Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Greatest Show on Earth

In middle school, when it came time for captains to pick teams for volleyball, Mrs. BeenThere and I were always the last ones standing. Same thing with soccer. And even cruise games. Yes, we had something called cruise games. It’s not that we were total outcasts, just bad sportsmen. We had both long before developed a fear of gym (the quasi-coordinated peers, the oddly pumped and underclothed authority figures,) and compensated by acting like clowns. The last straw came when Mark B., who later played professional soccer, acquiesced to our request to play on his volleyball team. I was stationed in a back defensive position, hands slackly frozen in the ‘bump’ position. It was here that I received my first of many sports equipment related injuries, getting beaned by the volleyball while I was busy showing Mrs. BeenThere how to do a grande plie. A disgusted scowl spread over Mark B.’s face.

Flash forward 15 years. Mrs. BeenThere is now married to a soccer agent (blame it on bad karma), and we are both still allergic to any type of sports equipment. Which doesn’t at all explain how we landed at the entrance of lower Manhattan’s Trapeze school. The force that propelled us there was the opportunity to be featured in a short internet film that would be produced for nycfilms, an emerging internet film company. Seeing as this would bring us one step closer to our dream of co-hosting a show on Lifetime Television, our excitement was initially enough to keep our fear in check.

THE EQUIPMENT:
We were outfitted with their equipment and removed of our own (me-Chandelier earrings, Mrs. BeenThere-glasses.) They might as well as just removed Mrs. BeenThere’s eyes, seeing that she is blind as a bat without those glasses. I had asked Daniel, the filmalker shooting us, if he had a camera setting to decrease the size of my butt, which, already ample, was amplified even more by a shackle-type belt that was cinched around my waist. Even with my aversion to equipment, this one seemed important. There was a safety cable attached to it, and I figured it might actually save my life in the off chance I fainted from sheer terror when I jumped from the platform. Then there was the actual trapeze. It was so high. Higher than the high dive that I was forced to jump off of in swim class as a child, which I had managed to do by squeezing my eyes shut and holding my nose with both hands.



THE INSTRUCTORS:
The instructors seemed to sniff out our history of gym ineptness. The first guy, a foreign type I’ll call Dolf, explained to us the daredevil maneuver that in a few moments we would be expected to execute. This 5 minute explanation, which included safety guidelines, was delivered in what might as well have been his native tongue, at least to Mrs. BeenThere and I. I noted that Dolf may have been an Eastern European stewardess in a previous life, as his instructions seemed to mimic the same abstract brevity. When he had finished, the rest of the class nodded their heads to indicate understanding, which surprised me. We were then asked to line up in front of a mat over which hung a practice trapeze, where Dolf would first spot us before ascending the ladder to the real one. The maneuver was this: grab hold of the trapeze, tuck the knees, curl the legs over the top of the bar, let go of the bar while swinging, hands back on, then a back flip to dismount. This information was surprising, considering I had envisaged my first trapeze maneuver to be more like that of Tweety Bird: sitting relaxed on the bar, hands lightly gripping the cables to my sides, possibly whistling. When I asked if maybe it would be better to save this more complicated maneuver for a more advanced class, I got the still faintly familiar ‘stink eye’ from my classmates, all except for Mrs. BeenThere, who, now visually impaired, was staring serenely into a random corner.
The really troubling part was that I actually failed the test run. I couldn’t get my feet up and around the bar, which was of an uncomfortable metal, not bamboo like I’d imagined. My hands were already slipping off and I could feel the beginning of a blister. And although I could live with a blister, I was more concerned about falling from the upside down position onto my neck, having no health insurance, and spending the rest of my days in a state subsidized nursing home. After being spotted into the hanging position, Dolf had to hold my legs so they wouldn’t go flying off. If I couldn’t complete the maneuver on the ground with a spotter, how could I seriously attempt it at a good 15 feet above the net, by myself, while swinging? Thinking that I, the ‘too weak,’ would be disqualified in the same way that short people were sometimes disqualified from roller coasters, I expressed this concern to Dolf. He mumbled a string of words which included ‘up there,’ ‘weightless,’ and ‘worry.’
Dolf’s female counterpart was stationed at the top of the platform. She appeared even tougher than him, wearing knee socks, Samba sneakers, and short-shorts with the word CIRCUS printed on the butt. She reminded me of one of the girls who would have zig zagged in front of me volleying a puck back and forth saying “Get out of my way.” As I became exponentially dizzy with each rung climbed on the latter, I realized there was no way she was going to put up with my girly whining. I was actually going to have to do this.

"Hut!" That was my cue. I grabbed onto the bar, the mean girl let go of my waste, and I went flying through the air, screaming the whole time. I am ashamed to admit that I was the only one in the class who screamed. As for the commands, I am proud to say that on two out of my four runs, I completed the acrobatic maneuver of swinging from my knees. On one attempt, I really messed up, got in some sort of upside-down pike position, and all the instructors were yelling at me. Mrs. DunThat recalled from her elementary school gymnastic days that I had 'skinned the cat,' and I could have dislocated my shoulders.
When it was Mrs. DunThat's turn, I thought she was in a trance. Before she made her assent, I looked in her eyes and there was nobody in there. Then the instructors yelled for her to take her glasses off. Mrs. DunThat is blind as a bat without her glasses. After she plunged, the instructors kept trying to give her directions from the ground, but all she kept saying was 'What!? What!?' and looking in the wrong direction, like Mr. Magoo.
All in all, it was a great day. It marked the first time we've been recognized professionally for doing what we do best, namely acting like bufoons, and screwing up any directions we are given by authority figures. Who would have known these life long handicapps would be so useful in the realm of reality TV!
I was also very excited that I could walk around referring to myself as 'the talent' and that we received a comped pack of cigarettes (Which I sort of quit but realized i needed before I dove off that platform.)
The shoot went great. The trapeze instructors were 10 times as mean, the activity was 10 times as terrifying. It should make for great television.

1 comment:

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