Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Skill Crane Kid

As part of ArtsFest, Brian Feldman purchased a skill crane machine, stuffed it full of plush toys and then crawled inside where he remained for 16 hours. The machine was set up in Stardust Video and Coffee. When I arrived with Terry, Brian had already been inside for over six hours. Children especially loved the performance, often begging their parents for more change so they could try the skill crane again. Some people took pleasure in dropping the metallic skill crane claws on Brian's head. For me the performance once again had a Kafkaesque quality reminding me of the Hunger Artist. Brian's presence also reminded me of carnival barkers at the fair whose main objective is to keep the rubes from winning a prize. Brian acted as a sort of anti-carnie, actually placing a plush toy in the claws of the feeble skill crane to satiate each child's greed and desire.

I seldom had an unobstructed view of the skill crane. More often than not families blocked my view as they took pictures and stuffed quarters in the machine. A friend of Brian's named Helen Henny was shooting photos the whole time I was sketching. Sultana Ali, Brian's girlfriend, was in the next room and she seemed to be updating Brian's Twitter and Facebook accounts as the performance progressed. I heard the performance was streamed live. Terry and Sultana had lunch while I sketched. Several hours later when the sketch was finished, I walked up to the skill crane to say goodbye to Brian. He gestured from inside saying I had to try my hand at the skill crane. I refused, until Terry lent me the dollar to play. Several people in the room egged me on so I gave in and decided to play. I maneuvered the crane over a small teddy bear right near the exit chute of the machine figuring that if the crane didn't grab the bear, it might just get knocked loose. I really didn't need a teddy bear, and I didn't want to play the game, but once the machine took the money, then the stakes were high. I had two tries and both times the poorly designed claw picked up nothing but air. With this failure I suddenly realized I was upset, not at the machine but at Brian. I had seen him coax the toys into the claw for child after child as I sketched. He even coaxed a toy out for Genevieve Bernard. Everyone was a winner but me! His passivity as I played made him just like any loud mouthed carnival barker who coaxed money from people at the fair using insults and dark sinister humor. I felt robbed.

As a child I once dreamed of getting a huge balloon that was for sale on an ice cream truck that wandered my neighborhood. Inflated, the balloon was larger than me . By the time I had convinced my mom to give me the change needed, the truck was long gone. I ran down the street for many blocks before finally giving up. I was devastated. The next day the balloon was forgotten. I had new obsessions. The night after Brian exited the skill crane, I met him in Stardust video and coffee to get my video camera back which had recorded most of his performance. Brian took me out to Sultana's truck and presented me with the palm sized bear I had tried to win. I refused at first, but he insisted. At home my pet cockatoo was scared of the little stuffed bear at first, his crest rose in surprise, but then he ripped out its eyes and eviscerated its stomach playfully.