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December 20, 2014

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Under the costume, each performer has a story

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Eli Segall

Street performer Cheikh “Louis” Diakhate, dressed as the World Cup mascot Fuleco, stands for a photo on the Las Vegas Strip on Thursday, June 26, 2014.

Street Performers

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Cheikh “Louis” Diakhate, a west African immigrant in a cartoon-armadillo costume, casually kicks an oversized stuffed soccer ball on the Strip, trying to make a living. A bottle of Dr Pepper helps cool him in the summer heat, even though his full-body, over-the-clothes getup probably feels like a sauna.

Dressed as the 2014 World Cup mascot, he high-fives an occasional passerby, but almost everyone ignores him — and his tip jar.

He isn’t pushy, but maybe he should be. He keeps only 50 cents of every dollar he makes. The rest goes to his boss, the guy dressed as Michael Jackson up the block.

Costumed street performers are a mainstay of the Strip’s street culture. They dress like Elvis, Buzz Lightyear and the cast of “The Hangover.” Street workers like Diakhate amuse some and annoy others, but they’re all here for the hustle. And they all come from somewhere.

Near Diakhate, in front of Showcase Mall, a man balances on his hands atop two pedestals, his legs folded tightly above him. He whistles at passers-by. A few dollars in change and some folded $1 bills are scattered inside his tattered suitcase. He has a thick, muscular upper body and atrophied legs. A wheelchair sits nearby.

“Constant” is from Cameroon. He said he lives in Los Angeles but comes to the Strip several days a week to perform. Polio paralyzed him.

Not far away, a man with a gold spray-painted outfit, beard, toy dog and trash-can tip jar waits for tourists’ money. He calls himself “Gold Man,” is from the Ivory Coast, has lived in Las Vegas for four years and has been a street performer for 10. He makes $30 to $40 a day.

“We just here trying to make people laugh,” he said. “That’s all we do.”

Diakhate, 39, grew up in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. His parents divorced when he was 7, and he and his dad moved to New York City with his aunt when he was 19. He hasn’t seen his mom since.

Diakhate worked as a cook and hustled on Canal Street in Manhattan, selling knock-off handbags, purses and watches. He wound up in L.A. before moving to Las Vegas about a month ago. He lives alone in an apartment at Jones and Lake Mead boulevards.

Initially, Diakhate dressed as a Minion, one of the yellow, overall-clad characters from “Despicable Me.” He switched to the soccer mascot, Fuleco, on June 26, the same day the United States lost 1-0 to Germany in the World Cup but advanced to the next round anyway. A group of soccer fans draped a German flag across him as they walked by.

Diakhate figured the street job might be weird, “but it’s fun,” he said.

As he sees it, he’s just a “single black man, trying to hustle, trying to make a dollar.”

He takes off his costume about 5 p.m. and gives it back to his boss. Fully clothed with a white fedora on his head, Diakhate walks off to catch a bus home.

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