A ‘close encounter of the AAAAAARRRRRGH kind’ occurred on Saturday afternoon. Karen needed to go the shopping mall on the other side of town: Jaymee (her daughter, of course) decided to go with her, and then the boys (my son Leo and his best mate Chris – they are almost invariable together) tagged along as well, in search of something or other (a birthday present for Chris’s mum, I think). Dave and I were coaching gym, so well out of it.
In deference to the rules at the mall, the boys actually donned vests as they got out of Karen’s car, and everyone wore slip-on canvas shoes. All went well for a while and, just when they were going to split up and go in different directions, a strident voice rang out behind them: ‘You should be ashamed of yourself! It’s disgusting.’
Unsure who was addressing who, the group spun around to see an angry coloured lady storming up to them. Actually, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say ‘coloured’ any more – in coffee shops around here you cannot ask for either a black or white coffee because that’s racist, apparently. A few other folks nearby, who were as astonished as Karen and the kids, also turned to get a better view.
The woman repeated herself, now clearly addressing Karen, and then went on: ‘I’ve seen you, you know. I’ve seen what you do in your shows. Those poor kids…’
Huh? This stuff? Poor kids, doing handstands? Anyway, which show? Certainly not the recent Hallowe’en ones, for no coloured folks were at either, I’m pretty sure.
‘Making them do all those tricks. And all that dangerous stuff. You know what I mean. Smashing that cinder block on him.’ She pointed at Leo. ‘They called it ‘death-defying’…’
Well yes, we have excitable commentary designed to get the audiences’ attention. But, as readers of this blog are more than well aware, tricks on beds of nails or broken glass, and all the rest, work safely for all sorts of reasons – the laws of physics, engineering (‘multiple load paths’ on and under the glass), the remarkable resilience and stretchiness of human skin to resist tearing, not to say all the rigorous training for strength, balance and flexibility. This sort of stuff…
What do you do in this kind of situation? Ideally, I guess, you walk away. But, as Karen turned to walk on, the woman just got louder and the crowd of observers grew in size.
Never under-estimate the 14yo, especially when prowling in packs! Apparently Karen never got much of a chance to defend herself. As if she would need to – she’s one of the toughest women on the planet, as my books (see end of post) will testify. The kids moved to place themselves in a line between her and the woman.
‘Madam, we do our shows because we love to do it, because we’ve trained to do it, and because it’s safe to do it.’ said Jaymee, or something very similar.
‘A pity I don’t have my bed of nails with me,’ offered Leo. Actually, we have, in the past, been contracted to do shows by the management of the very mall – shows which did involve the nails and glass, and which also included pitching our friend Ethan over the balcony to be caught on the floor below. And, Karen says, she caught sight of a security guard who knew that, who was grinning broadly on the edge of the crowd.
By now, apparently, the kids were on the boil. ‘Let’s defy death, then,’ said Chris, bending back into a bridge for Leo to climb on to his stomach. Jaymee jumped up behind and climbed into a handstand on Leo’s head.
They jumped down. Chris, I think, glared at the woman and asked ‘Any more questions’ or words to that effect, the guard asked the woman to move on, and the surrounding crowd burst into applause, hoping for more I think. The kids were all for whipping off their vests and getting stuck into more of their routines right there, but Karen cracked a whip of their own and marshalled them back quickly into ‘shopping mode’.
‘You should be proud of your kids!’ said one guy to Karen, who was too taken aback to bother to explain that she was actually only the mother of one of them!
Well, it made a good story, and no doubt it’s been making a good story in the school yard today too. But it’s also pretty disturbing, in its way. People like that can cause trouble, complain to the authorities, start child-protection cases rolling, cause all sorts of sh*t to hit the fan. Just for the record, in case Mr Authority Person reads this, we are perfectly aware of child-employment regulations and their specific application to travelling circus families (for which we maybe mistakenly qualify), and we abide by them! But, as far as we know, there’s no law against anyone doing impromptu handstands in the mall, at least not if the owners are friendly.
And perhaps, when the story gets back to the manager’s office, it might occur to him to make another booking…
OK, a few more fitness pictures would seem to fit the bill:
And, if you do want ‘death-defying’, maybe try this one:
…marginally weird, even by our standards!