Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Great Fredini


You begin with a wire coat hanger, but remember that scraping the esophagus is a terrible pain, and it is best to use one that is coated with a smooth rubber casing. After a couple months of practicing it’s like riding a bike- you never forget. It is about overcoming involuntary reflexes and by doing so, you’re in control. Before you know it, you are showing your stuff on the Tonight Show, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, or at on stage at some swanky awards show at the Chelsea Art Museum.
At first, I find myself watching from a far, not too sure how close I want to get. A man swallowing swords, inviting audience members to pull them from his chest cavity can be pretty intimidating. But I can’t keep my distance for too long, so I invite myself to the stage, or maybe he was inviting me all along. In between the regurgitation acts, I notice it smells a lot like menthol and cool mint. My turn arrives and I am given the run down of rules and regulations on the transaction that is about to take place. “I will show the sword, I will swallow the sword, and when I wink at you and point to my eye like this, you remove the sword. Now don’t be scared, here we go.” The words leave his lips so quickly that I am still trying to comprehend my one and only direction when I notice the eye winking and pleading with me to remove the sword. Coming to, I remember that this part is my responsibility and quickly, but carefully I lift the sword out and he finally swallows. I finally swallow.
It has been just over 20 years since the Great Fredini found himself in the now derelict resort town of Coney Island, at the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Nostalgically, he retreats to images from the past and describes some kind of wild west of the 90s. Unsure how he found himself there, or what he was looking for, learning side show tricks allowed him exploration of a taboo culture and the satisfaction of arousing strong reactions. Today he teaches at the same sideshow school he was once taught at. At his socially acceptable day job, he goes by Fred Kahl and is the Creative Director at Funny Garbage in New York City.
I asked him a lot of questions, at first hesitant, he confided with me some tricks of the trade. The menthol smell is actually his cleaning rag and it is soaked in Listerine mouthwash; this is how he keeps his swords clean during performances. He also tells me that if I want to try any of this, I should avoid coffee for a few days and stick to water so that my throat prepared and is in no way irritated. Finally he tells me, posture is everything and to be sure that the sword is firmly attached to the handle- I imagine learning that had to hurt.

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