Monday, October 02, 2006



A fake protest for "real fruit"
draws a crowd on Chicago's Mag Mile

IT'S AROUND 2:30 on a sunny Friday afternoon. The majestic Michigan Avenue drawbridge, gateway to the Magnificent Mile, hosts its usual array of buzzing traffic, busy people, tourists, panhandlers. At the foot of the northeast bridge house, magnificently adorned with classical bas-relief sculptures, a homeless man sits oblivious to it all, picking at his crusty feet.A dapper denizen of the district known as "Homeless Yanni" or "Walking Dude" (subject of a supposedly upcoming "Dudeamentary") strolls northward over the bridge, sporting his trademark flowing hair --now silvery rather than Kiwi shoe polish black -- and a rumpled leisure suit.

At Pioneer Court in front of the Tribune Tower, a little girl runs up to a 9-foot-tall moose sculpture made from car bumpers and tries to climb the creature -- then notices it has a penis, which she immediately grabs. Mommy scolds her, then complains to daddy, "Do they have to make these so realistic?"

Suddenly, there's a commotion over on the west side of the bridge. It's a bunch of fruits.

No, no, I mean fruits. Or at least, people dressed up like fruits. There's a banana, an apple, a strawberry, purple grapes, an orange, a kiwi. Marching with them northward on Michigan are a bunch of other young guys and girls in green shirts. They're drumming, they're chanting, they're dancing.

Is this a war protest? No, it's too small. Is it PETA? Perhaps it's local guerilla performance art group Environmental Encroachment, who are sometimes given to dressing up as produce items.

Upon closer inspection, the marchers' signs carry slogans like

ALL JUICES are not created equal!


THE FRUIT will set you free!


Liberty and just juice for all!

And -- ah, yes, there's the NAKED Juice logo. How clever!

The mini-carnival stops in front of the Wrigley Building, pounding drums and tapping their placard sticks on the pavement. The fruits take center stage, dancing while a green-shirted operative leads chants such as:

Get down! Get low! Naked Juice is the way to go!
Get up! Get high! Naked Juice is your alibi!

Naked Juice'll make ya (Jump! Jump!) ... 
All we are saying ... is give juice a chance!


We will, we will juice you! (Naked!)
We will, we will juice you!

Logo-emblazoned barrels full of Naked appear. Passersby, including Homeless Yanni, quickly gather around as the greenshirts dish out free bottles. I get in line and a Naked girl affixes a sticker to my lapels that reads:

EXPOSE your healthy side.TM

I'm already on somewhat of an herbal buzz anyway -- coffee, tea, and St. John's Wort -- which no doubt heightens the hilarity of a bunch of life-sized fruits cavorting about on a downtown sidewalk. The best costume of all belongs to the Banana Guy, a tall, lanky dude whose costume sports a disturbingly huge, phallic lower half, protruding from crotch level nearly to the pavement.

Are these moonlighting Fruit of the Loom characters? I ask one of the Naked girls. "No, they're better," she insists.

I grab a bottle of Green Machine and start chugging. As more pedestrians gather, the fruit guys and girls continue to have fruity fun. They form a tunnel and line up to race one another, two by two. "On your mark. Get naked. Go!" someone shouts. Kiwi beats Strawberry by a healthy lead. (I don't recall who won the other races.)

Then the fruits and greenshirts form a dance circle. As the others beat time with their placard sticks, each fruit takes a turn in the center. The rotund, shades-wearing orange guy hops in and spins around, reminding me a lot of Barney the dinosaur or the Kool-Aid Man. Then Banana Man jumps in and does a ridiculous, shuffling dance, his yellow phallus nearly bouncing off the ground. That one makes me laugh tears.

I finish off my Green Machine. A fiftysomething black man who's just tasted a sip of Red Machine exclaims, "Whoa!"

"Good?" I ask him.

He shakes his head. "Too sweet for me."

I look around for Homeless Yanni to see whether he's snagged some Naked swag, and whether he liked it. But he's nowhere to be found.

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