Monday, November 13, 2006

An Epilogue

I just discovered an epilogue to a story from my husband's and my real life. I don't usually like epilogues.

Dear Butcher and I met in the circus. He was working Ring Crew; I was working for the circus's company equestrienne. She hated the Ring Crew, and they equally despised her, but that's another story for another day.

Generally circuses have about four main crews, but some larger circuses have more. Tent Crew is in charge of the tent. House Crew is in charge of the "House", i.e., ticket sales, hiring of daily ushers, crowd control during the performance. Ring Crew (or Prop Crew) is in charge of the condition of the ring and all performer's props. And the Butchers sell you popcorn and balloons out front. (Then there's Clown Alley, electricians, maintenance, sound, band, Front Office, and a few other sundry groups. But none of these are as important as the four crews.)

Ring Crew are the guys you see during the show who tear down the trapeze, roll in the carpet, roll out the carpet, and roll in the elephant tubs. Mud Shows have them in Blue Overalls; European shows tend to put them in some sort of mild costume.

The aerialists in particular go out of their way to keep the Ring Crew happy. Dear Butcher particularly liked one flyer: Pedro Reis. Here's a REALLY blurry shot of him. It's obviously not that great a picture, but it does demonstrate how incredibly built he was and how very low he liked to wear his pants. Not at all full of himself. Gracious backstage, although I remember he didn't like horses much. Every show I'd stand backstage holding four horses lined up against the side wall, and Pedro would warm up right next to me by doing pull-ups between two sidepoles.

Completely effortless grace. Uuuup. Dooown. Uuuup. Dooown. Smooth and quiet. While he bobbed slowly, Pedro and I would chat about circus gossip. He was from South America, and at that time, the Berlin Wall was coming down. We talked a lot about how little Americans understand of the larger world and a lot about the weather. He thought New York was cold.

His act was the "Cloud Swing". Essentially it's a fireman's hose (sorta) stuffed with cotton, attached at both ends to the top of the tent. You can do a stationary trapeze act on it, either seated or standing, but because it's so flexible, you can wrap it around your legs or arms as well. Pedro had dramatic mounts and dismounts. To begin, Pedro would stand in the ring, arms straight out to his sides, and grab two flat ropes suspended from the larger Cloud Swing. Wrapping the ropes around his biceps, he would bend over and flip forwards. Arms outstretched in an Iron Cross, he would flip himself over and over again, wrapping the ropes ever tighter as he twirled himself up over the crowd's head to the Cloud Swing itself. It was beautiful.

Once he was up there, the music kicked in, and he swung back and forth across the width of the tent, sometimes standing, sometimes hanging from his knees, at one point pretending to fall off but getting caught up in the web by his ankle just in time. Because the tent was so small, the entire act was unnetted. (If you net, the net has to have room to go down to break the fall of the performer. In this case the net would have been no more than a foot above the audience's heads and would have been useless.) It gave the whole act that much more sparkle and verve.

Dear Butcher and Pedro worked well together. Dear Butcher was in charge of the final cue for Pedro's act--his dismount. While the spots were on Pedro, the Ring Crew set up a vertical rope on the other side of the ring. It looked as if were simply hanging, but it was actually tightly attached to bungees set up through pulleys. At the close of the act, the ringmaster would call for silence, the music would stop, and the house lights would come up slightly. Slowly, Pedro would swing back and forth a few times, gather his courage, and then leap across the width of the ring, like a silver Superman without a cape flying free for almost thrity feet, and grab the rope, a dismount web. Holding the web, Pedro would quickly plummet to the sandy ring, where he would step off with a flourish and a "style". (A "Style" is that pose you strike with one hand on your hip and one arm in the air, grinnng at the crowd.) When he let go of the dismount web, it would often go kasproinging up into the upper reaches of the tent. I had to watch the act a few times before I realized that the thing was rigged slow him down.

A few weeks before I left the circus, a redneck born-circus roustabout showed up. No one liked him, but his father was the cook. He refused to work under anyone but the Ring Crew Chief, a job Dear Butcher was up for, and made it clear that when the current Ring Crew Chief was promoted, that he had been ordained byt the Lot Boss to take his place. Dear Butcher was furious, but then, everyone was angry about something on the lot. Right after I left, Dear Butcher left. Pedro tried to "tip him out", but Dear Butcher avoided him on his last day. He didn't want Pedro's money.

We heard later that summer that Pedro's career had ended. I don't know if the band played Stars and Stripes Forever, which they are supposed to do in disaster, or if everyone just went still in quiet shock. During an afternoon performance Pedro leapt off his Cloud Swing and grabbed the dismount web. It wasn't attached to anything. Someone had missed the cue.

With no brakes he just kept soaring out ever farther from the ring, plummeting at speed. The House Crew did their job of standing up between the seats to bat him away from the crowd. He tried to land in the ring. He tried hard to land standing. But when he did, he broke one leg and ankle, and pulverized the other ankle, pushing the shin up into the knee.

He might walk again, but certainly, he'd never work again. Ultimately, he had to have his ankles fused, and since you can't walk comfortably on pointed toes, they were fused in a square position. Dear Butcher was horrified. And felt terribly guilty. I left the circus for a terrible reason: to nurse my aunt as she died. After we left, we both suffered for it.

With a whisper to the insurance company, Pedro could have shut down the circus forever. Instead, he and the circus did what all circuses do--arranged an enormous payout which covered not only every medical cost he could ever hope to have, but also provided for his living in Sarasota, Florida. (Sarasota is steeped in circus families and tradition--it's the traditional home of Ringling Brothers.) I further heard that his girlfriend, the beautiful Dolly Jacobs, Queen of the Air, mistress of the Roman Rings, was taking care of him on the off seasons. At least he didn't die. And at least he had someone to take care of him.

I just discovered the epilogue to this story.


In 1994, Pedro and Dolly performed a pas de deux, On Wings of Love. In 1997 Pedro and Dollly started their own one ring circus, Circus Sarasota. That very blurry picture above is from the homepage of Circus Sarasota.

Pedro not only went on to perform again, with his devoted partner, but together they went on to start an entire circus. The whole website reads as I remember Pedro. There's a dedication to the larger community by way of nursing home visits. There's his pride of becoming an American citizen. There's a sense of class in it all. And not a single word regarding his accident or recovery. I'm so glad to know the epilogue.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story, Suisan. MY heart was in my throat the entire time. I'm glad Pedro triumphed over all in the end. He deserves all success.

Suisan said...

He really does.

Of course, the love of a good woman didn't hurt either, I guess.



He had a mini dachsund too--I'm trying to remember his name. So funny--great big flyman walking a little teeny dog which had to stop at every garden hose or tent fold to hop over it.

Anonymous said...

I'm so very glad to know the epilogue also! I was sure he was dead but thank God he made it. I'm also glad he was able to do what he loved again.

CindyS

Kate R said...

what a LOVELY STORY. thank you. Makes me want to go to Sarasota and cheer them on.

Mailyn said...

That's a nice happy ending and I am glad that he didn't die. :-)

Suisan said...

I definitely want to make a special trip to Sarasota now. This show they have David Rosaire's Perky Pekes, which is a funny and completely professional act. And I beleive they have the Svensons too. A very lovely couple who run both a ballerina on horseback act and a "rube from the audience" act.

I'm so glad that he and Dolly are OK. It sounds as if he specifically runs the circus to play in the winter season so that acts in between contracts can play his show. Neat idea. I've hated thinking of him moldering in a trailer somewhere.

Doug said...

Great story, Suisan. I've been reading depressing stories all evening, so the happy ending was most welcome.

Suisan said...

Whatever I can do to help, Doug. ;)