"How many of you people are from Chesterfield?" demanded "Baton Bob" Jamerson on a recent Friday night at upscale Central West End eatery Liluma. According to restaurant patron David Dondzik, Baton Bob went on a full-blown, expletive-laced rampage. "Well, get out of your fucking box! I did. I found out who I fucking am," Jamerson continued.
Dondzik happened to be eating with some friends from Chesterfield, who were startled by the outburst. And Jamerson's scathing commentary wasn't confined to just the outer 'burbs.
"'How many of you people are from Ladue? Get out of your fucking box!'" Dondzik recalls Jamerson saying. "Every other word was 'fuck.' It was embarrassing."
Times have changed for the self-described Ambassador of Mirth, and it seems 52-year-old Baton Bob has become a bitter man. Though Jamerson says his goal is to "put a smile on people's faces and lift their spirits," the baton-twirling, tutued, strutting neighborhood fixture is now on an angry mission to stem the tide of county residents infiltrating the Central West End.
"There's a small, snobbish, elite niche of people who have moved into this neighborhood -- I think from the Clayton area or some of these more conservative neighborhoods -- who want to come into this neighborhood and start censoring what's going on," Jamerson asserts. "And I'm trying to stomp that out. I am so sick of it."
Things have gotten so bad that Baton Bob is giving serious thought to hanging up his tutu permanently -- and might even leave the Central West End, his domain the past four years.
For now, his paid gig is over. Effective last week, the Central West End Business Association, Inc. (CWEBA) fired Jamerson because of his verbal tirades. The association had paid Jamerson $35 every Friday and Saturday as part of its roster of street performers, which also includes saxophonists and jugglers, designed to bring "electric energy" to the neighborhood. The association was previously thrilled with Jamerson's act, which (until recently) involved blowing his whistle, marching and twirling in and around Kingshighway and Euclid Avenue.
"I'm a very big fan of his, but there's no place for profanity and whatnot in this neighborhood," says Dennis George, executive director of the CWEBA. George adds that he received a bevy of concerned calls from business owners and CWE patrons after Jamerson went on his profanity spree -- this despite a warning from George that he needed to put a lid on the vulgarity.
"When it comes to us spending funds for street performers, we expect them to not be using profanity, and not to be aggressive to people in the neighborhood," George says. "It has nothing to do with the fact that he's 'different,' quote unquote, or the fact that he's 'gay,' quote unquote, or the fact that he's 'black,' quote unquote. That has nothing to do with it.
"But when you've got two twelve-year-old girls outdoors dining with their mom," George continues, "and they hear 'motherfucker' six times in a row, and 'fuck you,' that is unacceptable behavior for this neighborhood."
That said, Jamerson still has plenty of fans.
Mengesha Yohannes, co-owner of Bar Italia, has noticed that Jamerson has gotten bolder in recent months but says, "Pretty much every time he comes up on the patio, people end up laughing and clapping."
Dennis George is quick to point out that the CWEBA has no control over when or how -- or why -- Jamerson roams the streets of the Central West End. They're just not going to pay him. As to whether Baton Bob will continue his mission of mirth pro bono, well, we'll just have to wait and see.
"It's just a bunch of ludicrous bullshit, and I am just sick of it -- period," Jamerson fumes about what he calls a "conservative invasion" of the CWE.
As to the future of his one-man parade, Jamerson says, "I'll go out if I want to go out. The legacy that I've created over here, there's nothing they can do about it."