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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Sprained Chest?

I was relaying this story to an acrobat/circus friend of mine the other day and I thought I'd share it here. I suppose I should wait until August when I'd approach both my blogiversary and the anniversary of this "historic" day in my life (August 24, 1988). But, since I am thinking about it now and don't feel like waiting, you get it today.

The Black & Blue Unit

What you are looking at is the front of the t-shirt made by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College class of 1988. I wore the ever-living hell out of all my shirts and they're all pretty faded and/or stained these days.

The writing is in Japanese because my year at the college was the year that Ringling launched a Japanese version of the touring show as well as a sort of hybrid circus school/business school in Japan. Our class had about 4 or 5 students from Japan and it seemed only fitting to commemorate this in the t-shirt.

The artwork was done by fellow classmate, Eric "EZ" Zander. If there was anyone more suited and destined to be a circus clown than Eric I'd like to know who the hell this person was. If I'm remembering correctly, he'd wanted to go to Ringling Clown College since his early 20s and finally got in when he turned 39, a rarity for the institution. I may have his age wrong. If he reads this I'm sure he'll correct me and accept my apology.

The excellent cartoons depict many of the things we all had to learn while at the school. If you look at the shirt you'll see a little bit of what our class schedule was like. We actually had to learn things like how to fall off of a ladder & hit your friend in the face with a broom. It was actually kind of fun.

One thing represented in this photo was not exactly something we were taught. That is the image found in the top center section of the shirt.

See that clown crashing into a giant ball? That's me. The object I'm crashing into? A traditional circus prop called a rolling globe. Rolling globes are actually among the easiest of circus skills to learn and I had no problem learning the technique and staying up on the thing.

We were taught certain skills at Clown College based upon the upcoming needs of the touring show and would be chosen for the show based upon a number of criteria, including how well we performed the skills we were taught. That year the rolling globe was on the list as the circus wanted to have a massive gag in the ring that would mimic the board game, Mouse Trap. I learned the globe pretty easily and it was not too long before they were escalating the degree of difficulty of the things I would learn and perhaps play an integral role in the graduation show. As it happened, "escalate" was the appropriate word.

AT one point in the Mouse Trap gag, someone on a globe was to walk up a ramp while on the globe. Learning this was not all that difficult. I walked up and down a simple inclined ramp, turn around, and head back down with some ease and dexterity. What proved to be my, uh..."downfall" was when we were asked to walk up the ramp, facing forward, and then walk backwards down the ramp while still facing forward.

I made it up the ramp with no problem and got about half-way down the ramp rather slowly when I lost my footing, the globe rolled quickly under me and I came crashing down on top of the damned thing.

In actuality, I slammed down onto the globe, bounced off and crashed onto the mat below, causing the large, heavy, Fiberglas globe to follow and crash onto me. I was almost knocked out completely. The sound was most amazing from what I can recall.

Truthfully I don't recall much. Other than what I described my only other vivid memories at the time were...

  1. Extreme pain
  2. A complete loss of breath
  3. "Seeing" the veins in my eyes as they seemingly popped out of my head
  4. Bulgarian acrobat, Dinko Dimetrev Dinov (There's a name you don't forget, but you have no idea how to spell), slapping my face and repeatedly saying, "Andy! You've got to rrremember to brrreathe. Are you stopping wit the breathing? Vat did I just tell you about rrremembering to brrreathe?"
  5. Feeling helpless

Lots of noise and anxious behavior followed. I was carted off to the hospital and waited for a long time to find out what sort of damage I caused. I found out later that there were some short-lived rumors that I had died. Steve Smith (Clown College dean), Dinko, and some other circus veterans in attendance assumed that at the very least I had a crushed sternum and possibly a punctured kidney. All I knew is that I hurt myself.

Eventually the doctor came out and did a very brief exam. I peed in a cup and never got any sort of X-rays or anything. I guess by the time the doctor showed up I was in considerably less pain than initially (Time heals all wounds. ya know.) and he didn't find any reason to think I had broken anything important. Then he gave me a prescription for some very large and completely INEFFECTIVE pain pills and told me I could go. He hadn't even told me what was wrong.

I went ahead and asked him what sort of injury I had, as I was still in a lot of pain. He simply told me I had a very bad sprain.

"A sprain", I asked, "What exactly did I sprain?"

"Everything that hurts."

So in effect I had a sprained chest. Hell I had a sprained everything.

I went back to class, took the next day off, and was back in the game soon thereafter. I got back on the globes to "conquer fear" and that sort of thing, but I had no intentions of becoming THE guy in the Mouse Trap gag. I even walked a globe onto a ramp again, but I was not about to become a rolling globe guy after that. No biggie. Those damn things are too bulky to carry anyways and they really are a one-trick prop.

The image on the t-shirt is not, however, the original rendering of my disaster. Eric, who was there when I fell, took it upon himself to make a little get well card for me and had everyone sign it on the back. I laughed my ass off then (which hurt a lot, let me add) and I still laugh at it today. He got all sorts of details in there just right. My little pony tail, my multi-colored Converse shoes, the stupid and somewhat appropriate, "Juggle til ya drop" slogan I'd written on the side of those shoes - it's all there. I believe he even got the colors of the cursed globe right. He damn well got the impact right.

Look what I learned at Clown College!


Blogger golfwidow said...

It's not an AFV moment. They only like "man hurting balls," not "balls hurting man."

Is EZ still clowning somewhere?

8:24 PM

Blogger Andy Land said...


EZ is definitely clowning SOMEWHERE, but I don't know where for sure. I've got his e-mail around here somewhere and should probably drop him a line.

Most recently, (within the past handful of years) he worked at Circus Circus in Vegas and was on The Weakest Link. I believe he's in the south somewhere these days, like Texas or North Carolina or somewhere.

I found an entertainment website with him listed as one of the acts. Click HERE for some info.

11:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

They called and scared the s--t outta me that day.--Mom

7:09 AM

Blogger Andy Land said...

I was pretty scared at the time.

Of course, everything was fine and I wasn't even all that injured. I didn't even have any visible bruising. I was sore as hell for a few days, but that's about it.

So it you're going to fall on a rolling globe try to do it exactly the way I did.

7:47 AM

Anonymous LisaBinDaCity said...

Does Cirque de Soleil give you a reminiscent chill?

I am glad you were ok! And you are the first person I ever knew who went to clown college - very cool!

1:02 PM

Blogger Andy Land said...

Actually, Cirque du Soleil give me feelings of nausea above all else.

That was a novel idea in the late 80's (same time I was at Clown College), but it is overdone and pretentious now. Plus, I'm sick as all hell of every theatre in vegas having a Cirque show. $175.00+ for a ticket? Please!

1:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andy - Jeez, I almost forgot about that! OW! hurt to even LOOK at you that week. Love Always, Katie.

ps - are you on the clown college grad list at yahoo? If not, join up.

4:35 PM


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