I saw Joe Ades on the street just once, and I stopped and joined the enraptured crowd as he waved around his magic peeler and raked in people's cash. He really was some kind of genius of a pitchman, and although he had all of his newspaper articles set up behind him (as you can see in the video) I didn't realize that he was sort of a big deal. Clearly I never did a lot of shopping in Greenmarket. You wouldn't think that watching a geezer peel potatoes and carrots would be all that entertaining, but I'll be damned if Joe didn't peel and slice the shit out of those veggies and love every second of it. Not only that, but he had the perfect booming, jovial voice and really put on a great show of it all.
We were also sort of neighbors, and the incongruity of his Upper East Side apartment with his street peddler occupation was part of what made him such a unique fixture. This was yet another thing I did not know about him when I stopped to watch him on 86th Street. However, the proof is in his New York Times obituary ::mental note - despite fame, NYT obit something to strive for::
"The sidewalk pitchman who was a regular at expensive East Side restaurants, where no one believed his answer to the “So what do you do?” question: “I sell potato peelers on the street.”Clearly we didn't dine out at the same establishments, but I think that pretty well makes us neighbors. It also could possibly explain why I couldn't muster up the five bucks to buy one of his incredible wonder peelers that afternoon. Maybe I just hoped I'd get to see a future performance and buy one then. Sadly, Peelin' Joe Ades passed last week at the age of 75, and I'll never have that chance again. So here's to you, Mr. Sidewalk Peeler Salesman. An exceptional salesman with a great sense of showmanship and obvious love of his work.
Try to watch this video and not look away. Tell me you wouldn't buy 5 of those things for 20 bucks right now and I, sir, will call you a liar.
His Stage, the Street; His Rapier, a Peeler [New York Times]
The Gentleman Grafter [Vanity Fair]
Perfect Pitch [New York Daily News]
Potato Peelers Put Him on Park Avenue [MSNBC]