Fisherman's Wharf Bushman Fights For His Art
March 9, 2009 3:16 PM
After a long night of heavy drinking, Gregory Jacobs staggers onto his front porch. He tries several attempts at opening his door. With the last fumbling of his keys, he gives a good ram with his shoulder and elbow.
"Some birds flew out of the bushes," he laughs. "Those birds scared the shit out of me."
Twenty-five years later, you can spot Jacobs at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. He sits on a milk crate masking his whole body with this bush that he made by plucking limbs from various different trees and shrubs in the city. Anyone who is walking towards this "bush" would not know that there was a man sitting behind it.
He gives a high pitch shout, "AHH!" He reaches with the limbs of the bush and touches his victim. He gleefully laughs after every startle as if each experience is new.
"You can tell if they see you, you can see it in their eyes," he says. Jacobs isn't the only one who is a part of this legend. Many people are unaware that there are, in fact, two Bushmen. When he first came up with this gig, he recruited David Johnson, a man he met at Fisherman's Wharf. As they worked together they developed a close friendship.
It has been about fifteen years, and now they are complete enemies. Jacobs accuses Johnson of running off with their money. Jacobs tries to avoid any conflicts with Johnson by not working where and when he is.
"I have seen them argue a couple of times," says Shelley Auimatagi, a sales associate at Crazy Shirts in Fisherman's Warf. "This one time they got into it and the other one (Johnson) just laid right in front of the entrance of our door for like an hour pretending to be hurt."
On most occasions, you will see Jacobs on Jefferson and Jones streets right next to the stores So Good and the United Colors of Benetton. Word on the street is that Johnson suffered from a heart attack two months ago. He is sometimes spotted holding his bush, scaring those who walk in front of the boat docks, next to Castagnola's restaurant on Jefferson Street or near Pier 33.
Don't worry. Jacobs follows a guideline on whom to not scare--those who are pregnant, the elderly, and those who are handicapped.
He usually follows with wise cracks, which most find amusing. "Pay the man," he says. Or, "I would pay you if you let me see your bush." He also uses lines to test a man's manhood, "I bet that was the best thrill she's had in years. Be a man, put something in the can," he says after startling men who are walking with their wives or girlfriends.
He does get those occasional sour pusses that get mad. "Whatever, shut the fuck up," a man holding his wife's hand mumbles. "Get a real job."
But most take the shock with good humor and just laugh it off with their friends. Those times when he does receive a tip he yells out, "Wow, a fifty dollar bill ladies and gentlemen." The true denomination is debatable. He claims that he has received a two hundred dollar tip in the past.
"New Yorkers don't get scared, not with things like that," smirks David Kerner, a New York native who has lived in San Francisco for the past twenty years. "If he tried to do that to me, I'd punch him. Just kidding."
Throughout the years Jacobs has received approximately 230 citations, five of which he challenged in court. "They just kept trying to pin stuff on me," he explains. He has received citations from assault and battery with the intent to frighten, a citation for littering, from leaving his leaves on the sidewalk, and for using profanity in a public area for saying, "I got your ass." He has also been cited for sitting on a milk crate.
Jacobs explains that the DA or judge would dismiss the charges because they came to the conclusion that his intent was to make a living and to make people laugh.
Jacobs is about six feet tall, and partially covers his short-grey dreadlocks with a ball cap. His attire is usually a jacket or a highlighter green raincoat that he wears on rainy days with blue jeans. His gimmick to earn money may give some tourists the impression that he is homeless and poor, but he earns more money now than when he worked at the Cliff House restaurant as a chef eighteen years ago. He is also able to put his daughter Chancie through college at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and he has a son, Martin Gregory, who is a freshman at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School.
Jacobs used to take for granted his popularity for being an iconic figure in San Francisco. It had just sunk in with him six years ago that people are actually going to Fisherman's Wharf to see him. He has walked past people in the street and has heard them ask each other if the Bushman was there to scare them. The joy of his job is what brings him back every day, making people laugh--and the tips.
"It is so simple and yet so popular," he chuckles. "It is just a man behind a bush."
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