On the corner of 15th and Chestnut, my new derby snug on my head, I was just getting started juggling four balls, making the pattern nice and high to draw a decent crowd, when I spotted the saxophone player about half a block away, opening up his case. I stopped my juggling, stuffed the lacrosse balls into my backpack and hustled down the block.
"Hey!" I said.
"What's up, man?"
"I've been looking for you!"
The man eyed me suspiciously, fingering the valves on the saxophone that hung around his neck.
"Oh, no, no," I said. "Nothing weird. I'm Jason. I'm a juggler."
"Blue Dawson," he said, extending his hand. I told him how I'd seen him and heard him play and how I wanted to juggle to his music.
He looked at me, then at my backpack. "Let's do it, man." He poked the reed into his mouth and blew three loud, wet blurts. Several passersby stopped and turned their heads. I dropped my backpack on the sidewalk, took out three balls and flung them aloft, launching into a three-ball ballet in time to Blue's bebop melody.
About a dozen people gathered to watch. We must have been a sight—a white teenage juggler and an older black jazz musician. But we hit it off immediately. Blue set the pace and I juggled to it, flipping the balls high and low, bouncing off my head and knees, slapping my palms, adding percussion to the snappy music.
The crowd loved us! They clapped in the middle of the act, and when we finally came down from a crescendo and found a nice place to end the first tune, they exploded with applause and threw dollar bills into my derby and Blue's case.
After the show, when we split the take, we each ended up with more than either of us had ever made in Philadelphia on our own.
"We gotta do this again," I told Blue while I put my juggling balls away and he wiped down his instrument with a yellow cloth.
"Can't, man, splittin' tomorrow. Cruise ship gig." He pressed his sax into its case between the velvet lumps like he was tucking in a baby.
Disappointed, I wondered if cruise ships hired jugglers.
Blue snapped the case shut. "Cold weather fuck up my chops. Gotta get out when I can."
"Ever play Atlantic City?"
Blue waved a hand, dismissing my question. "Naw, man."
"I made four grand juggling on the boardwalk last season. If you and me teamed up we'd knock 'em dead!"
He laughed. "And I'd get my ass hauled off to jail 'fore I get my reed wet."
"Where did you hear that?"
"How many black folks you see working them boards?"