Picture yourself entering the lobby of a very fancy hotel. It's reeking of idleness. People are cleaning their fingernails with hotel post cards and reading yesterday's newspaper. You notice there is a Steinway grand piano sitting all alone in the middle of the room.
You wonder if permission from hotel authority might be in order. But the piano whispers your name. You approach the bench, take a seat and begin to play.
Music fills the air where there was once only cigar smoke. The lobby is swimming in sweet waves of melodies. You are happy you decided to play. The people in the lobby are grateful and the hotel is, of course, very pleased that everyone is so elated.
And so much for thinking you would need permission first...
Now imagine you are in Barcelona, Spain. The afternoon sun is shining down on the ramblas, the very famous walking street crowded night and day with people.
The ramblas bisects about 30 blocks of downtown Barcelona, flanked with restaurants, cafes, flower shops, news stands, book stores and black-marketeers. But more than anything else, the ramblas is an overflowing river of people.
To a street juggler, the ramblas is a Steinway grand in a silent hotel lobby.
A street performer's paradise -- crowds upon crowds of people starved for entertainment. The only problem is that perhaps you need permission first. But who would you ask, anyway?
So a voice in your head says you should take advantage of this situation and do a show. You begin.
Years of experience in street performing has taught you the best way to get the attention of a large flow of people is to do nothing. Put a juggling ball on the back side of your hand, extend your arm and stare intensely at the ball. Do nothing else whatsoever until enough people have stopped to see what you are up to.
In no time at all, a small crowd has formed. Small crowds generate larger ones and soon a circle of people surround you, making a perfect stage with you as the center of attraction.
It's showtime! A little juggling, a little mime, a little interaction with the audience... You now have a hundred new friends for life! A member of the crowd has some fresh fruit sitting atop her bundles. She doesn't mind as you grab a peach. You close the show with the juggling-while-eating-a-peach bit and dedicate it to the generous woman.
It's time now for the customary bows and the even more customary passing of the hat. You can't help but think what a great day it has been.
The police arrive. End of great day.
The grey uniformed men stop the show like a bad scratch on your favorite record. They restrict you from collecting any donations from your new best friends. And to make matters worse, they want to see your passport -- the one you left in your hotel room. The only papers you have to show them are the last two day's editions of the "International Herald Tribune."
They are not amused. They ask more questions in Spanish. You irritate them with too many repetitions of "no comprende." Suddenly they are treating you as if you have been spreading revolutionary propaganda to every person in Spain.
At this point you begin to think that perhaps you should have asked for permission first. The crowd starts to get involved. The police have grown to eight, sensing a riot. People you don't know from Adam are screaming at the top of their lungs in your defense, an audience-turned-attorney. To no avail.
With a cop on each arm they drag you away from the scene of the crime. Two grey uniformed militia and you in your baggy pants, suspenders and loud colored shirt go marching down the Barcelona streets and off to prison.
The walking seems to go on longer than an Alaskan winter. Doesn't juggling in the street qualify as an important enough crime to merit a police car, or are vehicles reserved for more serious offenders like parking violators and litterbugs?
People are looking at you differently now because there are two policemen at your sides. When they start to glare at you like you are a rapist you begin to wish you were never very good at juggling.
The Barcelona police station appears at last. No rights are read, no charges are explained. You are put alone in a cell.
But that doesn't worry you. They didn't take away your juggling bag!
Your only contact with the outside world is a single window with bars separating you from the sounds of children playing in the street. An ironic idea hits you once you realize your arms fit through the bars of the window. You start to do the very thing that got you in jail in the first place -- you juggle for the children outside even though all they can see is your arms.
What a funny sight for them! The children are laughing so loudly you begin to worry that they are making too much noise. So you stop juggling through the bars.
You hear guards now outside the cell door and imagine you are Brad Davis from the film "Midnight Express." The voices of the police are getting louder. They are on their way in to cut off your hands.
A large man enters the cell and leads you to another room. The nightmares continue. You are braced for the worst -- getting your head shaved, getting whipped and being forced to eat prison food. To your delight it is none of the above.
The person you thought would cut your fingers off is speaking perfect English to you. You are so surprised you almost don't hear the question he poses: "The chief's 11-year-old son is having a birthday party and he wants to know if you'll perform..."
(Robin Brisker is a free-lance illustrator and writer who spent three years performing in the streets of Europe, where this story happened to him. He is also a frustrated pianist.)