Silver performer's work hazards: drunks and old ladies
By Janine Zeitlin, Jul 13 2014, USA TODAY and The News-Press
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The skeleton pirate has left.
That's the word on the street. That leaves the silver statue the last performer standing, standing and sweating on this morning outside the Dairy Queen on Fort Myers Beach. The silver guy with a cane set out a hat for tips and assumed a stoic pose before dining tourists, who grinned at this lustrous addition to their eggs and coffee.
A middle-aged woman in a tube top glanced at the young man in sterling jeans and long sleeves. He toasted under a sun that pumped the heat index to 99 degrees.
One drop of sweat rolled down his temple. It settled near his brow.
"He's sweating, the poor guy," the woman murmured to another in French. Her brow crimped in compassion. She gave him a dollar. The drop inched down the statue's right cheek. He remained still, soggy but composed.
The silver statue wears braces. His name is Noah Prechtel. He's 19 and lives with his parents in North Fort Myers. Someday, he wants to be a youth pastor. Now, he's trying to save money to marry his fiancee. She used to work on the Beach as a mermaid before she hung up her fins to become a makeup artist. They aim to earn $13,000 for a June 2015 wedding, a Disney cruise honeymoon and a nest egg.
Prechtel's entry to street performing came around 16 years old. He started out crooning Justin Bieber songs at the beach. A magician suggested he make it a job. His parents consented and signed his application to the town for a permit, but the tips slowed after a few months. He figured out the reason. He wasn't that good. He saw two other options: magic and statue-ing. (Yes, it's a verb in street-performing circles.) He chose the latter.
"I can stand still for a really long time. I don't know if that's a talent or not. It's either this or being a Buddhist sitting in a temple."
It's only been a handful of years that he's been able to stand for extended durations. Around age 12, he spent a year in a wheelchair after surgeries to repair flat feet. He still wears orthopedic inserts.
"The other guy was gold. I didn't want to step on anybody's toes."
In the beginning, Prechtel twitched and shook. He was too sheepish to ask the resident gold statue for advice. He now practices meditation to quell quivers. The silver and gold statues have since built a respect and take turns performing in prime spots around Times Square.
The first time Prechtel's mother observed him, an older gentleman leaned over and said something like, People will do anything for a buck. "He's my son, and I'm proud of him," replied Cindy Prechtel, a 48-year-old guidance counselor at a Christian school.
Even well-intentioned friends have eluded: When is he going to get a real job?
His mother sees the positives. She raised a free thinker. He was home-schooled. He's doing creative work, is his own boss, and makes more than he would flipping burgers, though she's glad he no longer silvers up at home. Still, his argent fingerprints dot the the front door and bathroom sink.
"I tell my husband, 'Someday we'll miss this,'" she laughed. "I tell his fiancee, 'Some day he's all yours.'"
Alexa Woods, 19, visits her statue on the Beach. She messes with his stability by pinching his behind. She worries about the heat and the heavy makeup hurting him. She looks forward to when he becomes a pastor.
"Right now, though, he's better as a statue because he's a little young to be a pastor."
Prechtel figures he has five good years left as a statue.
So-called real jobs can be a drag. Prechtel supplements his income during the slower summer with grunt work he finds on Craigslist. Lately, he's been watering plants at a mall starting at 5 a.m., often after a night of performing, his passion. Prechtel dabbles in various statuesque personas. Silver Elvis. Bronze golfer. Silver Santa. Silver surfer is in development. This morning, he chose Mr. Silver Fancy Man.
Around 9, Prechtel ducked into the Dairy Queen bathroom to slick back his dark hair and headed into an alcove near a bike rack. Silver smudged his inner ear, residue from the night before. He tapped out three grams of powder, added a half-cup of water and started painting. In the winter, he uses a base that allows his pores to breathe. During the summer, the extra layer is too hot. He knows it's bad for his skin, but tries to detoxify with daily supplements, hourlong scrubbing sessions in the shower and weekly trips to the sauna.
The gold statue warned Prechtel about developing splotches before breaking for the summer. Most of the other performers have headed to the boardwalk of Ocean City, Md., Prechtel said. He stayed because of his fiancee.
"All of the other performers laugh and say, 'You've got to get rid of that woman,' but you've got to have somebody in your life." Summer is a hard time to be lacquered metallic, especially in Southwest Florida.
"If it rains, I'm done."
He's had heatstroke a few times, but it's hard to gauge when he's becoming sick because the job is hot, no matter what. There are other occupational hazards: young drunks and frisky old ladies. Once, a guy in a cowboy hat slapped him. One of the homeless guys who watches out for Prechtel followed the bully into a bar and told a manager. Cowboy was booted and emerged apologetic. He gave Prechtel $20.
"I was like, 'Hey man, if you want to punch me for another $20, I'm OK with that.' Not really. Please don't quote me."
On the flip side, one drunk tipped him a wad of five $100 bills. Prechtel kept the money a few days in case the guy came back. His total for that day of work reached $700, but slow days may only draw in $30.
Perhaps it's his baby face or slight build, but he's bait to women of a certain age. Usually they pucker up, which he doesn't mind terribly, though he prefers hugs. There was an old lady who pulled his face to hers. He fortified his teeth but her tongue overpowered his incisors. It was bad. He remained silent as a chortling crowd gathered.
"That was good," she told him, dispensing only a dollar.
It was his first French kiss. He was 17.
You've got to be kidding me? he thought, until bystanders began dropping bills.
On this morning, Prechtel slid into the jeans his mother helped him paint silver on the family's lanai. He adjusted his suspenders and zipped his fly before dousing himself with cologne. His silver duds don't survive the washing machine, he learned the hard way. He hasn't washed these in five months.
The drop of sweat rolled down the statue's cheek and clung to his lip. It was the first day he could recall sweating through the makeup.
A little boy with his vacationing family stopped before him. The boy peeked under his hat and patted his silver hair. The statue broke his stance to cede his spot to the boy. He offered his hat and cane. The silver guy turned to diners and urged them to clap. The boy grinned.
His mother giggled and shooed away her husband to break a $100 for a tip. Inside, the silver man was thrilled by the boy's reaction. Outside, he was melting.
Sweat had dripped under his chin, leaving dull tracks on his cheeks. He jogged to his makeup station at the bike racks and added more poofs of silver powder. This, he thinks, will probably be his last daytime shift.
Summer is a hard time to be lacquered metallic...
"If it rains, I'm done."