"I don't remember all the rules but it's a wonderful game," I say. Neither of the popeyes answers but someone walking past says, "Ain't it the truth?" They don't look at him either, don't even want to look at each other, just the bumpy toys on the cardboard board.

I chow down at the Waverly and then check out the buskers in the park. I mosey round the ring around the fire-eater; it's too hot. There's a folk singer moping like he lost a trust fund. There's a comic ragging on fags, wasting it on the West Village brunch crowd.

And there's this magician, or I guess a contortionist. She loosens up the crowd, then she takes her lower lip and pulls it under her chin. That's kind of gross and gets the kids going, but then she takes her upper lip and pulls it over the top of her head. She stumbles around like a crazy, then she tugs the whole schmear down, kind of plopping here and there. She gets down to her Reeboks and with a little ankle shimmy, she steps right out, just bones with a lot of lox underneath.

Then she does some magic with props from the people, cracking jokes like "Nothing up my sleeve!" and doing a Karen Carpenter imitation and not being able to snap her fingers. It's all in the presentation.

After a while she says she needs a little shade and cracks a fake bottle over her skull. This blue stuff comes down and the park grass shoots straight up in a high fade around her and the pile of clothes and mess.

Then you hear these Fat Boys kind of noises and a batch of sparkles and whirlies shoot every which way out the top of the grass, like a cartoon cussing. She must have like complimentary-sample size fireworks in there. It freaks me out the cops never grab her for that. Then sides off the bundle of grass peel off like a banana and there's her regular arm poking out a hat at the people.

You throw in enough change, she gives it a good jingle and it disappears right through the bottom of the hat. Only in New York.

She was the best thing in the park. Then I stop by the chess bar again and watch for a while. Every time I think I know how those horses move, they do something different.

rd -- Copyright 1991 Ray Davis