Sunday, October 16th 2016
My gigs as a professional juggler and family entertainer are so varied and diverse and all-consuming that I have never even really begun to try to encapsulate them in any way in writing.
Once I even set up a separate blog through which to do so, but looking back on it now I see I did it as a way to vent about the aggravating parts, but that is akin to complaining about a dream job so I’m glad it never took off.
By far the biggest blessing I find in working full time as a professional juggler and family entertainer is the sheer diversity of situations and experiences, people and cultures I am exposed to on a dizzyingly regular basis. Even the grueling grind of GETTING there with all the commuting and constant wrangling of new logistical challenges has its own perverse pleasure.
To do a gig is to immerse yourself fully in it without reserve. I usually “deliver services” for 2+ hours at a time in a wall-to-wall flurry of nonstop action. Face painting, juggling, magic, ukulele, singing, physical comedy, “audience participation,” transitions, improvisation, problem solving, managing space, equipment, electronics, my two live bunnies and all the kids, difficult children and wholly –unholy– intractable parents… it is so much crowd management and PR that I can only -plaintively- liken it to Scotty’s job on Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise, which turns out Wikipedia defines as “lieutenant commander, the Enterprise’s second officer and ‘miracle worker’ chief engineer.”
That being said, here I go:
First up on this day is a glorious and exhaustive FIVE-WAY birthday celebration for a huge passel of kids near the ocean north of Boston in a 100% homogenous cul-de-sac neighborhood in a huge back yard on a glorious New England fall day. They are lovely people, living the suburban dream, and I am happy for them even though they seem encapsulated in a 100% white, caucasian, white bubble with the cultural diversity of a marshmallow. Such picturesque fortunes exacerbate my worries about the profound inequities in the world and I feel uncomfortable with such comfort. But it’s still lovely.
Favorite moment: A friendly neighborhood dog haplessly walks into the yard full of familiar kids only to find himself basically stage left of the show during my “scary clown” routine. Feather dusters on my head and heart glasses and kazoo on my face, I see him coming and orient my pose directly at him. He halts. Our “eyes” lock. He tenses. I wait. He stiffens. Then I let him have it with a little toot on the kazoo. He LEAPS backwards and runs out of the yard. Omg a perfect canine foil.
Honored, humbled, exhausted, paid (pee’d even! a luxury honest to god) and gratified; I hit the road southward.
Arriving at the banquet hall I’m heaving my substantial gear up the stairs, navigating between ladies in tight clothes, peep toe shoes and guys with crisp dark baggy jeans hanging low over ostentatious designer sneakers. It is absolutely my custom to haul my own gear anyway, but I also recognize I am entering one of the cultures where there will be no offers of help.
Don’t get me wrong, when people ask to help, they usually can’t. “Oh thanks but I am beyond help, ha ha,” I say, “This is just how I roll.” And it’s hella true. But I still appreciate people who offer. (In this case my bias is quickly broken by an enterprising 12 year old girl who offers to help… so perhaps shame on me for judging in the first place.)
[Note for another day: Ask me about Greeks vs. Irish.]
Next is entering the wall of music. If you call that music. DJ blasts the hip-hop pop at a volume which even in my imminent experience I find astonishing tonight. The BASS reverberates so powerfully it vibrates the floors and throbs my sternum. The dance floor is completely empty but for lights flicking off the disco ball, and hundreds of eyes are on me -the only caucasion in the joint- as I enter in my polka dots, stripes, pig tails and bow tie flanked by my two mountains of props on wheels. Everyone is sitting at white linen round banquet tables around the perimeter of the dance floor. I don’t even bother trying to find my contact for this venue, everyone is so aloof in their finery. Hell these people are barely talking to each OTHER under this music, much less me. They obviously know I’m here with all my stuff in the middle of the room; I’m not going to start working the tables to find the mom of the one year old birthday boy.
I have bunnies with me. They are in a closed basket right now but I don’t want them to literally die from inhumanely loud music. I position them as far as possible from the speakers and insulate them with my person + props. I am almost done setting up the face painting station when the requisite “WHIP NAE NAE” comes on. I don’t mind the cultural influence of this song, it’s fine. And at least it’s pretty innocent, doesn’t throw F-bombs and doesn’t degrade women… like so many of the others. But I still laugh when I go over to entice some of the children and see a two year old baby doing the stanky leg. [Note: At least at this gig I do not see any baby girls twerking… in diapers. I swear to gawd.]
Before long I’ve got a wonderful line full of kids whose faces I’m whipping into butterflies, batman, flowers, dogs, cats, tigers, and diminutive mustachioed men. For tonight’s efficiency I can thank said loud music for preventing most of the usual verbal interference from parents (the most challenging part of the job; another post for another day). My contact finds me and she is so far lovely, considerate and pleased.
Almost every gig has a “first” for me. Tonight it is the announcement over the P.A. that the (one year old) Birthday Boy “has his own Snapchat filter, so be sure and use the filter!” I confess I don’t really get snapchat. I know people take selfies and then put like an animal face over their own face, like virtual face painting, but I don’t know how it works. And I definitely don’t know what it means for a baby to have a filter. Maybe you put the baby’s face on your selfie. #idunno
Fast forward through my show, where my mic fails me -as does most of the audience- not to mention my VOICE which has taken the weekend OFF apparently, but the DJ kindly turns off the music, loans me his mic and gives me props afterwards. There is such an atmosphere of diffuse pandemonium in the air during the “show” that I barely hear myself think. I compensate with exaggerated swagger where there would otherwise be intricate patter and notice that the bank of kids sitting captivated in front of me isn’t going anywhere so I take it to be a good sign even though I’m not sure whassup.
Soon enough it’s time for the cake ritual of singing happy birthday up on the stage. Two banquet tables boast a diorama of candy, cupcakes and a “#1” circus themed fondant cake. A backlit back drop showcases the birthday boy’s name suspended in sparkles and lights. This kind of display is not uncommon in a lot of cultures I encounter but it still amazes me every time. One tweenage girl stands out in particular; dressed to impress, boldly flaunting her budding sexuality in a thin white satin negligee, stiletto heels and a black choker. Although I’d seen various women with the birthday baby already, it is now this girl standing on set amidst birthday confections, birthday baby snug on her hip, beaming for the snapshots -and snapchats- of several dozen smartphones. I watch her in astonishment, thankful I have 50 balloons to blow up to mask my cognitive dissonance. Several rounds of the Birthday Song are played (more photo ops), although I’m helplessly tuned to the monologue in my head; “OK 14. I give her 14. Fine, 16. OK MAYBE 17, tops. But… I still say 14,” I hear, helplessly surmising how old she might have been one year and nine months ago.
Then there is another “first” for me tonight as the DJ patches one of the auntie’s phones into the sound system so as to broadcast the voice from the other end. “He wants to sing happy birthday!” I hear someone say. I’d already asked delicately about the composition of the immediate household (so I know whom to reference in my birthday serenade… one can never assume it’s “Mommy and Daddy”), and there was clearly no mention of the baby’s father. So I thought perhaps this was the girl’s father calling in. “Is he back home?” I ask, thinking it’s Grandpa back in Cape Verde. “No, he’s locked up,” says the auntie. It IS Baby’s Daddy. Baby Daddy is calling from lockup; boisterous, cheerful and singing happy birthday to his baby. I honestly give him credit. Showing up is everything in a child’s life, and this is apparently one way to do it. Just one way I’m privileged enough to have never encountered before.
I honestly give him credit. Showing up is everything in a child’s life, and this is apparently one way to do it. Just one way I’m privileged enough to have never encountered before.
Within minutes it’s evacuation time. The hall has only been rented ’til 8pm and everybody gotta scram. The kids are jacked up on candy and balloons, other young mothers are milking the last few minutes of the DJ, gettin’ DOWN like they in the CLUB. I’ve been paid -and even given food to go. Normally I would thank & congratulate the mom -not to mention meet her in the first place- but I see her melting down in a teenage drama surrounded by a team of BFF’s wiping tears, swapping babies and wielding phones. I thank the DJ and make a break for it. Back down the stairs through a now even thicker forest of spike heels, lace boots and sneakers. Girls cling desperately to each other trying to descend stairs in stilettos intact before piling into cars already blaring loud music and peeling out of the parking lot. I feel like we’re emptying out the club all a sudden ‘cuz da po po came.
I load my clown car (really a mom-mobile crammed with circus crap), check that the bunnies are still alive and start making tracks back to Boston under a full and arresting Hunter’s Moon.
My open windows on quiet roads usher in the distinct sweet song of peeper frogs; a perfect elixir to my aching ears. I set my course for home at the end of this typically unique, all-consuming day and marvel at blessings upon blessings.