Friday, May 09, 2008

Cannonball!!!

How many people do you know that were shot out of cannons for a living? Three? Maybe four, tops? Well, then you know far more former circus performers than me. I only know one.

I’m aware of this because while admiring some black-and-white photographs of a young man performing pretzeline acrobatics, swinging on trapezes, and being rocketed out of a gigantic cannon, Mr. Wayne Wright basically approached Amy and I and sighed reminiscently, “Those were the days…”

This happened after one of our dance classes, which we are taking so we can perform a basic waltz at our wedding without me crushing any of my newlywed lady’s feet. Naturally, we had some questions about these remarkable pictures, and about Wayne’s past before he started teaching the Rumba and the Foxtrot in downtown Bloomington.

But before we get to that, you’ve probably got some questions of your own. If you’re a male friend of mine between the ages of 23 and 28, you’re wondering why in the name of Krishna I’d be taking dance lessons in the first place. I know, I know—you can practically hear the crack of the whip snapping in my not-too-distant married future, but women have to love guys who can dance. It’s a state law, man. Look it up.

Besides, to this day I can’t understand how a woman of Amy’s quality ever agreed to marry me in the first place, so I figure I’ll need every advantage I can get to make sure she forgets what a gigantic bum I am.

Not only that, but in just a few weeks’ worth of lessons I’ve already peeled back half of the big toenail on her right foot in an unfortunate Cha-Cha accident. Had we tried to do something unpracticed and fancy like that on our wedding night she unquestionably would’ve bled all over the rented dance floor, and believe me when I say we don’t have the extra funds in the wedding budget to cover a stain that significant.

While I’ve stepped on her toes at least three dozen times since class started, I’m doing so with less and less frequency as we continue to get better. She and I both were blessed with an instinctual grace, so at the very least we’ve got the steps down (which is more than we can say for some of the unfortunate dancers in our class).

So that’s what we had been up to, when about three sessions into things we noticed the pictures on the wall in the waiting room of the dance studio. At first we must’ve just assumed that they were d├ęcor for a room blessed with nothing else but musty hardwood floors and plain sky-blue walls. Upon closer inspection we thought, “Hey, that looks a little like Wayne!”

Mr. Wright is a pretty solid teacher. He’s a short little guy, but wiry, and probably somewhere in his 60s. His sparse, shaven white hair has receded to just about the knob on the back of his head, but his attire more than makes up for the youth lost on his noggin—flare collar shirts, comfortable dress pants, and the sort of undersized dull leather shoes only a 60-something dance instructor could pull off.

Patient and relatively soft-spoken, Wayne’s sense of humor is subtle and dry, and when he tells a joke he never laughs or even smiles at you to give an indication that it should’ve been funny. He faithfully assumes that you’ll be smart enough to get the humor in his playfully sarcastic jabs.

Personally, I like the dude, and for the most part I think Amy and I have done well in his class, so I felt comfortable asking if that was him being shot out of the cannon.

“Yes, that’s me. That was a long time ago, though.”

What does that feel like? Getting shot out of a big gun like that?

“Imagine the biggest rush of adrenaline you’ve ever had in your life, and then try to imagine something even more powerful than that. When you come out that thing you’re going over 100 miles per hour. You can’t imagine the rush.”

Apparently, they’d load you in that sucker with a platform towards the back of the barrel. Then when the gun powder exploded the platform would rush forward and catapult you into the wild blue yonder.

I’m surprised this hasn’t taken on the status of skydiving or bungee jumping. It’s the same basic combination of adrenaline and idiocy that the other two activities provide.

But Wayne wasn’t just a cannon guy. He also did these intense balance/gymnastic routines with his wife and his son—the kind you’d see those creepy clown people performing on Cirque du Sole. Also as a family, they’d fly from trapeze to trapeze, but Wayne said that was the easiest and most boring of the circus acts to perform. There was always a net beneath them. What fun is that?

His family even had a stage name. Something that sounded Italian, started with a “Z” and ended with an “I.” Something like “The Zaloucci Family Tumblers!” How ridiculously fascinating, right?

After about four or five questions it started to feel like we were prying into the personal past life of a man who probably has some deep, dark skeletons he doesn’t want let out of his closet. For example, when I asked what his son did now, he was aloof and made it sound as if he and his son no longer got along. We didn’t even ask about his wife, but he kept referring to her in the past tense. Death? Divorce? Alien Abduction?

It was just the tip of the iceberg for one of the most intriguing people I’ve ever met. There’s so much more I want to know, but wouldn’t it be rude to ask? What if his wife died by getting shot out of a cannon? Maybe he hates remembering all that stuff because the circus took her away from him.

Without that damn circus, I could know two people who got shot out of a cannon for a living. I still wouldn’t be caught up to three or four, but it would certainly make the deficit more surmountable.

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