Home | Press  | Science | Bubble Festivals | Kids | Tech | Writings | Video  
Biography  |  Press Release  |  Quotes & Articles   


"He makes science fun, beautiful fun."
San Francisco Chronicle

"You won't believe your eyes."
New York Times

"Delightful fellow ... exquisite bubbles."
Los Angeles Times






Keeping the Streets Safe
By Tom Noddy
Santa Cruz, California July 24, 2002

This was published in the July/August/September/October 2003 issue of
Juggle – The Official Magazine of the International Jugglers' Association

9.50.020 Conduct on Public Property, Monuments, and Lawns:

No person, after having been notified by a law enforcement officer that he or she is in violation of the prohibition in this section, shall:

… (d) In the … CBD central business … districts, intentionally throw, discharge launch, or spill any solid object (including but not limited to footballs, hacky sacks, baseballs, beach balls, Frisbees, or other similar devices) or liquid substances (with the exception of bubble street performers who otherwise comply with all applicable statutes and ordinances) or otherwise cause any object or substance to be thrown, discharged, launched, spilled, or to become airborne.

Okay, the City Council of Santa Cruz, California didn't actually intend to outlaw juggling when they passed their set of new “downtown ordinances” in the summer of 2002. They actually meant to send the Hacky Sack players packing.

The downtown sidewalks have never been a perfect location for street performing – there are only a few places where a large crowd might gather – but that didn't keep the Flying Karamazov Brothers from starting out there. Tom Noddy launched his career by performing Bubble Magic along with his puppet show there, Bob Brozman, Thoth, Gillian Welch, and others have graced this coastal community with their skills over the years. But in 2002, the “progressive” City Council, responding to a fevered campaign set off by the downtown merchants and the local daily newspaper, offered up the performers as scapegoats for the decline in business income downtown. They didn't seem to notice that the entire country, and the world, were in the midst of a decline in retail sales.

To be fair, most of the proffered “downtown ordinances” were really meant to regulate or restrict panhandling or generally sitting around. But the special efforts that had always been made to exempt street performers from these kinds of laws were now set aside in a hurried effort to get some new laws on the books before the Council went into summer break. And there was this one special Hacky Sack ordinance.

The legitimate concern was that sports activity on the downtown sidewalk by groups of young men intent on their game sometimes endangered other passersby (or “low income seniors” as the local newspaper explained it to those who may not have understood the urgency).

But then, why stop at Hacky Sack if they are going to go to all the trouble to pass a law? They lifted some wordage from some other city's ordinance and it seemed to cover other antisocial behavior as well. (“Liquid substance”? Spitting maybe?) They did then worry that this would set them up for ridicule. Was it possible that some police officer in the future might use this law to stop bubble blowing? In the town that is the home of the world's first professional bubble blower? Tom Noddy had gone from performing on the sidewalks of Santa Cruz directly to three appearances on the Tonight Show back in the 1980s. Now he travels the world presenting his Bubble Magic to audiences in nightclubs, universities, variete theaters, mathematics conferences and other venues. (He also sometimes finds himself writing about himself in the third person.)

They added that peculiar bubble-blower's exemption to the city's municipal code. My friends teased me about my “political pull” when they saw that, but when Tim Furst of the Karamazovs pointed out to me that the wording of the proposed law could allow it to be used to stop jugglers I was much less amused by the special exemption for bubbles.

I came back to town and met with City Council members just before they did the “second reading” of the proposal. A majority vote on this reading would make it a new law to be enforced downtown. I told the Council members that it could outlaw juggling and they assured me that it would not. They thought that I was just putting the worst face on what they were doing. They knew that I also opposed their other proposals that would force all street performers to step away from the buildings and only perform at the curbside, facing inward. But this anti-juggling risk was of another order and I just couldn't get them to sit down and look at it reasonably. It clearly would outlaw juggling they insisted that it wouldn't. They were on a fast moving train and they wouldn't slow down and look around. They passed the law while assuring me that it would not outlaw juggling.

One year later, I was walking the downtown street and saw a police officer interrupting the performance of a young clown. He was delighting a crowd that included over a dozen cherubic children. I overheard the officer explaining to the clown that juggling was now illegal in Santa Cruz.


No sense arguing with the cop; she was reading the text of the law the same way that I had read it last year. I went back to the City Council and met with several of them individually. Some thought that they remembered that juggling might have been excluded from this law; others didn't remember anything of the sort. In either case, it was plain from the reading of the text that juggling was outlawed, so maybe I should encourage all potential jugglers to apply for a special permit that will allow some desk-jockey in the city administration to decide whether or not they will “permit” each applicant to juggle or not.

“No thank you.”

Instead, I rummaged through my toy box and found some balls, and also found some old Karamazov clubs in my collection. I printed copies of the law, picked up some lemons, and called the press to announce that would be juggling in “apparent violation” of the law downtown in the middle of the day.

Let me confess here … I am an excellent bubble blower, maybe the best there is. (That isn't much of a brag; remember, every bubble that I have ever blown has popped.) But I ain't much of a juggler. My friend Tim Furst had agreed to come downtown to juggle if it was needed to make a point. However, the moment had arrived and Tim was out of town. The law didn't specify that only good juggling was illegal; bad jugglers qualified as outlaws too, and I felt fully qualified.

The news cameras rolled, the print media interviewed me, and friends gathered, but no police showed up in front of the downtown police substation. The press left and my friends wandered off (a reflection perhaps on my ability to hold a crowd with my juggling skills). I juggled balls, I juggled lemons, I tried to juggle those big ol' clubs, I even crumpled up copies of the law and juggled those. No cops; no ticket.

I did want to get the ticket. I was in town, I knew the law, I knew the history of the passage of the law, I was a known character in town, I could speak to the issue better than most, and I wanted the test case to be soon, before they chased other jugglers from town like they had with that young clown. I picked up my props and went down the street and found a willing police officer. She was polite, her supervisor was polite, I juggled three lemons, and they cited me. I didn't want to sign the citation and have the case fade away when I went to court and the police stayed away; I wanted attention on this case and the press was gone now, so I declined to sign the citation. They took me to a judge and then to jail.

This is normally a “book and release” situation. I quick photo and fingerprinting (who knows, I may b an international juggling outlaw wanted by the feds or Interpol) and then let me go. Usually it takes an hour, two if they are very busy. In my case it took 13 hours. They kept me in the holding tank while drunks came in, sobered up, and were released. At 6 a.m. the next day I was released. I went home and wrote about my experience for the press, the City Council members, and for some juggler friends. I sent out the email and within a day the same email list received letters from the Flying Karamazov Brothers announcing that they would come home to Santa Cruz to juggle downtown. The Ks are adored here in town – “Loco Boys Make Good on Broadway/Hollywood/Internationally” storied are written whenever they move their art to the next level.

The city of Santa Cruz passed the law on June 24, 2002. On June 26, 2003, I was arrested for juggling. For one year juggling was outlawed in this town. On June 27, the day after my arrest, the Karamazovs and others suggested that they and other jugglers would come to town to violate that unjust law.

I imagined City Council members trembling as they read the letters that told of the K's intent to put out a call to jugglers at the International Jugglers' Association convention to come to town to join us for some illegal juggling fun. I booked a hall to accommodate a nighttime show/demonstration to follow the day of juggle arrests. Political work just got to be really fun.

Thirteen days later, on July 9, 2003, the Santa Cruz City Council passed an “emergency resolution” to re-legalize juggling.

Santa Cruz, July 24, 2002

9.50.020 Conduct on Public Property, Monuments, and Lawns:

(e) Notwithstanding subsections (d), individual bubble street performers and individual jugglers who otherwise comply with all applicable statutes and ordinances are authorized to blow bubbles and juggle …

I do love that, in the midst of war abroad, homeland security crises in America, and budget crises here in town, the matter of juggling had risen to the state of “emergency.”

I do hope that the jugglers who read this publication will consider downtown Santa Cruz as a stopover for performance. We don't have the very best pitches for crowd-gathering, but believe me, there are people in town now who have considered the value of your art. We almost lost it.

©Tom Noddy and Bubble Magic
P.O. Box 1576   •   Santa Cruz, California   •   95061   •   USA   •  
 (831) 426-2230