By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Amy Rickords stands near the southbound light-rail station at 16th and California holding two five-and-a-half-inch nails in her hand. "Wanna see a trick?" she asks passersby. Most pedestrians either ignore her or mutter "No" and continue on their way. But for those who stop, Amy will push the nails into her nasal cavities until just the heads stick out.
It is the blockhead trick, a favorite of circus sideshows everywhere. The nail is inserted into the nose and is pushed straight in above the soft palate until it touches the back of the throat. Push the nail in too far, and you risk puncturing the back of your throat and coughing up blood for a few days. It helps to file the nail heads down a bit, to keep any barbs of metal from cutting up the tissue inside your head. "Mostly women will say things like 'Don't hurt yourself! Don't do it! Here's a buck, stop!'" Amy says. "But it really doesn't hurt."
The 23-year-old learned the trick from her friend, Skip Njord, last summer. She suffers fewer bloody noses than he does, but Skip uses a hammer to drive his nails home. "I can get three in one nostril on a good day," he brags. "I think the record is a guy putting thirteen or fourteen framing nails in one nostril."
Amy has known Skip for years, hanging out together on the Pearl Street Mall whenever Skip was back home in Boulder after one of his many jaunts around the country. "I'd get him to buy liquor for me and my little friends," Amy remembers. "Sometimes he'd even drink with us. Just a bunch of kids hanging out on Pearl Street."
Skip has been a traveling kid for thirteen years -- ever since he was sixteen years old and living in Boulder with his dad. He has trekked up and down the West Coast, from Seattle to Baja, sometimes with a group of people, sometimes just by himself. He's squatted in abandoned buildings, camped out on the beach and slept in cars. Sometimes he'll hitchhike or sneak on to a freight train. "It's kinda cool, because a lot of the kids I've met on the road over the years -- I'll always bump into these people, 'cause they're just passing through on their way somewhere else," he says.
But Skip wasn't running away from home. His father just never kept him on a tight leash. "I'd be like, 'Hey, Dad, I'm gonna take off to Wyoming for the weekend -- I'll see you Monday,'" he says. "And he was like, 'Okay have fun. Stay out of trouble.'"
Six years ago, Skip was living in the toolshed of a commune in Santa Rosa, California, when he met the Circus Discordia, a group of traveling street performers who were passing through and flopping in the yard at night. "We'd be running around, and there'd be guys in the backyard juggling bowling pins and doing all sorts of weird shit. One dude would be in the corner breathing fire and stuff. Just from talking with them and getting drunk with them and stuff, they were like, 'Hey man, here's how you hammer a nail in your face.'"
He didn't think much about the experience until years later, when he landed in Portland, broke. Suddenly it dawned on him that he might have a money-making skill -- and he found the perfect environment to try out his blockhead trick: a Saturday street market. There were clowns, guitarists, hippie girls painting faces -- and Skip pounding nails. Soon he was making $100 a day hanging out on the waterfront. "I wasn't, you know, panhandling; I was performing a show," Skip says. "I'm entertaining people for spare change. And it fucking worked."
By the summer of 2000, he'd made his way back to Boulder, back to the mall. Amy had an excellent hookup for acid -- often making $500 off a 3cc vial of liquid -- and asked Skip to help her unload the stuff quickly after she bought too much from her dealer. "We made a buttload of money. We were like, 'Man, we make a good team selling drugs,'" Skip says. And from then on, the two were a unit, Skip and Amy, rarely apart.
But things took a turn for the worse later that summer, when Amy gave a kid his first hit of acid and drove him up to the mountains. The kid's trip went bad, and he freaked out. Claiming Amy was trying to kill him, he stood in the middle of he freeway, stopping cars, trying to get away from her. "If I hadn't been so high myself, I would have left him there," Amy says. "Someone would have found him and took him to the hospital."
Instead, the cops found them. "The first thing he said was, 'Help me! I'm having a bad acid trip, and she gave it to me!'" Amy remembers. "There wasn't a whole lot I could do." She spent the night in jail and was sentenced to two years' probation for the incident.