I just finished reading the best newspaper article I’ve read all year. Gene Weingarten profiles children’s entertainer and compulsive gambler, The Great Zucchini, with a sensitivity and honesty that floored me.
The Great Zucchini actually does magic tricks, but they are mostly dime-store novelty gags — false thumbs to hide a handkerchief, magic dust that turns water to gel — accompanied by sleight of hand so primitive your average 8-year-old would suss it out in an instant. That’s one reason he has fashioned himself a specialist in ages 2 to 6. He behaves like no adult in these preschoolers’ world, making himself the dimwitted victim of every gag. He thinks a banana is a telephone, and answers it. He can’t find the birthday boy when the birthday boy is standing right behind him. Every kid in the room is smarter than the Great Zucchini; he gives them that power over their anxieties.
The Great Zucchini’s real name is Eric Knaus, and the last few analytical paragraphs will come as a surprise to him. Eric is intelligent, but he is almost aggressively reluctant to engage in self-analysis, even about his craft. What he knows is that he intuitively understands preschool kids, because he’s had a lot of practice. He worked at Washington area preschools and day-care centers for more than a decade.
I saw more than a little bit of myself in this guy, some good (rapport with children), some bad (penchant for gambling and general disorganization).
Anyway, the article is long, but if you read just one story this year, this should be it.