THE TUMBLEWEEDS: Somersaulting Up and Out of the City Streets by Frederick Johnson
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THE TUMBLEWEEDS: Somersaulting Up and Out of the City Streets

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Acrobats, like circus families, don't write books about their trade; they pass on their skills from one generation to the next."" Johnson, a $3000-a-year PAL aide in the 1950s, passed on his skills--pyramids and bandstands and juggling routines with names like the Camel and the High San Quentin--to a bunch of ragged Puerto Rican street gamins on Manhattan's West Side. There are no breathtaking stylistic vaults to Johnson's prose, but his simple and direct storytelling brings out everything that matters: his own deepening affection for his dirty-sneakered muchachos; the challenge of instilling in Joe and Ray, Angel, Israel, and Edgar the routines developed in circuses over hundreds of years. . . . And, very quickly they became muy bien and called themselves the Tumbleweeds and performed on the Spanish Hour and Ted Mack, at hospitals and community centers, and as far away as Montreal. Amazingly, as the boys went from unkempt ten-year-olds to adolescents and young men, got jobs, married, and fathered children, Johnson never lost touch. Through his graceful, clowning prodigies he gained special access to Puerto Rican street life in New York. A grim, violent, drug-infested story of mean streets? Johnson marvels instead at the amazing tolerance and the gregarious warmth, the humor and spontaneity of kids dubbed ""potential delinquents."" The exhilaration of their stunning routines--who knew how far or high they'd go--is set off by Johnson's own exhilaration at watching them use their skills to catapult themselves to a better life. With photos from Johnson's carefully preserved scrapbook.

Pub Date: July 13th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row