Friday, February 25, 2011

Off the Pier

The winter sunset over Santa Monica Bay was a glorious and changing skyscape of pink to purple to orange, with palm trees in silhouette. I loped along the thick wood planks of the pier to the sounds of the midway, with a screeching roller coaster and barkers shouting "Step right up, step right up...."

I found Rachel under a sign reading TRAPEZE SCHOOL NEW YORK.

Their slogan: Forget fear. Worry about the addiction.

"Are you excited?" she beamed.

"Not sure what I am, but I'm here and I'm ready."

I was immediately in the hands of a trapeze expert, a blond guy who looked more like a surfer than an aerialist. He tightened a harness around my waist. Two ropes were hooked, left and right, to my sides.

"Climb to the top of the ladder, where Morningstar will be waiting for you. All you have to do is listen to me down here by the net. Just do everything I tell you to do and you'll have a great time."

Morningstar is waiting for me? Climb this ladder? It's kinda shaky, don't you think?

My stocking feet clambered for each rung and halfway up the skinny, rattling metal, my mind flashed back to myself at nine: Climbing up to the high board at the public swimming pool. A long line of squealing kids waiting below, and after one look down from the end of the board, I climbed back down the ladder on spindly legs, whispering "Sorry, sorry...I forgot something."

Look up, Mel, just look up. I talked myself out of repeating my behaviour as a nine-year-old, and at the top there she was: Morningstar, in blue jeans, ponytailed with black-framed eyeglasses. More fitting for a librarian, I thought, than the glittery trapeze star I expected.

"Hi, Mel," she said. "You're fine. Reach for the rung of this other little ladder here, step up — I have you, you're fine. Now, look at the ferris wheel. Just turn and look at the ferris wheel."

The ferris wheel, by the way, was at eye level. I was a good thirty feet in the air and every muscle in my body rippled in a state of liquefaction. I don't care for amusement park rides, but at that moment everyone on the rickety roller coaster looked damn safe and secure, and I wished I was with them.

"I think I made a mistake," I whispered as Morningstar unhooked the ropes and linked me to new ones attached to Surfer Dude down below with his microphone.



"Do people ever go back down the ladder?"

"Yeah, that happens. We frown upon it, but it happens. And that's not going to happen to you. You're fine. I have you by the back of the belt. Feel that?" And she gave me a good tug for proof.


But I was not okay. This was the scene of nightmares. The dreams of falling through the air. Of crashing down hilltops in an out-of-control bus. The hallucinations from which I awoke with a jolt, a pounding heart and a paralyzed body.

"Mel, you're going to reach with your right hand as I pull the swing toward you. There, good. Hold on to the bar."

The bar felt flimsy and thin in my chalky hands. My left hand gripped a ladder bolted to the four-foot platform Morningstar and I shared. My white-stockinged toes hung over the edge into a WIDE-OPEN UNNATURAL SPACE and I spotted the face in a full moon suspended over the ocean...he was CHUCKLING at me.

"Mel, push your hips forward. You're going to make a banana shape with your body. I have you, don't worry. You've done the hardest part, climbing the ladder."

That was arguable. The ladder, the hardest part? Surely she was joking. Funny funny Morningstar.

"Lean, further, Mel. Further, that's it....Now release your left hand and hold on to the bar. Hips forward, forward...and now listen to me...."

That was the hardest part. Letting go and believing that this librarian-slash-trapeze star cared whether I lived or died today.

A voice called to me from the speakers below:

"Ready!" (meaning bend the knees)...."Hep!" (meaning hop)...

...and I was FLYING.


I wanted to be in Shakespeare Club because it sounded like fun and I want to learn to act better. I think William Shakespeare is very intresting. It is intresting to find out that died on his birthday. William Shakespeare got married in 1582. He got married when he was 18. His wife was named Anne Hathaway. Girls could not go to school during William's life. They had to stay home and learn cooking and sewing. Poor girls! It wasn't fair. Girls couldn't even be actors! I wouldn't want to live back then!
—Audrey, 3rd grade

second pier photo from Jonathan Alcorn Photo


  1. "I don't care for amusement park rides ... so I think I'll take a few loops on the trapeze."

    My palms were sweaty reading this!


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