december, 1996

My first juggling gig

This was my first juggling gig. It was at a different college with a new crowd and no money on the line so I had nothing to lose. It was a really no worry deal for me, excepting that I might screw up in public and drop and a rolled newspaper on my face, with one end laced with flaming Sterno.

I spent the afternoon in anticipation, planning, and practice. I had decided that I would wear my clown outfit consisting of: basic black and white Chuck Taylor sneakers, tye-dye socks, huge blue jeans, red ribbed 70's button up shirt, red and white plaid suit jacket, and a shiny green tie. And, of course, my blue afro wig. By dinner time I was already into the get-up and out in the street in front my house trying out some new club tricks while riding my skateboard. I was thinking for a finale trick I might to juggle a basketball, a machete, and a torch while riding my skateboard across the stage. Scratch the b-ball, that might be too hard. Two machetes and a torch. After dinner, I continued to practice by passing clubs with juggler Jesse and checking out his amazing 5 club moves (he is is my mentor. The machetes actually belong to him). In the mean time, I was thinking of how I might put my act together. I got the idea that I could juggle a roll of toilet paper, pulling it out of my pocket after I dropped something else, yell "Oh, shit!" and keep going. Jesse recommanded the old rubber egg stunt.

I picked up a couple of apples in the cafeteria. I was thinking I could either dice them with the machete or perhaps eat one as I juggled. I worked on juggling some listening to "We're the Punks" by Slapstick on my ska compilation CD, thinking I might start of my routine juggling to that. It's fast and had a good beat and switched it up fairly often. I liked those qualities.

The time to leave was nearing, and I was about to make myself late because I was juggling in a dorm lobby. I rushed back to my house, grabbed some pumpkin bread, threw everything I thought I might want to use into the car, donned my blue fro and took off for the distant campus.

I had trouble finding the theatre but it wasn't my fault— I only knew that it was called "the theatre" and I figured on a small campus it would be easy to find. It took me three tries. The event happening was the "Horace Cabaret", a variety show in honor of Horace Mann, the founder of Antioch College. It was being hosted by my friend Jordan and co-hosted by a woman named Shanda. At Jordan's suggestion, they had given themselves the persona of Southern revivalist preachers.

"Good Evening Brothers and Sisters, welcome to our church. We got a great show for you tonight. Can I get an Amen out there?"

Some of the college kids had found the costume shop, so I wasn't the only one with a wig on, although the other crazy wig wearers had old man gray wigs and they didn't seem quite as fun. I got a few props on my outfit from the stage crew.

The stage wasn't what I had imagined. It was on ground level with the audience rising up from there. It was big enough for me to roll around on my skateboard, and I was stoked on that. I checked in with Jordan and found out I was slated to go on as the 9th out of 12 acts. I inquired if he'd gotten the camping fuel as I had asked him to. They were on a tight budget, so he'd gotten Sterno instead. Sterno is not like camping fuel. Sterno is purple and lumpy, perhaps reminding you of napalm. I had only juggled fire twice in the past, both times with gasoline (not recommended) and both times with homemade torches made of newspaper and hospital tape (not recommended either). They were already a little shorter and misshapen from these previous uses. I was worried the chunky Sterno might fly off the torch as I juggled, either sticking to my face or finding it's way into the audience and leaving permanent burn scars. That would be bad.

Jordan suggested I try them out back stage before I go on. I thought it was good idea and mentioned a water bucket might also be a good idea. When the water bucket arrived, I dipped a single torch in Sterno, lit it and proceeded to flip it over casually several times it my hand, for the benefit of the Theatre Manager who had now arrived. Each of the first tosses I dropped the torch on the floor.

"I do better with 3 torches" I explained to the onlookers. Happily, the Sterno didn't fly off in flaming chunks and I trusted that it wouldn't happen during the show either.

I wanted to do some kind of finale trick riding my skateboard, although I had never tried to ride it while juggling machetes or flaming torches.

There was a large backstage and I practiced riding around backstage juggling 3 machetes with satisfactory results. Good enough to do in the performance, I thought. As for the 3 torches, I wouldn't get to practice with them it until I was actually on stage.

I had brought my CD to play, but Jordan had bungled the CD player. However, there was a kind of house band consisting of a pianist and a guitar player that was willing to back me up. Cool.

So, I had some time to kill before I went on stage. As nonchalantly as a blue afro wearing, plaid suit sporting kid could be, I made my way to the back row of the audience to watch the first few acts. I still didn't have anything specific to made up to do for my routine, but I felt chill about it, just kickin' back and watching the first few acts. They happened to be a pianist, an opera singer, and a poet. During the 3rd act, I was getting jittery about my routine. Between acts, I slipped backstage to see how far away I was from going on. I practiced some more.

I didn't pay much attention to the other acts until I went on myself. I familiarized myself with the innards of the theatre, finding the all the hanger outers, including the drunk musicians corner, and the pot smoking chillin' NYC hip hop boys. They were seeming too cool and hang with anybody else, or maybe just not knowing anybody else, or maybe just wanting to get away to smoke their weed. Realizing my attire, I didn't try return their hard bloodshot stares, but smiled my best clown smile and juggled as I walked by.

One of the women backstage wanted me to teach her how to juggle. She's trying to pick up the juggling clown I reasoned. "Sure I'll show you". I gave her the five minute tour of how to juggle, which is never enough for anybody to learn, unless they are phenomenal. She starts to grasp the essentials, but soon returns my hacky sacks I had loaned her.

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