Folded Footnotes

copyright 2017 by Michael Perry

 

Don’t Fold Your Feet​.
Maurice was someone just like you, who grew and grew and grew and grew… 
but,

Maurice was different.

One thing stood out, or should I say two, the right foot and left foot in Maurice’s two shoes. Maurice was different.

And had to overcome, not fitting in.

“My toes are poking through…my shoes don’t fit anymore. My feet are larger than ever before! I know what I must do.”

So Maurice folded those feet in two
and took the bus, and quietly sat, and did good work and that was that ; every day,

but Maurice was lonely. 

People would stop by and say, “We’re going bowling later today.There’s a ball game, wanna play? “

“I have to feed my fish,” Maurice would say.
Because Maurice thought, “I can’t do that, my feet will show. People will laugh and  make fun, I know.”

It hurt having no friends
because eventually no one asked Maurice to play, and so Maurice went home each  day, and fed the fish;

but stitching leather  
Maurice cobbled shoes together. Perfectly sized. Handmade  and extra wide. And when it grew dark, and quiet outside,

Maurice would  try on shoes that fit,
and walk and wonder, and perhaps sit, and often think quite a bit, about shoes,

really big shoes:
And across Main Street in that little town with little windows and a little door stood tall, an empty little store.  An empty little place 

different than others’.
And one night after walking past Maurice took one last look…and was surprised,

From a distance,
slowly appearing the darkness was somehow clearing as Maurice went walking, nearing that empty little place. And through the glass,

Maurice saw a  poster.

Wonder-filled pictures displayed giant feats, and performers with painted faces who came from far away foreign places. were different,. Different all. 

And like an elephant, a trumpet sounded.
In dreams Maurice had that night, a poster, and a magical site all blared until dawn lit bright. And Maurice awakened.

And then Maurice knew.
Walking big shoed and without speaking, bravely Maurice went under-tent peaking and Maurice found what Maurice was seeking, as though Maurice had always known.

Everyone is different.  

And feeling comfortable like never before
Maurice , making new friends, was lured and welcomed to the circus floor 
and finding  a spotlighted place where inner music plays

Maurice no longer hid.
With untied shoes in life’s center ring seat Maurice stood up  on those two big feet, and rubbed those folded toes.

Magical feats unfolded.
And laughter flowed from Maurice that day as life’s new lesson revealed and displayed amongst circus friends who stayed, until the week’s end.

And a new fit was found. 
“But what to do when the show leaves town?” Maurice thought sitting on that bench in the park, across from that little building in the dark. Then quickly Maurice stood and walked back home.

And Maurice sold everything; except the fish,
And Maurice was free.and could now begin to listen to that voice within. Maurice was free,

and ran away…
And waved to one and all. And people watched and people frowned as the circus packed up and the circus left town and Maurice had to go,

to that little empty place.
Maurice moved in with leather, and fish to the little store, the one in town. Maurice lived upstairs, and the shop was down, no longer feeling like

the one that didn’t belong.
because Maurice found what Maurice loved to do; performing feats of magic with leather and hands, making wallets and purses and leather bands,  and shoes.

It was a perfect fit.
And above that shop, a sign was lit: Maurice Megapedis.  Life’s circus lesson came as news that each of us walks in very large shoes,  regardless of the size of our feet.

Life is a circus: big feats await.

Folded Footnotes

 

 

 

The fleur-de-lis, the flower of the lily, is said to signify perfection, light, and life.                                                

       

Three Fleurs-de-lis                                 

1976, in the days of circus and youth, in San Francisco, in Lyle Tuttle’s  tattoo parlor, Peggy Ford, Rick Davis and I had imprinted upon our big toes a fleur-de-lis.  I don’t remember whose idea it was, but from that day forward we were forever linked.

In 1974 we met in Clown College.  We were three passionate suburban kids graduating with contracts in our pockets. We were first of Mays, freshmen, freshly hatched fledglings ready to fly out of the nest and into the mother of all circuses. Like chicks following mother duck we were forever imprinted by life on the road. We spread our wings; Rick fresh from college, Peggy from Palo Alto, and me, a 19 year old  drop out from Buffalo with a unicycle. We were learning our craft. We were exploring the world. We  were discovering that life is a circus.

1975’s Blue Unit was a bi-centennial sequined extravaganza, a red white and blue show replete with international acts, and exotic animals, in a world of pay phones and travelers checks, laundromats and two shows a day, townies and railroad tracks, arenas, overalls, train travel, backpacks, and juggling props.  We had been drafted into a post Nixon Vietnam-era circus and having served we were forever changed. We were marked. We were veterans. 

After my two years, I took my tattooed toe to college in New Orleans, to get married in Buffalo and then to raise a family in Pittsburgh. Never far from grease paint, I had run away to join an ‘advertising world,’  to play a corporate clown character. Five days a week  I climbed into a costume twice a day stepping on stage, I had freedom, creativity and a steady paycheck. I traveled a four state footprint and found life exhausting, exhilarating, and challenging. With an assistant and a big box van loaded with props I was my own little circus. It sure beat working and my fleur-de-lis mascot life  blossomed for 27 years. 

Lilies are the 30th anniversary flower, and  when Peggy and I met in San Francisco for lunch, it wasn’t far from the tattoo studio from three decades earlier. Now she was the Program Director of the Clown Conservatory. I watched the students and  was reminded of our own Clown College experience. I wanted to say a few words, to share an experience or to offer encouragement. I wanted to tell them to follow their big toe. I missed  an opportunity.

Peggy’s health was not good, but her perpetual smile, and infectious spirit were exactly as I recalled, eternally supportive.  Everyone loved her and she was in her element. I thought, “If lilies symbolize devotion, her fleur-de-lis must be a bouquet.” We ate lunch. We shared stories. We laughed and filled in life’s missing movie. She drove away in a rattletrap car and the following year she was gone.  

A few months later, in 2012, I met with Rick in Kennebunkport ME. We lit a candle in Peg’s honor. We toasted her with scotch and we were back on the road one memory at a time, recalling, reenacting, reconstructing, and rewriting the past. Rick had remained rooted in circus throughout the years. The third leaf of the fleur-de-lis, we had always stayed in touch as friends and performers.  I had come to Maine to shadow him. As an artist in residence for Circus Smirkus he was a master at his craft, teaching circus arts to children. I thought perhaps I could too,  but watching him work I was unsure that I could be as gently wonderful. Had I missed an opportunity?  Driving to the hotel that evening, Rick had unexpectedly stopped his car, saying, “We have to watch the sunset.” I remember it well. It was the last time I saw him. His sunset a few years later. And though I set his coffin down, I carry him with me still.         

Now when I occasionally look down at my big toe I notice that only two blue tattoo dots remain. I worry that soon Peggy and Rick will no longer walk with me. Ink fades, memories melt, and opportunities visit less frequently. I’m told that you need a  big toe for balance, but balance requires practice. I still have a unicycle, but I practice a new passion; a commitment to maximize opportunity, opportunity to share and to learn, to take chances, and to watch the sunset.

Our lives are permanently inked: Rick and Peggy, fleurs-de-lis.  big hearted people, in big shoes leaving big footprints, Peggy the ‘Mom’ of San Francisco’s Clown Conservatory. Rick the circus arts instructor in residence for New England’s Circus Smirkus.  Great friendships and a simple life lesson: follow your big toe. Lyle Tuttle said it best,  “That’s why tattoos have always been special to me. Tattoos are travel marks, stickers on your luggage. Tattoos are special. You have to go off and earn them.”  I would only add, “One step at a time.”

Folded Footnotes

I just read ‘The Secret Life of Clowns’ by Jeff Raz. I enjoyed every word. It offers a near perfect segue from the closing of Ringling to the wonder of Cirque de Soleil.
 
Better still? It begins with a dedication to Peggy Ford and contains a wonderful story of her warm insight. Peggy and I were first of Mays on the Ringling Blue Unit many years ago. Now she is gone.She took her stories and left her legacy, and I smile a sad smile for missing her, and a happy one for seeing the size of the clown footprint she made on the world. Little known secret? In 1976 we got fleur-de-lis tattoos on our big toes!

Thanks Jeff Raz! The irony of playing a dead clown is not lost on me. You give them new life as The Conservatory continues to birth big-shoed wonders.

Down with secrets! Long live the clown!

Folded Footnotes

‘ The Japanese Method.’

It was two or three minutes before he took my order. “Would you care for a drink?” he said, washing glasses, putting a few dishes away and drying his hands. “I’ll be right with you.” he added and he continued to clean up. Realizing that he had been washing glasses instead of waiting on me,  I smiled. I had fallen for my own tactic: “The Japanese Method.”

I learned to call my process of passive positive progress ‘The Japanese Method.’ It seemed like an appropriate title for a method of verbal jujitsu. It is my personal theory of proactive overt opposition  and it works like this: under the guise of working together, people will wait while you do your work. Do it graciously and there is no conflict. A good bartender knows this. Me? It took a long time.

For years I  performed at elementary schools. Schedules required a show in the morning, and one in the afternoon. To make this happen however required clockwork precision. There wasn’t a minute to spare. I competed with buses in the morning and buses in the afternoon with lunch scheduled in the middle. Each show required unloading and  setting up prop cases, sound systems, backdrops and an assortment of other items. Each process took at least an hour. Each school required trips to the office for permission and confirmation and lighting and stage considerations. No two schools were alike and a loss of 10 minutes could mean running like crazy to do a show or waiting 20 minutes for buses. It became imperative that everything worked seamlessly.

Maximizing success required implementing the ‘Japanese Method.’ Perform all my necessary tasks without always doing as ordered. “You can’t park here, the buses are coming!”  “Okay.” I’d say ignoring the request while acknowledging it with a smile. Then I would go to the office to confirm the show, leaving the truck right where it was.  “Wait here and I’ll page the maintenance person,” they’d say in the office. “I’ll just peek in the all purpose room.” I’d respond smiling as I left, moving the truck and then quietly setting up knowing that permission will find me. As long as I was agreeable and kept moving I bought enough time to “take the order,” yet perform my work. Sign the paperwork. Move the truck to the loading dock. Unload. Set up. Check the sound. Move tables or chairs. As long as I smiled and said yes.

Acknowledge the request, be polite. “I’ll be right with you.” Agree. And then? Do what needs to be done. I can set up and you won’t even know I’m here… Judicious judo. “Do the dishes.” Control the game. Achieve the objective. Be polite. Be respectful, “I’ll be right with you,” if you smile, they will wait. Domo arigato.

Folded Footnotes

I Tumble.  Occasionally I look back through time’s foggy filter at those 52 jokers; memories from four decades past. We worked in groups, rotating every few hours. We acted like animals, like statues, like furniture. We mimed. We made costumes and built props. We put on makeup, and for months we learned from the masters.

Clown College, convened in Venice Florida, in a building resembling a vintage airplane hanger. The inside was retrofitted with seating and 3 rings, every inch reeking of historic circus lore. If Harry Potter had lived, you’d have met him here. In the fall of ’74  each member of our circus faculty was an artistic master of his or her craft, unselfishly gifting us a lifetime of experience. Managing us like like feral cats, they focused our instinctive energy, trained us, and rewarded us with new found talent. They were older clowns, jugglers, prop builders, balancing experts, mimes, costumers and a retired flyer who taught tumbling. Daily sessions of learning and passion looped and lingered as we consumed each craft with attention to detail and persistent practice. We  were lions on raw meat. Talent was requisite, but instinct and raw gumption was paramount.

Still, insecurity was a caged companion, pacing and persisting, demanding attention. Its morning roar screamed ‘success is not in your arena.’  It’s purr whispered a murmuring interrogation. “When will these incredible trainers realize that I don’t belong here?  I’m not that good.  They’ll probably set me free and send me back home.”

But schedules allotted no time for the precarious thoughts of self doubt. Clowning was too physical, too frantic. This was circus! Don’t think! Move!  I still tingle in fear and wonder at recollections of old man Guyona. “You do eet.  Fleep!” he’d say in heavily accented English, but before you could say,”I don’t know how to do a flip  …”  he barked “Do EET!” And suddenly, a fearful impulsiveness would cause you to “Do EET!” …. and like the lion from The Wizard of Oz … you ran, you rolled, you dove, and you flipped and right behind you was the next person, and then the next, on mats on a mini trampoline, over each other, off each other.  Success wasn’t pretty, but “You deed EET!”  Such is my warm recollection.

Old man Guyona, by-passing logical mind harnessed the fight-or-flight instinct. He had passed this training on to his family of flyers who risked their lives on the trapeze each day doing doubles, triples,  and double doubles, with a net beneath meant only to catch them when the act finished. Mistakes were not in the program.

Now he was training us. His magic? A simple mantra.  “Do EET!”   “Do eet again. Eeets OK, next time …” Tumbling was more than technique, it was a command. You were told to do it, so you did it. You succeeded because no one suggested that you fail. As though you’d always known but nobody ever told you.  Old man Gayona simply said it, and it was so.  He gave you power; permission  to succeed. “Get out of my way, I’m going to dance the jig on the top of this flagpole. “I do EET!”

Sure, I remember nearly breaking my ankle trying to do a flip while dismounting from a unicycle in Dallas two years later. I never did learn that trick. Instead I learned to keep moving. Stop and the next thing in life’s line is going to land on you, to crush you. Don’t think, roll out of its way. When the cast got wet in the shower I cut it off. I deed it. On with the show.

Daily life is a 3 ring circus, a new and unscripted show, complete with daring, danger, and adventure. My collars are no longer stained  with a greasepaint halo, but a red nose is a permanent attitude that cannot be erased. My heart no longer pumps slivers of sawdust, but a trained lion doesn’t forget. My folded feet now fit into smaller shoes, but a painted smile shows no fear.  And I ready myself to collide with clown characters daily as I look in the morning mirror.  A voice, a voice, strong and clear shouts “You DO EET!” There is no choice. Today is here. The lights are on. Get ready.  Perform. “Do EET!”  Agree to succeed. To run. To balance. To roll. Fly.

Folded Footnotes

The circus!  I feel like a child trying to understand a death in the family.  “What do you mean I can’t see it again?  It’s just headed to winter quarters. It’ll will be back.”  I struggle to accept that R.B.B.& B.Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth, is folding.  It’s never coming back? For 143 years it toured, and for 2 of those years I toured with it, The Blue Unit traveled coast to coast. How can it call the acts “death defying ” and then die?  It was always there, ageless, never growing old, like a grandfather, waiting with timeless stories of danger and daring: three rings of romance, and travel, big cats and elephants, a colossal conglomeration of cultures and characters, all  created to bring ballyhoo to your back yard annually, all there for the audience to enjoy, and performers, like me, to inhabit.

Some seven hundred days of circus clowning, infused me with a sanguine sawdust spirit, setting my life’s course, shaping it into a circle that I continue to renew, now for a third time. As a teenager  circus life immersed me in 3 ring wonder and the historic magic of Ringling. We clowned while other performers devoted to the grueling life, risked it daily for love of circus. That passion, that still attracts me,  the romance of the lifestyle. Pride in The Greatest Show on Earth cannot be discounted or understated. Even at 19  I knew that the baton of history was in my hands. Those who taught us handed us their craft from days hatched of vaudeville and silent film. We were the next generation . It was our turn to run with the tradition, to ride the circus train to the next stop.  Full steam ahead, no turning around, we barreled forward. That was many long years ago. It was a great ride!

And now the train is approaching the last stop. And now we are asked to believe that ‘the greatest’ show is no longer on earth. Taken for granted, and unattended. the final move-out day has come.  And I hear the words echoing, “Get your props. Use ’em and pack ’em!”  Everything in it’s place, and no place left for this show to go.  And here it is, the final move-out night, the  show torn down, the house dark.

The prop trunk in my basement says “Blue Unit” in circus font, the props replaced by photos. Photos of memories that trigger stories. I am the age of those who taught me, When I see, I feel the sawdust adrenaline of the show.  It must go on. And a voice says, “Take your props, use ’em, unpack ’em.” Package ballyhoo in storied form, circus bombast in bigger than life lies, form 3 rings of fact and fiction into stories about a great time once;  maybe a time when a boy was at a circus, was in a circus..

Once upon a time, a boy stood, staring at the tracks. “It’ll be back.’ he said, “It’s just headed to winter quarters.”  He thought. Next year.       Next year.              Next year.                   Next year.  But the train had left the station, and deep down he was sad.

Folded Footnotes

2017 Happy New Year …  ?

The unanswered question of 2017 is … what to question?

If I only have one to ask …. it would be where to place my doubt this year.  Will it be a happy new year, or do I question that? As in :  Happy ? New Year.  But doubting  12 months of potential portends that bad events will outweigh good. What’s the story with that?

So the question remains, is 2017 going to offer more of the same?  Must I continue to embrace last year’s cynicism and accept the future as a polar  chaos?  Happy New ? Year. Doesn’t new  suggest open to opportunity? Must I question that?  Does 2017 arrive as a continuous loop of same old, same old?  A groundhog day tape of 2016?

 As a child, each new year arrived as a new adventure,  new opportunities, new growth. Now, with more birthdays behind me than in front, the bold truth is that personal growth is not mandatory, but an option. Then, why would I doubt growth and question change; putting a question mark at the end of 52 new weeks of potential?  Making 2017, ‘ Happy New Year?’ 

How to question the future?  It’s a battle of choice.  Like the movie Groundhog Day, making conscious decisions daily,  affects  outcome greatly. Do it , do it and do it again and again, adapting and moving on. Doesn’t each moment offer unlimited opportunity, positing minute changes, tiny shifts, steering  the future in a new direction by choice. Happy? This is not a question, it is also a choice, embrace it. Say yes to circumstance.  Agreement. Yes. Agreeing to happiness. Yes. Allow for  newness to unfold.

And then I choose to make the year new. And once the new arrives?  Add to it!  And the mantra of life’s improv is;  ‘Yes and.’  Commit to life and add to it, move it forward, and give your partner something good to work with, no matter what. Go for it, and be authentic. It will work, and if it doesn’t?  It doesn’t matter.  Life as improv, and the next moment is here …    

So that’s my story for the next year. Where does the doubt go? I’ve decided to move it back to the future. Question the date. 2017?  For the next 365 I’ll simply question the fact that I made it this far.  2017?  Yes! AND ... I commit to being happy in all  its new unborn potential  this year.

Join me won’t you? 

mperry

Storytelling

“Storytelling is the social  activity of sharing stories, often with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment.  Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values.”

This is my passion.  This is what I do.