Originally published in the Montreal Mirror
It’s not like swinging around on a flying trapeze is something I’ve ever felt I must do in this life to feel whole.
You know, the way some people feel they absolutely must try skydiving, or swimming with sharks. No, it wasn’t quite like that.
My decision came about as a result of smoking a Marley-sized blunt of that Jack Herer reefer going around lately and subsequently checking my e-mail at 2 a.m. to learn the Mirror was looking for pitches for this Sports supplement you’re reading. And then, suffering from the anxiety an über-strong doob can sometimes unexpectedly deliver a man, remembering that I was flat broke and doomed to stay that way forever if I didn’t start seizing these types of opportunities when presented with them.
But what was I gonna pitch? Try as I might, the only thing that kept popping to mind was to offer to learn the art of the flying trapeze at the Trapezium, a place I’ve been hearing about for several years now. Conveniently forgetting in my marijuana-induced haze that I was, um, scared of heights, and temporarily, at least, in piss-poor physical condition, I fired off my pitch only to awaken the next afternoon to read an enthusiastic “Yeah, let’s do it” e-mail back from my editor.
Great, so now I was committed, with no way to rescind my offer without looking totally lame, or at the very least, unprofessional in the eyes of da boss. Worse, I started feeling like backing out would be lame. You know, that it was finally time to grow up and be a man, to get over these silly neurotic fears I have over things like heights or eating vegetables, and just, like Phil Knight and the Nike gang keep telling me, just, well…just do it. It was time to stop being a sissy!
So a couple of Thursdays ago, when I simply couldn’t avoid it any longer, I mustered up my courage, called up Mirror photog Rachel, who the powers-that-be rightly felt should be there to visually document my becoming a cripple, and out we went to the Trapezium.
Becoming a man, almost
The Trapezium shares a locale with Horizon Roc, which, by the way, is one of largest indoor rock climbing centres on the planet. I notice that it’s 90 per cent guys doing the rock climbing thing, whereas in the back of the space, where the Trapezium is located, it’s all attractive young chicks, mostly hard-bodied, learning to perfect their acrobatic skills. Just what I need, I figure, a bunch of sexy chicks around to witness my humiliation.
I’m soon introduced to Jack, a friendly, encouraging but no-nonsense type of guy who acts as the head trapeze instructor there. He senses my nervousness and without prompting informs me that there’s nothing to fear, I’ll be all hooked up to a harness and that, you know, the big safety net underneath the trapeze apparatus is there for a reason. I get the impression he’s pretty familiar with this spiel. When I point out that I’m an old guy, in shitty physical condition to boot, he looks me up and down and decides he’s having none of my sissy-esque whining and reminds me that anyone, at any age, can learn the flying trapeze.
He takes me aside and, on a chalkboard, shows me what he wants me to do once I muster the nerve to climb up the seemingly endless ladder to the top of the trapeze platform. It basically involves my learning how and when to jump and what I need to do once I’ve started flying around in the air. Which is, essentially, to swing my legs up over the trapeze bar at the right time so I’ll be hanging from my knees, swinging to and fro, while arching my back as far as the ol’ spine will allow with my hands outstretched so Claude, Jack’s assistant, and one motherfucker of an impressive trapeze artist, will be able to catch me mid-air should the time ever come that I actually get the procedure down correctly.
I try taking in Jack’s instructions but find myself too distracted by my nervousness to really hear what he’s telling me. After several, “Uh, so then what am I supposed to do”s, he sends up one of the hardbodied chicks to demonstrate. He’s a patient guy, this Jack, but possessing your classic athletic coach personality, meaning he’s not afraid to push your boundaries in the pursuit of turning you into the bestest trapeze artist you can possibly be. After watching the demonstration, I finally decide I just want to get this shit over with and tell Jack I’m ready.
Jump! Jump! Jump!
He straps me to a safety harness to climb the 40 or so steps up to the top of the trapeze platform, where I’m met by another trainer named Michelle, a sweet-as-all-get-out brunette who tells the sweating, clearly nervous, borderline hyperventilating me that I remind her of Rufus Wainwright. Rufus Wainwright! Jesus, one of the reasons I’m doing this in the first place is to prove to myself I ain’t no sissy, and she tells me that?
I’m now more determined than ever to take the plunge. But it’s scary up there. You’re leaning over the platform, both hands on the trapeze bar, with only Michelle’s iron grip on your harness holding you back from falling prematurely. Jack barks from below that it’s time for me to jump. But I don’t want to jump. Instead I whine and cry and laugh until nobody finds it funny anymore, and then I finally leap out into the oblivion before me.
And it’s not so bad, after all. I suspect it’s like skydiving the first time: The scariest part is the initial leap, and once you’re out there and swinging around, it’s not really outrageously terrifying anymore—only moderately terrifying. Still, even though my leap didn’t quite come off like it was supposed to—I took way too long to finally get my knees up and around the trapeze bar—I’m hoping Rachel got her shot and that I can now thank Jack, call it a day and go home.
But no such luck. Rachel needs to shoot my adventure from a few different angles and Jack is simply having nothing of my leaving until I’ve accomplished at least one successful manoeuvre. By the time I’m walking out the door, he tells me, I’ll have not only learned how to do the basic initial swing correctly, but I’ll have done one where Claude will have caught me in the air, just like an acrobat in the circus.
Stirrings of bravery
Jack is a coach’s coach, and he’s a loud, persuasive character, so sheepishly I surrender my will and go up the ladder to try it all again. The hardbodied chicks, Jack, Rachel and the assembled hordes below are all very supportive, cheering whenever I do anything right and crying out stuff like “You can do it!” when they see me hesitating, fighting back tears.
One fellow student, Jackie, a McGill gal who’s been going to the Trapezium for six months to, besides the exercise, get over her fear of heights, tells me she thinks I’m very brave, that on her first time out she stood on the platform crying for five minutes before finally jumping. And it’s true, with each successive jump, I feel a little more confident, a little braver—damn, at this rate, I’ll be starring in a Cirque du Soleil production before you know it.
By the time of my sixth jump, I’m exhausted, my arms aching. I’ve pretty well gotten the procedure down though, albeit at this point just climbing to the top of the platform is reminding me why I need to stop smoking cigarettes sooner rather than later. But this is gonna be the one, Jack tells me, he can feel it, this is the jump where Claude is gonna catch me mid-air and all is going to be wonderful. After that, I’ll be able to go home feeling like a man, a success.
And I come close. I do all the moves I’ve learned over the past hour with relative grace, and Claude and I do connect mid-flight, but I fuck up somehow and fail to hold on to him tightly enough, eventually making my way gently into the safety net below.
But Jack is happy, Rachel has her shot and she’s happy, I’m getting the hell out of there so I’m happy, and, I suppose, when all is said and done, you might even say I kind of enjoyed myself. Kind of. Can I now say I’m over my fear of heights? Hardly, but at least I’m in slightly better physical shape than I was yesterday—and a little richer.
The Trapezium can be found at 2350, Dickson. For information on hours and rates, see www.trapezium.qc.ca