The origins of PS Fairman, the fringe benefits of sidewalk chalk advertising, and the dangers of poetry

*DISCLAIMER: This post was written when its author was in the mind-altering throes of heat stroke. He was also writing in the dark corner of a loud cafe as a brass band performed outside. In addition, he has suspicions that the iced tea he was drinking was well past its expiration date, which may have increased his already delusional state.

It should also be noted that the author has been called both a liar and a cheat.

*

I arrived at the door of Fair Folks NoLa covered in the perpetual pigsweat of a New Orleans summer. It was Thursday, which meant it was movie night, which meant there was work to do. A text conversation had taken place between PS Fairman and myself, establishing that I would arrive at 4 pm. I knocked at the door (PS prefers three knocks and a whistle) and waited. Sticky minutes passed like a mockery. Another knock. More minutes, and still no PS.

I’ll admit that I didn’t arrive until 4:10; but anyone who has spent more than a week in southeast Louisiana knows that “I’ll be there at 4” means “I’ll be there before 5”. So my forced wait was verging on disrespect.

I peered through the windows. Nothing. I made a laughable attempt at gate-jumping that only afforded dirty knees. I knocked again, and still no answer. It was now 4:30. I pressed my ear to the window to try and pick out any sounds of life. I was not surprised to hear the spray of the shower, the treble of a cheap bathroom radio, and the sound of PS Fairman singing along with Rockwell’s 1984 hit “Somebody’s Watching Me”. I was surprised to hear PS match Michael Jackson note for note on the chorus.

As entertaining as it was to listen to PS pretending he was back on ‘Star Search’ (he lost in November ’87), I had developed an acute discomfort that required a bathroom. I sent him a text:

“hey poppa.”

(PS requests all his friends call him Poppa)

“i’m out front. need to pee. let me in?”

He would later tell me that his phone had been on silent and that he didn’t receive my texts until after his shower. But the truth is this: about 15 seconds after I sent the text, I heard PS stop singing, the shower curtain pull open, and the music pause. After another ten seconds, I heard the music unpause, the volume turn up, and the shower curtain pulled close. And that is when PS started to wail. He sang along in a pristine falsetto usually reserved for choir boys:

“I always feel like/ somebody’s watching me/ And I have no privacy”

I gave up and settled for the graffiti ridden facilities of a nearby cafe. I returned fifteen minutes later and knocked again, this time receiving a prompt response. PS answered the door in nothing but a hand-towel and an ascot.

Which reminds me of a story.

The first time I met PS Fairman, I was responding to a craigslist ad for a position at Fair Folks. I called the number the ad provided. PS picked up:

“This is poppa.”

I was confused, but unfettered.

“Um, hi. My name is David. I’m calling regarding the craigslist ad.”

“I see” he responded, “what’s your hourly rate?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Wait a second….which craigslist ad are you calling about?”

“Uh….the position with the new gallery….”

“Oh….heh-heh….I post a lot of ads…..uh, could you come in for an interview?”

I said yes and we worked out the details. When I showed up outside of FF&AG (which was still decorated as a teapot and potpourri B&B at this time), I noticed a pair of deep brown eyes and heavy brows watching me from between tattered lace curtains. When the eyes met mine, the brow jumped and the eyes disappeared. I walked to the door and gave it the first of what would be many knocks. PS opened the door, wearing a smoking jacket and his ever-present ascot, and extended his hand.

“Welcome” he said, “I am PS Fairman.”

I took his hand for a shake but he covered the backside of my hand with his other hand and gave me a disarmingly charming grin.

“David Bear,” I said. “Pleasure to meet you.”

“Yes it is” PS continued. “Do you coffee?”

It took me a moment to get his jive, but I caught on.

“Um, I’d love some coffee.”

“Great, so would I” he said, pulling cash from his ascot. “Why don’t you go get us some.”

It was all a bit odd of course, but I got the coffees and returned. When I did, we had an educational, if occasionally awkward, conversation. PS started by telling me about his heritage (“I’m a descendent of royalty. Mary, Queen of Scots ring a bell?”) and his life (“If I weren’t a modest man, I’d call myself a legend”). I inquired as to the meaning of ‘PS’. He told me it stood for either Peter Steven or Perpetual Succor, depending on who you asked (though since getting to know him, I’ve gathered reasons to believe its Panty Stealer or Potato Sack).

He asked me which sort of massage I specialised in. When he noticed this question confused me, he apologized and explained that he had again forgotten which craigslist ad we were discussing. After that small blunder, conversation moved smoothly and he explained that Fair Folks was coming to New Orleans with a plan. I don’t remember all the details, but the plan included things like “crushing the little guy” and something called torso marketing. I gave my qualifications and explained why I was their guy. PS seemed intrigued, but after checking his watch, became flustered and explained he had a massage house-call arriving at the house in moments and that he needed to change ascots. He said we’d be in touch and escorted me to the door. As I exited, I felt a subtle but noticable tap on my rear. I turned around and found PS staring at me. “Keep walking” he said, and I did.

But anyways, back to movie night.

After PS answered the door in towel and ascot, I busied myself with preparing the courtyard for the masses that would surely be coming to play audience to our screening. Once I was finished it was time to begin the cornerstone of movie night marketing: the sidewalk chalking.

My sidewalk chalking of the previous movie night had been a hit. I had drawn a blue train the length of a city block for our screening of ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, and everyone was expecting an equally enrapturing display this time around. Unfortunately, despite a day of fretting, I had no ideas. We were showing ‘Big’, the second best Tom Hanks movie (after ‘Bachelor Party’). I considered drawing silly string cans, giant pianos, and tiny ears of corn (you’ll have to watch the movie if you don’t understand). But none of this would work. “Quit being so sophomoric, David” I said privately as I hit myself. Luckily, I walked back inside just in time to hear PS giving a serendipitous performance of the movie’s infamous childhood chant:

Down down baby, down down the rollercoaster, Sweet sweet baby, sweet sweet don’t let me go; Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, shimmy shimmy rock, shimmy cocoa pop, shimmy shimmy rock; I met a girlfriend, a triscuit! She said a triscuit, a biscuit! Ice cream and soda pop, vanilla on top; Ooh, Shelly’s out, walking down the street; ten times a week! I read it, I said it, I stole my momma’s credit. I’m cool, I’m hot, sock me in the stomach, three more times….

PS sang it with a swivel in his hips and a beer in his hands. As he swayed back and forth between intermittent gulps, I envisioned what my sidewalk chalk advertisement would be: I would write the entire song, word for word, down the block. It was an arduous task, but a necessary one, considering the expectations. Theodora arrived as I was walking outside to begin.

“Getting ready to chalk up?” she asked with just a twinge of spite.

“Yep” I answered without acknowledging her attitude.

“What are you going to do this time?”

“I have some ideas.”

“I sure hope so” she said, blowing smoke rings in my face. “It would be a real shame if your success last time was a total fluke.”

“Yeah, I suppose it would” I said, not letting her get to me.

“Yep, a real shame,” she removed her sunglasses, “but not a real surprise.”

I shuttered a bit and walked away. She threw her head back and laughed.

“Good luck, sucker!” she yelled after me.

Refusing to let Theodora’s words discourage me, I began chalking away. It didn’t take long for the sweat to begin dripping from my brow, but just as soon as it did, the chalking also began to reap its own fringe benefits. Barely ten words in, an elderly disheveled man on a bicycle pulled up beside me.

“You’re doing it right, boy” he said.

“Sorry, sir?”

“You’re doing it right. Not like those hoodlums painting profanities on my house! I’m going to crush their heads with a stick!”

I recoiled. “Uh….”

“Yep, I’m gonna get ’em. Get ’em with my stick, you hear me?”

“Uh, yeah. Thanks…”

“Rotten little brats…I’ll show ’em vandalism” he said, biking away. I cringed and went back to chalking.

Little time passed before I had my second round of commentary. A parade of matching t-shirt French teenagers came walking down the block, curiously reading my words as they did. I had just finished writing the second “shimmy shimmy cocoa pop” when one of the girls in the group spoke for all mankind:

“Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop. Hmmmmm….this is good advice, yes?” I nodded and went on.

Earlier in the day, a congregation of church-going older black ladies had walked by as I waited for PS to come to the door. We had exchanged smiling hellos and grinning nods when they had, and I was excited to see them coming back down the block as I wrote. They all waved pleasantly once more, not paying my writing much mind, until the oldest amongst them, a woman between the ages of 80 and 120, came to a panel that struck a chord. She spoke, but not to me:

“A triscuit…a biscuit….ice cream? And soda pop? That sounds delicious!”

As I was nearing the end of my masterpiece, a bald bespectacled gentlemen in a Hawaiian flower shirt stepped out of his car and began to read the verse, beginning to end. He became so enthralled with the youthful poetry that he forgot to watch his path and walked headfirst into a tree.

“Oh my god!” I said, “are you okay?”

He looked up at me, and cracked a smile while rubbing his head.

“Poetry’s dangerous stuff” he said.

“That’s true” I said. “Is your head okay?”

He took his hand away and a little blood trickled down his face. “It’ll be fine. I’ve done worse things to this head.”

I took this as license to rescind any worrisome responsibility and wished him well. He would walk by again an hour later, blood cleaned off, but with a dry gash reaching from above his left eye to his right temple. He would notice my bother and reassure me with a smile: “It was worth it.”

I finished the chalking and went inside to fetch PS and ask his opinion. When he came, Theodora followed him. After PS read the entire length of the sidewalk and took in my interpretation of the prose, he patted me on the back and offered a sincere approval.

“You’ve done it again, David” he said. “PS is proud of you.”

“Thank you, poppa” I said. “That means a lot.”

He walked back inside, stopping as he did to say some words to Theodora.

“Maybe you should take note, Theodora” he said as she looked straight ahead. “Watch how champions are made.”

She bristled as he walked away, then looked me in the eyes and mouthed the words “I’m going to get you”. I shrugged and she went inside.

9 pm came quickly and it was time to open the gate for the masses. We were not prepared for the barrage of cinema-goers that were anxious to see Tom Hanks dance on a piano (someone suggested they came for the cheap beer, but I say bullocks to that). We were at full capacity and still filling up not five minutes after the opening credits. People began to sit on laps, and when every lap was full, some climbed to watch from tree branches. Just after the infamous silly string scene, as new arrivals were beginning to gather on the roof, the New Orleans fire marshall showed up. The movie was paused and faces full of fear sprung up from every direction. The marshall asked who was in charge and was directed to PS. It didn’t help that PS was shirtless (except for an ascot) and had two women and a small Indonesian child on his lap when the marshall approached him.

Now, say what you will about PS Fairman (and there is plenty to say); but the man can talk himself out of a tough spot. He pulled the fire marshall to the side of the courtyard and whispered to him while the worrisome audience looked on. I didn’t catch it all but I did hear PS utter the words “for a man with such a masculine occupation” and “money is no object”. It didn’t take long until the movie was back on. Not only that, but the fire marshall himself stayed for the remainder of the movie, even ending up with a few people on his lap. As it would turn out, the fire marshall is also the sitting chairman of GNOTHFA , the Greater New Orleans Tom Hanks Fan Association.

Looking back on it now, I think nobody that night had as much fun as the fire marshall.

2 am rolled around, and I was ready to retire. I was saying my goodbyes when PS took me aside.

“I’m really proud of you, my boy” he said. “You outdid yourself this evening.”

“Thanks poppa” I answered “anything for Fair Folks.”

“Anything?” he asked, his eyes lighting up.

“Anything” I assured.

“And by ‘Fair Folks’ you also mean for me?”

“Um….yeah, I suppose so.”

“Great. Well, I can’t pay you that money I owe you. Poppa’s been paying rent at the poker table, if you get my drift.”

“Oh….sure. No problem.”

“You’re a fine servant, David.”

“Servant?”

“I mean friend.”

“Oh. Right. Thanks.”

He gave me a wink and a tap on the rear and I went on my way down the side alley. I heard PS continue the revelry as I exited: “Who thinks they can beat me at Twister? Come on!”

I got on my bicycle and began to ride away with a heart content. I sang to myself:

“Down down baby, down down the rollercoaster, Sweet sweet baby, sweet sweet don’t let me go; Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, shimmy shimmy rock, shimmy cocoa pop……”

END
“Everything is funny until someone takes it seriously.”- Wylie Hoffman
Til next time, folks,
David
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2 responses to “The origins of PS Fairman, the fringe benefits of sidewalk chalk advertising, and the dangers of poetry

  1. Totally epic, completely worth my time. I just can’t believe P.S. still has that Indonesian fetish. I thought that had died out years ago.

  2. Thanks, Dan. If you came and hung out at FF more often, I’d be happy to slander you as ruthlessly as I did P.S.

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