by Jim Rose
Jim Rose came to fame in the mid-’90s as the ringmaster of a modern primitive circus. Feats of human endurance — from the man who could lift cinderblocks from rings pierced through various parts of his body to more traditional sword-swallowers and tattooed maniacs — toured the country, much like an independent band and actually often paired up as the opening for a musical act. A born huckster, Rose entrances and enthralls the audience with a numbing variety of tricks and bar bets, a seemingly endless fountain of the secret language of the seedy side of life.
In Snake Oil, Rose compiles many of these pocket dramas, usefully categorized under headings like “Feats Of Torture”, “Bar Bets / Impress Your Friends”, “Street Games” and Devices and Sleights For Deception.” None of them are dangerous in and off themselves, though some could cause serious harm if not done right, or (likely) used for nefarious purposes. Some of these are harmless enough as party gags, and are specatularly enough to make you the highlight of the evening if you play it cool. Others work best as cautionary tales — this is hardly a manual for running a three-card monte scam, but it does detail how the common street hustle works.
Overall, Snake Oil is a fascinating look at the body of knowledge compiled by someone familiar with the edges of society, and perhaps a bit obsessed with deception and distraction. Each segment is well-written in a friendly and often conspiratory style, fit for a fringe manual. The editing is a bit sloppy, but overall the book is the perfect way to while away that bus trip into the Big City.