Have you ever been sitting on couch at night, drinking the second half of a bottle of wine, watching your third pre-recorded episode of “Law and Order: SVU”, and just LOVING THE SHIT out of your life? Well that’s me . . . since 2006. Seriously, I am GOOD at being lazy. Like genuinely talented. If there was a club for it, I wouldn’t even run for president because I’m that lazy.
But then one day you wake up and think, “Am I missing something?” Surely people (interesting people!) lived happy, productive lives before the advent of TV and Wine of the Month. So what did they do?
Answer: They performed in the circus.
Don’t quote me on this, but it seems to make sense. So when the opportunity arose for Brooke and I to try out a local circus class, l was like, “If it was good enough for great-grandpa Murphy, it’s good enough for me!”
Flashback to great-grandpa Murphy, hunting big game in the wilderness:
Friend: “I hear the circus is in town.”
Great-grandpa Murphy: “The circus is for sissies.” (Shoots elk.)
While I don’t have much training in gymnastics, I did take lessons when I was in first grade, and was cast to play Toto in the gymnastic version of The Wizard of Oz. (I did a backward somersault.) So it’s not like I’m Palin-experiencedTM. Besides, I’m a generally athletic guy who actually earned the nickname “The Gymnast” amongst friends in college for my inexplicable predilection for climbing things when drunk. (“The Spelunker” was already taken by our homosexual friend Aaron.)
I was immediately excited upon walking in the training area. There was a mini-trapeze, silk ropes dangling ominously from the ceiling, and an elaborate harness system rigged up for beginners to learn tricky aerial moves. The place reeked of danger.
Our instructor was an old Russian man. We were informed that he was 70 years old and still had a six-pack under his loose fitting t-shirt. (Full disclosure: I was a bit disappointed he wasn’t wearing a spandex onsie and sporting a handlebar mustache.) I figured we would be starting with the easier stuff: juggling, hula-hooping, squirting water out of fake flower – things of that nature. But apparently in
Before I knew it, I was suspended from the ceiling, purple silk ropes wrapped tightly around my arms. I wondered to myself, “Isn’t it a bit dangerous to cut off circulation to the extremities you find your self hanging by?” But before I could voice my concerns, I was being advised in terse, Russian instructions (sounding very much like life-or-death commands) about where to grab, what to wrap, through the legs, keep them straight, arms crossed, chest out, elbows in, now roll to the ground!
“I didn’t catch that last part?”
“Roll!” He gestured with his hands from the safety of the ground.
I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew what he wanted me to do. I’d seen people do it on TV before. (Remember TV? I could be home watching it RIGHT NOW.) Professionals, in fact. People who most likely received training in excess of seven minutes (six if you don’t count the introductions). Still, I have always suffered from a complex aimed at pleasing the people around me, especially those who put some iota of faith in me. It’s the reason I tear up every time the groundskeeper from Rudy gives his “You’re five-foot nothing, a hundred and nothing . . .” speech. And at the end of the day, when a 70-year old Russian man with rock hard abs tells you to roll down, you roll down.
And when you slam your head into the floor (just like you pictured it!) you make pretend it didn’t hurt and suggest that, now that you’ve mastered the silks, you move on to some floor exercises. The Russian, seeming more disappointed than concerned about the matt imprint on your face, agrees.
As I adjusted the harness around my waist, I resolved to prove my ability to the Russian, with whom I felt I was forming a nice friendship, or at least a healthy Stockholm Syndrome. Surprisingly, mostly to me, but definitely to the Russian, I was a natural at flipping. Forward and back handsprings flowed from me like rainbows form a Carebear’s belly. “Good, good!” the Russian shouted along with instructions to perfect my form. “Straighten your arms! Spring forward! Tight arch! Kick the ball!”
“Leave me alone, old man!” I thought. I’m in the groove! That is, right up until my tenth or so back handspring at which point I became so dizzy that upon landing, I nearly fell forward, if not for the harness holding my weight.
“Enough for the day,” my trainer said.
As I wobbled over to the stretching mat to cool down, I felt a sincere sense of pride. I had taken on difficult, nay, very difficult circus maneuvers and on my very first day of class earned the nickname my friends had given me so long ago.
While basking in my accomplishments, the next group of students, who had been watching me from an adjacent waiting area, came in: five 10-12 year old kids, flying through the door like the opening montage of Cirque du Soleil, flipping, tumbling, and somehow already hanging from trapeze. Two of the girls whispered to each other, then pointed and giggled at me, to which I replied with a menacing glare meant to convey my sincere hope that their first pregnancy is an unwanted one.
That night, I sat on the couch holding a cold beer, half to numb the sting of embarrassment, half to numb the sting of a twisted index finger, and turned on the TV. They were showing highlights from the Olympic gymnastics competition. Teenage girls were pacing the sidelines, waiting their turn. Nastia Liukin stretched her arms and legs, before suddenly gliding into a effortless forward handspring. I comforted myself with the thought that, Sure, Nastia Liukin may have a gold medal for her accomplishments, but I have something she doesn’t have: a relaxing night with the TV on and my hand tucked into the waist of my pants. Which is probably for the best, because that’s probably illegal for her to have.