Everyone is Jumping

Posted on June 9th, 2012 by Viveca in Circus Life

It’s the Israel Day Parade, and I’m on unicycle. Well, actually it’s before the parade, and I’m next to my unicycle checking in at a command center, which is what the parade organizers are calling a production trailer parked on a closed block of 56th Street just east of Fifth Avenue. “Command center” sounds too military for a festive event, or maybe I just associate Israel with conflict. They’ve hired twelve of us, six on unicycle and six on stilts, to enliven the parade.

Last week I told someone I was nervous about this gig, and he asked whether I was afraid it might be a terrorist target. Oh puh-leeze. Are New Yorkers ever actually nervous about terrorism? Non-New Yorkers are always asking that, but locals have become inured to risk. Even if the parade was more likely to be targeted than any other time or place, I was confident that the last contingent anyone would attack would be the one-wheelers. We’re not very threatening.

I don’t support Israeli military and political policy, so I feel like a whore for taking the gig, but I’ve spent the last few weeks convincing myself that the parade would be a cultural celebration rather than a political endorsement. The massive police presence and Hassidic anti-Zionist protestors remind me that the two are inseparable, but that’s not what I’m upset about now: I’m scared about my unicycling skills, or to be precise, my lack of unicycling skills and poor physical condition. Unicycling is seriously hard work, and I’m booked for four hours. I don’t think I can ride that long without my legs falling off or at least me falling off my legs in exhaustion. I not-so-subtly hinted that I’d be better on stilts, but female unicyclists are rare, and the agent wasn’t letting me switch.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been practicing every sunny day that I could find time. My riding is okay, but that’s all I can do. I still can’t count on getting up without holding onto something, and I certainly can’t ride backwards or do any tricks. One time I just worked on free mounting for an hour. The next morning I woke up with my back so completely wrenched, I gave up and hoped that even during the gig I would be able to find something to hold onto without looking too pathetic. Looks like I’m in luck, at least on the something-to-hold-onto front: the streets are lined with metal barricades. We’ll see about the not-looking-too-pathetic part.

Our start has been delayed. The parade is six hours long, and the organizers have decided to break us into three groups and intersperse us to entertain both the small groups of onlookers and the massive groups of bands, yeshiva and summer camp students, and individual Israel supporters in the parade. The great news is that my group will only have to work two and a half hours. My immense relief at the shortened time frame is mitigated by the intimidating realization that as we’re not just riding the full route but rather cycling up and down the same ten-block stretch, we’ll have to do something more amusing than riding and waving. My stomach reels.

We wait, some more eagerly than others. The first group is instructed to take off. I secretly hope our contact will never come get us. The stilt walkers climb ladders and planters to begin to strap on their apparatus. The other unicyclists compare pedals and hubs and begin, impatiently, to goof around on their unis. One shows off his “circus idle,” the hardest of the three basic ways to stay in one place. Another lifts his feet off the pedals to “walk the wheel.” All of them can stand up on the pedals, hold the seat, and pogo in place. Everyone is jumping, and I sit on the sidewalk, dreading the imminent signal to get up and go.

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