Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Photo by Kevin Kenealy.
The man in the long black trench coach, black fedora hat and plastic white face stepped up to the mic. A hush fell over Jensen's Coffee house. He didn't stand there, but sort of...titled on the black wooden stage, like he was a cardboard cut-out. He didn't say anything for a minute. And customers suspended their fancy coffees mid-air to turn to face one another.
Just moments before, Jerry Mannion sang a cover of "Wish you Were Here," and erupted the crowd in song as they sang, "We are two lost souls swimmin' in a fish bowl/year after year." Now, Jerry Mannion's jaw dropped, but no sound came out. No one had seen him before. In fact, no one had seen anything like him before.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, no-face began to speak. His voice was as eloquent as a king's as he read the most beautiful and strange poem that Jensen's Coffee house had ever heard.
"I am a photo
of a no photo
a blank face
anything that was
with no face
a statue on a screen
in a world in a world
an inside in an inside
a photo of a no photo
can you hear?"
The crowd erupted in applause. The strange man with the strange poem simply bowed and walked off stage. He didn't bother sitting down, ordering coffee, or returning to hear the next act. He was gone as quickly as he came.
The following week, the no-photo man returned to the stage at the same exact time he performed before. Only this time, he sang. And it wasn't a cover. His voice was that of an angel's. Girls clasped their hands together and a tear streamed down someone's cheek. He burst the walls with his full range, singing about love and hate. The room normally offered so-so acoustics, but not that night. That night, it felt like Jensen's turned into Broadway. Another standing-O resounded throughout the place, but no-photo man once again gave his bow and walked away and out of sight.
When the following week came, tables were packed, and customers waited in line outside to get in. They all wanted to know what no-photo man would do next. Like clockwork, he appeared on stage at the same time, but now he appeared with a violin. He again played an original, and the sweet sound of the bow slowly strumming the string hushed the crowd just as it had when he first walked on weeks earlier. Then he plucked at it, and ran the bow through the strings so vigorously people thought that he might break them. No matter how fast he strummed, he just swayed back and forth like he was soothing a baby back to sleep. By the end of the tune, he eased up on the bow, and let it go easy on the strings once again. When he released the violin from the bow, the crowd went wild. It was his best performance yet. He made those people feel alive. They didn't need coffee to get a jolt. They just needed him.
After his gracious bow, he walked through the crowd, but people tried to grab at him and his mask this time. He sped onward. In the parking lot, a loud commotion ensued. A number of people inside ran to the lot to see what was going on. There he was - no-photo man, without his plastic mask. His face suffered from third degree burns. He looked like the burned side of Two Face, and his most loved customers now backed away in terror. But from his eyes, he looked like the most frightened person in the world. A group of teens were high-fiving each other and laughing. No-photo man took off running into the cold winter night.
Not nearly as many people turned out the following week, and when it came time for no-photo man to appear on stage, he was nowhere to be found. So, Jerry Mannion stayed on for another set instead. He read outloud his poem "No photo" and the crowd erupted just as it had weeks earlier.