|Jinny has been very ill and is currently undergoing rehabilitation in a Bangor facility so she will not be writing her article for awhile. She is making excellent progress and hopes to be able to return to writing her column in the near future... Adele.
When I was a little kid, the Ed Sullivan Show was a regular Sunday night tradition. For those of you who are too young to remember, Ed was this mildly strange guy with an hour long variety show on which were featured individuals both famous and not so famous who covered the entire spectrum of entertainment from playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on a baby grand to singing Old Suzanna while drinking a glass of water and balancing on a beach ball. Old Ed had a very eclectic show and there was usually something to please everyone. If you were horrified by the gyrations of Elvis or the Beatle’s hair, you could always leave and get something to eat and be assured that when you came back there would probably be someone playing the accordion and singing about moonlight and pasta, or a bunch of chimpanzees dressed as debutants having a food fight. There was something for everyone.
One of my most powerful memories of acts on the Ed Sullivan Show was a guy who appeared on a regular basis. I can’t remember his name; I doubt that I ever really knew it in the first place, but his act, and my reaction to it as a young child, sticks in my mind with remarkable clarity. This fellow was dressed in a suit with a snappy bow tie and had a line of about 6 or 8 long, thin, bamboo poles set up across the stage upon which he would spin ordinary dinner plates. How he got them spinning up there in the first place was a mystery to me and still is, but once they were going they would spin like a perfectly balanced dervish for awhile until gravity, or friction, or whatever, caused the plates to start to wobble like a flying saucer piloted by alien frat boys. The guy must have figured out exactly how many bamboo poles he could have spinning crockery at the same time because about the time he got the last one in the line going he had to run back, get the first one in the line spinning crazily again and so on down the line. Reading this, you may think that this act sounds pretty pointless and dull, but for some reason, it was strangely compelling. If you think about it, people who like racing will sit and watch a bunch of cars go around in a boring ellipse for what seems like days and claim that they are having a great time. There is a theory about that that I think is probably sound, that what people are actually doing is waiting for a 5 or 6 car pileup where vehicles bounce off of walls and into each other, turn over a couple of times and then catch on fire in a potentially dangerous, but easily controllable way. Flying tires is always good for some excitement. The same may be true about the plates on the bamboo poles; maybe we were enthralled only because we were waiting for at least one of the plates to fall off and make a satisfying sound of breaking crockery on the floor of the stage. On the other hand, we didn’t necessarily want the guy with the spinning plates to fail any more than the average race fan wants someone to be seriously injured on the track, and I remember shouting warnings at the television when I saw plates start to wobble on the poles as if it would help the guy in the bow tie avert disaster. There is an interesting dichotomy in both these scenarios that undoubtedly says something about the ambivalence of human nature and man’s struggle between creation and destruction, but I’ll leave that analysis to someone who actually thinks that knowing will change anything.
Even though I was pretty young at the time, I can recall wondering to myself why I was oddly enthralled by the spinning plate act. On paper it seems pretty stupid, and it probably was, but for some reason, in practice it had a kind of hypnotic quality that pulled you in and made the act of spinning plates on bamboo poles seem terribly meaningful. It may have had something to do with the tense music and the remarkable focus of the guy in the bow tie because I can remember that while watching him, I was probably as focused as he was, concentrating on the poles and the plates and the timing of the spinning, attempting to anticipate when the first plate would begin to slow down. I recall holding my breath and being relieved and tired when he finished the act without incident and retrieved all the plates. In retrospect, I believe that my interest in this particular act was powerful because it was prophetic, because I feel that I have spent a substantial portion of my adult life where the metaphor of the spinning plates on the bamboo poles can be accurately applied. I get the plates spinning, sometimes to my own amazement, but just when I think things are nicely balanced, I have to run down and take care of a wobbly plate that is in danger of crashing to the floor. And just like the man with the bow tie, I have to stay focused, ever alert for the irresistible powers I’m attempting to defy, and keep my eye on the precariously balanced, easily breakable china. Everyone knows that china plates have no business spinning on top of skinny bamboo poles and I’m tired of the whole act, but the alternative is that all the plates come crashing down and break into a million pieces, and then where will I be? Hit in the face with a pie thrown by a chimp in a ball gown.