the more I practice, the better I will get.  Next weekend is more practice of what we have already learned, as well as bed of nails and other fun things.

This entry could have been a lot more interesting, but as I said, there’s no big secret to reveal.  Most importantly, I am doing this because I want to.  It’s a great tradition that deserves rightful recognition.  Just being in that [cold] building and learning what I am is a great honor.  The sideshow didn’t die out because the humanitarians were bitching; people took an interest in staying home and watching television or going out to a movie.

There is a new generation of people who are curious about things that they don’t see on a day-to-day basis.  There is always going to be an audience for this kind of thing, because it is just human nature to be curious.  And I am definitely one of those people who can dedicate theirself to doing this.

The other parts of my weekend were spent in South Jersey [what a trip that was from one beach to another] and celebrating with Jon.  He said he was happy that I had found some great people to teach me the history of sideshow and all that.  Don’t get me wrong though; I have learned a great deal from this man over the past couple of years that we have been friends.  He knows quite a few of the acts himself and speaks Carny.  However, he admitted that he had strayed from that lifestyle for various reasons, but seeing the passion I had renewed it in himself.

That basement birthday party was just pure debauchery.  Tons of metal heads, punks, squatters, hobos and other assorted misfits all crammed into a cemented cube.  The music was loud and gritty; people were moshing and spilling alcohol everywhere.  Our set was short but tight, and the people loved it.  Much consumption of illegal substances occurred, to the point where I don’t recall what I had or how much of it.  Not like that really matters; it was all good fun and I am so happy to be putting my skills to use.  It only makes me want to do this more.

11.24.02 Proud Graduate of the Coney Island Sideshow School

Did not think I would ever see those words gracing this journal, and perhaps don’t even have the right amount of words to properly express all of these feelings currently coursing through me.

The remainder of sideshow school was spent practicing the acts we had already learned, and introduction to a few more, such as the bed of nails and electric chair.  Met Harley Newman, who holds the record for laying on four nails I believe it was.   Also got the chance to handle one of the huge albino pythons that is used for the Coney Island sideshow during the season.  Maybe it was the black leather trench coat, but that snake really seemed to like me.  Oh how I would love to have a baby of my own some day.  Also got an up-close-and-personal look at Tyler Fyre’s swords.

Our graduation consisted of having to get up on the stage and perform one of the acts we had learned before we got a ‘diploma’.  Sure, it’s a bit cheesy, and only a piece of paper, but there is so much more that I am taking away from this whole experience.  It’s changing me in ways I did not think were possible.

Definitely worth spending the money, not only the tuition itself but the gas and tolls in order to get there.  [Of course between hustling and having Jon pitch in, that wasn’t really a big deal].  What I’m trying to say, is that this is one of those priceless moments where I am still kind of in awe that it’s all real.

After departing the Island, I made that long journey down to the Shore.  When I walked into Jon’s house, he was standing there with a huge smile plastered on his face.  There were colorful balloons and streamers everywhere, and a table set for dinner, complete with fancy foods and wine.  Following that most wonderful feast, we drank mushroom tea and went out on the beach to smoke a proper blunt and whittled away the hours talking about performing together in the future.  It was definitely a nice way to celebrate my accomplishment, especially since it was with the only person in the world who understands why I want to do this.

There was one last surprise waiting at the house when we returned.  A group of people were gathered at the back door, and I smiled when I realized it was the Outlaw Cirkus crew.  Rounds of congratulations came my way as they shook my hand and said I made the Family proud.  The hours that followed are a blur of partying on the beach with mushroom tea and weed-filled brownies until the sun came up and we all passed out.

Part of me is still waiting to wake up and realize that this has just been some really awesome dream.  However, grasping the fact that it’s not, I am overwhelmed and finally feel as though I have found what I was searching for, and I love it.

Living On a Diet of Steel

Out of all the sideshow acts that exist, I consider sword swallowing to be one of of the deadliest, as there is certainly a great risk taken every time that steel blade enters the body. The practice dates back thousands of years to origins in India, where Fakirs and Shaman priests used it as a demonstration of their power to be invulnerable, and a means connection to their gods. There is a great hall of fame list that has more details of this ancient art, which I am sure some might find to be quite surprising. People constantly ask me exactly what inspired me to want to learn how to do this, so I thought that I would take the opportunity to finally divulge that information.

The first time I ever saw someone down a sword was at Coney Island, and of course I was instantly intrigued. While I could wrap my head around most of the other acts, there was something undeniably sensual about sword swallowing. Understanding that there was no trick to the feat, my curiosity of how one was able to accomplish it grew each time I returned to Sideshows By the Seashore and watched Tyler Fyre stick that blade into his throat.  In 2002, I had the opportunity to attend the Coney Island Sideshow School and finally learn the secret behind sword swallowing, which I am not going to share. What I will say, however, is that practicing with a wire coat hanger was one of the most unpleasant things I have experienced, but I was certainly determined to emulate the act that had caught my attention.

There are a few gag reflexes one must over come in order to safely pass an object into the throat, down the esophagus, where it will rest somewhere in the depths of the stomach. Doing this right results in an overwhelming amount of applause from an audience. Doing this wrong can [and has] lead to serious injury, or even death. This is due to the fact that the object is passing several vital organs, including the heart and lungs. Suffice to say that ones life is literally on the line each time the act is performed. It took about a month of practice with the wire coat hanger to get it all the way into my stomach, and I must say that it was certainly a proud moment.

However, I could not legitimately call myself a sword swallower and present the act with this crude implement. So it was that I abandoned the practice, though I did purchase a sword in 2005 at an indoor flea market in New Jersey. A fellow performer suggested that I make some changes to it in order for it to be presentable on stage. For whatever reason, I was slightly nervous about actually making an attempt to swallow the sword, and so it sat in storage for a couple more years. The motivation to return to practice came from continuing to watch others flawlessly perform the act, because I knew I had the ability to do the same if I tried hard enough.

Swallowing 18 1/2 inches of solid steel in the wasteland of West Philly.

In 2006, while living in West Philadelphia, I was struck with the inspiration to attempt swallowing the sword. At that time I was friends with Barry Silver [notable master magician and fellow sideshow performer] who had learned several skills from the legendary Red Stuart. It was with their assistance that I worked up the courage to finally stick that sword in my throat. After about half an hour of practice, for the first time ever, I felt the steel blade slip down into my stomach. That swell of pride returned, only this time, I had truly become a sword swallower. Barry was the first person I called to share the good news with, and I wound up replicating the feat for him and a few other friends later that day.

Four years later, and I am still happily performing the act for a wide variety of audiences. Much inspiration has been drawn from Red Stuart, who is the world’s oldest living sword swallower, and also holds several Guinness Book World Records. It is said that he has swallowed over 50 sword simultaneously, and I have personally seen him down broad swords and even a Ford model A car axle at the Palace of Wonders. Truly he deserves much recognition, and I can only hope to achieve even a fraction of his greatness.

Photo courtesy of http://www.swordswallow.com

While researching sword swallowing history, I cam across this most amazing woman, Edith Clifford. She began performing the act at the tender age of thirteen, and became famous for swallowing razor blades, scissors, saw blades and bayonets. Personally, I would also like to note that she has held the record for most swords swallowed by a female for over one hundred years. That number is 24, and as far as I know, the current record is only half that amount. While this is certainly impressive in its own right, there is a great urge I have to not only duplicate her effort, but hopefully even surpass it. Presently, I have succeeded in swallowing three swords at once, which was first accomplished on stage at the Troccadero Theater in Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, I was a bit nervous about doing this for the first time, so Red Stuart easily swallowed the stack to give me motivation.

The very dangerous triple blade sandwich. Slipper Room, NYC [2007] 

That was also the same evening I shared the stage with Red Stuart and a few other sword swallowers to participate in a group swallow. In other words, we all stood in a line and swallowed our swords in simultaneous fashion. While I have only been a part of two group swallows, I must say that it was quite an honor to be on stage with performers I had the utmost respect for as we all slid solid steel into our stomachs.

Group swallow at Palace of Wonders, Washington D.C. [2007] Photo: David Schmidt

Over the past four years, I have added a few other objects to the routine. Currently, I swallow a stainless steel wire coat hanger, 15 inch cane sword, 18 inch 8-sided sai and the 18 1/2 sword, though it is without a proper handle. It actually fell off during a performance, at which point I picked it up, explained to the audience that they could not think the blade retracted into the handle, then continued with the act. There are certainly plans to find even more objects that I can swallow, though I am keeping such thoughts to myself.

In recognition of my accomplishment as a sword swallower, I decided to get a tattoo that would very obviously state my profession. This was something that did not take much thought, as I had wanted to celebrate my 26th birthday with a new piece of ink anyway. The design was partially inspired by one of my own swords, and I took a long train ride up to New Jersey just to obtain the piece. While I was definitely slightly nervous, most of that feeling subsided the moment that stencil was placed on my neck. About an hour or so later, I looked at the permanent artwork and smiled. Two after acquiring the tattoo, I performed at a New Year’s Eve event at a warehouse in Brooklyn, even though my neck was slightly stiff.

The very appropriate tattoo to honor my profession. Artist: Kevin Craig

The highlight of my somewhat short career as a sword swallower came in January of 2009, when I met Thomas Blackthorne. He is most well known for swallowing a jackhammer, and also holds several Guinness Book titles. It just so happened that he was passing through town with a sword that he had made, in an attempt to get as many people as possible to swallow it. Barry Silver and myself accompanied him to the steps of the Art Museum, where we were photographed and videotaped downing that very cold steel blade. The best comparison I can give, is if one were to accidentally swallow a whole ice pop. However, I must say that it was the finest sword I have ever had the pleasure of sliding into my stomach. A few months ago, I learned that the record was officially recognized, with my name being recorded in the book for posterity, and literally is engraved into that steel sword.

There are approximately 100 people world wide who can swallow a sword, and only a handful of those are women. While I am not the youngest, tallest or can swallow the most, I am still very proud of my unusual ability. It is definitely my favorite act to perform, and it never ceases to get a reaction from the audience. My main goal is to continue sharing it with as many people as possible, teaching a bit of history along the way, and some day setting a new record. As it has been said many times in this business, certainly this is a hard way to make an easy living, but I would not trade the experience for anything in the world.

For more information about sword swallowing, please visit the following sites:

Sword Swallowing To The Hilt

Sword Swallowers Association International

Interview With Fixe Magazine

Originally, this interview was sent to me last May, but several months of lacking Internet access did not allow me to fill it out at that time.

While I am very flattered to be featured on the site, I am quite disappointed with the lack of care that my interview received. Reading thru it, you will noticed that a lot of my sentences are cut off, and I really feel that this interrupts the flow of the article. Not to mention that it’s quite annoying.

Despite the fact that I brought this to the attention of the person who posted it, the error remains unchanged, and it’s hard for me not to feel as tho I wasted my time.

Here is the full interview the way it should have been posted. Feel free to leave comments on the article so that maybe someone will correct the mistakes.

*NOTE* – Decided to rework my answer for the costume question because I did not like what I wrote the first time around.

Classic Burlesque has become a huge phenomena lately, what about it first captured your interest?

In 2000, I was taken to a magical land called Coney Island, where traditional sideshow and burlesque were performed in a building that once belonged to the Dreamland Circus Sideshow. While I cannot pinpoint exactly when I saw my first real live burlesque performance, the very act of seducing the audience with carefully choreographed moves was definitely intriguing. Over the years I have seen a number of performances, and sadly many of them are reminiscent of scenes one might find at the strip club. There seems to be little respect for the classic art and the whole purpose of TEASE. Now it’s about how fast one can get naked, and the things one is willing to do once all the goods are exposed. One of my favorite and most memorable performances goes to the lovely Dirty Martini, a so-called ‘plus size’ dancer who received Miss Exotic World honors and can still make men drool. Certainly there are plenty of women who carry on the traditions of real burlesque, but sadly I feel the trend outweighs the art.

What first attracted you to sword swallowing?

Natural curiosity. Understanding that this was not a trick, my mind had numerous questions as to how one could easily slide a solid object into the body without being seriously injured. There is something undeniably sensual about the act, and the more I watched people do it, the more I needed to know how I could make this possible.

How did you learn to swallow swords?

Attending the Coney Island Sideshow School in 2002. Fred Kahl [aka the Great Fredini] was our teacher, tho Tyler Fyre let us look at his swords. Keith Bindlestiff and Red Stuart have also given me pointers in the past. Other than that, it was a whole lot of practice. The first object I ever deep-throated was a wire coat hanger bent in a ‘sword shape’, which took a month to overcome the internal gag reflexes. The first time I swallowed a sword was in August ’07 after half an hour of practice. My goal is to smash the Guinness World Record, which currently stands at 13 for a female, tho the official record is over 20 and has been held for more than a century by the very talented Edith Clifford.

At what kind of events do you perform?

Anywhere there is space, honestly. From seedy basements and grassy backyards to sandy beaches and the vast labyrinth of South Jersey forests, there is no event or venue too small. In fact, I much prefer more intimate settings, in order to be able to interact with the audience.

What’s it like performing all over and experiencing the different scenes?

Hard to describe, really. When I was touring with the carnival in 2005, work and business always came before pleasure. Between performing about 10-12 hours a day, set-up and tear down, we did not have a whole lot of spare time to socialize. However, being able to draw a crowd into a canvas tent and have every pair of eyes set on you is something that makes you understand that you a part of something big. The audience react in a variety of ways and I love every single one of them. At moments, it is what makes performing worth the effort. It is also enjoyable when people come and talk to me, even if they say “I don’t know what to say about that” in response to my sword swallowing. The fact that someone can take a minute to even pay attention to what I am doing gives me a boost of confidence.

The downside of the scene is what most people will never see and maybe do not even want to know about. In my opinion, it seems that who you know and not what you do gets you gigs. My life is dedicated to my art [in all its forms], and at the end of the day, the life time of memories and experience I have gained outweighs any sort of monetary reward or ‘being known’ in the scene.

Has anything crazy ever happened at a show?

No matter how well planned a show is, there is always the chance of the unexpected.

The worst thing that ever happened was back in 2004, during the midnite performance on the Wall of Death. My late friend Jon had constructed the track out in the Pine Barrens in South Jersey and we sold tickets to anyone brave enough to come witness the Death Defying Daredevil at his best. Riding at about 90MPH on a custom motorcycle, there must have been a loose board or fastener or something, and I watched Jon fly head first over the handlebars and skid across the wooden planks for a good thirty seconds or so. Everyone was in shock, and each second that ticked by as medics rushed to his aid felt like a lead weight in my stomach. While he was pronounced dead for a brief minute, Jon was able to walk away from the accident. However, the physical effects were permanent, and led to him retiring completely from show business.

Less tragic incidents include: cutting my foot on broken glass [at least the audience knows it is real] and bleeding on the floor for a moment, tho the injury was very minor; some guy deciding to whip out his member and urinate in front of the sideshow during its performance; and dealing with hecklers who do not quite know when to stop.

Are there any other creative mediums you work in?

Painting – mostly acrylics, water color and oil
Drawing – tattoo flash and pin ups
Writing – blogger for over a decade, created two magazines and currently finishing up a novel
Photography – self-portraits, urban decay, abandoned places and general natural scenery
Hair – hand made, one-of-a-kind wigs, pieces and accessories

Would love to make some organic body jewelry too.

What are your favorite types of outfits to perform in?

Carny Style is not something that comes pre-manufactured from an assembly line, but rather a careful evolution of personal aesthetics. It defies all scenes and subcultures, and most certainly is not going to be found on the racks of Hot Topic, nor can it be purchased in any form. My personal style takes cues from 50s pin-ups and Kustom Kulture, Victorian wares, American Circus and pretty much anything that is fun, exciting and comfortable to wear.

The idea is to separate stage clothes from everyday wear. Sword swallowing in a corset also adds a bit of danger, which is why I enjoy wearing them to perform this feat. Red, blue or yellow is incorporated into most of my outfits in one form or another, utilizing everything from fabrics to hair to make-up. Oh, and just once it would be fun to sword swallow while wearing latex couture.

What kind of music do you like?

Interestingly enough, there is a wide spectrum of things I listen to. Big band, swing, surf, doo-wop, rockabilly and lounge are definite favorites, particularly for uplifting moods or background music. Punk, metal, noise, industrial, hardcore and grindcore work for those times where aggression or anger need to come out.  I have even formed a love for old school rap and hip-hop, as well as country and bluegrass, but not that pop crap that is all over the radio. Hank III, George Jones and similar veins is what I prefer.

What do you like to do for fun?

Supporting local bands, observing people in public, being visually obnoxious and random social experiments.  A good friend of mine taught me that people are far more interesting when you take them out of their comfort zone, and I greatly enjoy doing this whenever possible.

Additional Info

Writer/Editor/Publisher – Alive On the Inside: magazine dedicated to preservation and education of American Circus & Sideshow history and culture; Aesthetic Evolution: magazine that strives to educate the public about body modification history and culture.

Finishing a novel that has been in the works for several years. Set in the mid 1950s, the fictional story takes place in an ocean side community that hosts a carnival, with a traditional 10-in-1 sideshow. The two main characters meet by chance during dinner in the city, and their first encounter stirs up all sorts of feelings and emotions that were once very dormant. The next few days are a blur of romance, passion and strange events that will constantly test their new relationship. He also has a dark secret, one that the lovely heroine knows from personal experience and will stop at nothing to uncover. However, once their past is unlocked, what can prevent the future from becoming very grim? A riveting tale of love and cannibalism.

Guinness Book of World Records title holder – recognized as #35 to swallow Thomas Blackthorne’s Sword of Swords.

Circus Family

There is a theory I have about how the Circus is like the Mafia.

Seriously. Think about it for a minute. When an old school circus set up in a lot, there was a main boss, sub-bosses and variety of workers. The games are crooked, there’s likely pick-pockets wandering about, and if you’re lucky, you get to be a mark. In case you did not know, that means you are gullible and flashing around your money. Don’t worry, we a have nice safe spot for it in our pockets.

There are few rules in the Circus [I am using the term to generalize, so this includes carnivals, sideshow, burlesque, etc.]. Should you be an unfortunate townie that happens to break one of them, well then you’re in store for some good old fashioned Carny Justice. And if you think that’s just something out of a television show, you obviously have never seen the wooden bats hidden amongst plush toys at a game booth.

One of the most important rules is: you do not fuck with the Carnies. Much in the same vein as you do not fuck with the Mafia. There are dire consequences for doing so, and I’m not talking about the shit you see in Hollywood movies.

Like the Mafia, the traditions of Circus are passed from one generation to the next. If you fail to see the connection at this point, you should just stop reading and waste your time elsewhere.

Taking this one step further, as silly as it may sound [and this is just in my humble opinion], when it comes to the whole of sideshow in Philadelphia, Red Stuart is at the top of the game. He is the oldest living sword swallower, holds multiple Guinness Book records, has traveled across the country numerous times, and has done more tent shows than anyone I know of. Suffice to say that he is, indeed, the Godfather.

It seems that many performers have a better-than-thou attitude when it comes to certain things. While at first it is comforting to know that they have so much confidence, it gets to a point where one cannot help but wonder why they strut around like their shit doesn’t stink. They are not the end-all and be-all of sideshow, though certainly desire to corner the market on as much as they can. Is it to bring a dying form of entertainment to those who may not otherwise have seen it? No my friends. They are doing it for the almighty dollar, and that is a blow to each and everyone of us who have slaved to pitch a tent.

Obviously one can expect some sort of compensation for entertaining audiences. However, in the old days, just having this opportunity was enough to satisfy. There were many moments when each penny was scraped together, just so that everyone could have a decent meal. Animals were more important than the humans who cared for them, because it was far easier to replace a roustie than it was to get another lion. Of course there’s also those stories about how people would get tossed off the train in the middle of the night if they were considered to be dead weight.

Perhaps my head has been clouded by visions of what it must have been like in the early days of Circus, when everyone pitched in and worked their hardest in order to give the best performance possibly. The sheer joy evident on the faces that surrounded you as applause filled a canvas tent was something that others could only fantasize about. It’s something that you either understand or you don’t, and if you fit into the latter category, perhaps you should take some time to learn a little something called history. People lived and died for the Circus, but I do not see the same commitment from those who dare say they are carrying on the same traditions.

Certainly there are plenty of movies, television shows and even books that are full of common misconceptions. Going back to the original comparison of Circus and Mafia, do no let anyone fool you into believing that neither one of these are highly organized businesses which deal with large volumes of cash. Stereotypes exist, and unfortunately are played into any time the media picks up on a negative aspect. However, in my heart I believe that some people truly get it, and will forever remain with it.

The theory of having a Family composed from a variety of individuals who all work together for a common purpose seems to elude many. In the end, everyone will do whatever they want and there’s no use in trying to change that. Instead, I am will always remain loyal to what I know and love, because Family is all I have.