June 23, 2018

The Daring Young Andy on the Flying Trapeze

Dateline: New York, New York-

Today was ‘My Dinner with Andy’ day. If a film crew had been following me around and filmed the long rambling conversations, I could have given Wallace Shawn a run for his money.

After a leisurely morning, I met Melanie McDermott for a leisurely lunch. Melanie and I have been friends since high school and we seem to make it a point to get together about once every couple of decades for a meal and catch up. We had a leisurely and lovely lunch at the Gramercy Tavern where the conversation ebbed and flowed over old Seattle times, life happenings, the state of the world, and a number of other subjects. Melanie has always been one of the more intelligent and inquisitive women I’ve ever met and it was lovely to have a good long talk about lots of things.

After leaving Melanie, I met up with Mary Kelly Rayel for a few hours for more food, drink and conversation. Ours is a unique friendship. We only knew each other in person for about a week twenty years ago, but we recognized kindred spirits and have always kept abreast of each other. I happened to be the person the universe put in her path at a vulnerable moment and we’ve been bonded since. Besides, how many professional circus performers do you get to know in your lifetime? (Anyone close to Bucks County Pennsylvania who wants to take trapeze lessons, look her up). Again, many hours of conversation until I had to catch an uptown train for my show and her a Brooklyn bound one for hers.

Tonight’s show was the revival of Once On This Island. (Congratulations again Keith Cromwell on your Tony for it). The show, which I have seen multiple productions of over the years, is a sweet, but poignant fable about a Caribbean people telling the legend of Ti Moune, the dark skinned peasant girl who dares to love a lighter skinned aristocrat. As the show is at Circle in the Square, it’s presented in the round. The framing story is set present day on a beach after a hurricane has passed through and, in a lot of very imaginative staging, the cast, dressed as modern islanders, create the world of the fable out of the detritus scattered around the sand on the floor of the stage. I expect to see great things from director Michael Arden in the future. The ultimate message of the show is the importance of story and narrative in preserving the sense of self in adversity and if that doesn’t fit right in to what I’m in the middle of, I don’t know what does?

Tonight’s story, which I don’t think I’ve told before, is the story of Andy and the flying trapeze. As I have discussed before, 1998 was a very problematic year. Steve and I had taken, at that point, to taking one week vacations with Atlantis Events to Mexican beach resorts (this is before they were in the cruise business) to be with our gay tribe and to recharge our batteries. The resort at Blue Bay Manzanillo was especially helpful as it was so isolated and so gorgeous. (Hint hint Rich Campbell…) The winter of 97-98 was so bad work wise that we booked not one, but two weeks back to back in April/May of 1998. Three days before we left, UC Davis let me know that the system had defunded everything I had been working on in Geriatrics for the last decade and I would be out of a job in a couple months. Needless to say, I was reeling when we got to Mexico and not in a good space. One of the activities that year was flying trapeze lessons and Mary Kelly was one of the professional acrobats brought in to make sure guests did not break their necks. I took one look at the rig, felt scared by it, but at the same time resolved that the only way I was going to get in the right frame of mind to deal with my life challenges was to work up some courage so I signed up. The first time I stood at the edge of that little platform to swing, I was incredibly nervous, but I made the jump and immediately felt liberated. I kept working at it those two weeks, didn’t become good as I’m not naturally athletic but improved. When I got back to California, as things went from bad to worse in the job department, I kept telling myself ‘you can jump off a 30 foot platform, you can handle this’.

I took several more series of trapeze lessons through Atlantis and then through a trapeze school in Atlanta over the course of the next few years. I gave it up when the Atlanta trapeze school shut down as it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can practice in the average back yard. I may get back to it one day. Perhaps a trip to Bucks County is in order.

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