“My Jugglife” by Joey Jordan

The Juggler
by Joey Jordan

As objects stream across a sky
of color and illusion
And more of them are sent to fly
to heighten the confusion
Silent other inanimate objects stand
Waiting in utter peace for their master
To spin upon his careless hand
and blur as they glide faster
At war against no enemy
To dance into a peaceful rage
To defy the laws of gravity
And live a dream upon a stage
It’s sometimes rough to understand
as flaming sticks of fire
dare to near their master’s hand
Proving logic as a liar
Mystically hoops become living dreams
And truth gives into lie
Center ring still alone it seems
beneath a spotlight sky
The care to keep the spheres above
And the skill to set them free
Somehow fills one’s life with love
As life
was meant
to be

I was almost a decade-and-a-half into my life (just a jovial juvenile in New Jersey) when I stumbled upon juggling (3 balls) while trying A improve my hand-eye coordination for high school sports. (Go Brick High!) That began my jugglife (pronounced: juggle-life), and was more than one-hundred-million throws and catches ago (minus a few drops) when juggling became a passion of mine: I juggled before, after, and sometimes during school – so much that my hands would swell (jugglitis). I couldn’t get enough of it It was such an cool pastime for me; a joyous experience that I wanted to share. So I taught my brothers (Tim, Tony, and Patrick) how to juggle. (Well, truth-be-told, I just started throwing stuff at them until they began catching and throwing it back [and they got pretty good at it]!) Then I discovered the International Jugglers Association (a group of people who would actually willingly juggle with me), and I started saving my school lunch money (each day) so that I could afford to attend its upcoming convention (they call them “festivals” now) in beautiful Youngstown, Ohio. (Well, it would be beautiful to me!

And “Oh” how “beautiful” it was in Ohio: I arrived by bus from New Jersey; checked into my room at the YMCA (convention central); and made my way to its gymnasium – where hundreds of people (of all ages, sizes, and shapes) were juggling! I was mesmerized by what I saw – like Hovey Burgess (NYU’s “Circus Arts” expert) and his wife (Judy) passing between them more juggling clubs than I could count! And I marveled at the professional juggling equipment (manufactured by Brian Dube or Stu Raynolds) that everyone was using…. Then I pulled (out of my bag) my homemade juggling clubs and some lacrosse balls and joined in the juggling: I juggled, and juggled, and juggled some more. (Why did I even bother renting a room?) It was so exciting. (That’s jugglexcitement.) There was even a TV camera crew there (from CBS) covering the event. And, that evening, ‘ I got to see myself on television – doing what fellow convention-attendees jokingly called the “Jordan Jam”: juggling 4 balls in a counter-clockwise circle (called a shower) while jamming (i.e., placing) each ball (consecutively) under my chin with my right hand before removing and tossing it with my left hand. (Don’t try this at home!)

While the “Jordan Jam” brought me “five minutes of fame” (and some dizziness), the following days of the convention found me flabbergasted: First, by the “Public Show” performance of that year’s host (Dick Francis) who we now know as “Dick Franco” -the consummate professional juggler (with balls, clubs, and rings), polished and perfect; and next, by jugglers from the past (that a group of is watched [on film] at Dick’s Youngstown home), including W.C. Fields (once known as the “Best Juggler in America”) and Enrico Rastelli (once known as the “Greatest Juggler Ever”). The, back at the YMCA, I was delighted when I somehow got chosen – after being nominated by a wonderful juggler with a wonderful name (Hillary Carlip) – to be an IJA Director. (She must’ve mistaken me for someone else!) And if that wasn’t enough to blow-the-mind of a kid from New Jersey, the incomparable Bobby May (once known as “America’s Greatest Juggler”) approached me (in the gymnasium), handed me a written outline of his famous ball-juggling routine (musical score and all), and said: “Kid, you can do this.” (I’m still working on it!)

Back in New Jersey after the jaunt to the IJA convention in Ohio, I was more jazzed about juggling than ever – and I wanted to make it my life. (Joe Jordan the jovial juvenile would become “Joey Jordan the juggler.”) I can still remember my brother Tim’s voice when he told our mother (Jean Ann Holmes-Jordan) about a juggling trick he saw me doing: “Mom, I know you hate it when Joe juggles (I broke some stuff), but you gotta see this!” And she liked it the “Jordan Jam” (of course). With mom onboard, I was ready to pursue my juggling-dream. And so, encouraged by my father (James Timothy Jordan), a professional trombonist (who let me showcase my juggling skills between sets at his music gigs), I ran away (with permission) to join the circus. (Well, sort of: I got a summer job as a juggling clown at a theme park in Florida owned by Ringling Brothers.) And with that experience, the following summer (still in my teens) I was employed as a “strolling juggler” at Six Flags (Great Adventure), the amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey, where I performed around a few other (super talented) jugglers – also just starting their careers, including Steve Mills (of “World Book Encyclopedia” fame, and inventor of the “Mills Mess”), Michael Moschen (a MacArthur Genius Award recipient for his contact-juggling artistry), and the one-and-only Penn Jillette (now the noisier-half of the hilarious comedy-magic duo: Penn & Teller).

Each evening at the park (after a day of strolling), I got to do an act spot in the “Great Arena” show (where horses and acrobats performed). And on occasion when it was raining, I’d be slipping and sliding (while juggling) in the mud – which, as juggluck would have it was good practice for what was to come next in my career._ From strolling juggler (that summer) to skating juggler (that winter) was a transition I made when an entertainment agent (Simone Finney) asked me if I could perform my juggling act on ice. “Of course, I can,” I responded (a small jugglie), and then I had A learn how to do it (and fast). I “hit” the is (figuratively and literally) at the local skating rink (and discovered [quickly] that juggling on skates was not as easy as Albert Lucas, Tommy Curtain, and Trixie, made it appear). And then it was off to Lake Tahoe for two weeks of show rehearsal, which I really was enthused about – until I learned that we would be rehearsing outdoors at a public ice rink – ouch! (It was so cold that my Frisbees would actually crack sometimes when they hit the ice!) The skating revue was producer Barry Ashton’s first “family show” (at a casino hotel), and – without showgirls – ticket sales were weak, and the run was cut short. real short. I did only a few performances, but it got my career – juggling on ice – “up and running.” (Make that “skating!”)

After the short time in Tahoe, I toured America with a small “ice” show (a cast of three), performing on fake (plastic) ice – which (for me) was better than the frozen (slippery) stuff! But the final show of that tour was to be on the real ice rink at the OMNI international Hotel & Shopping Mall in Atlanta. Fortunately, I had several days to rehearse before our first performance, and I took advantage of that. I wanted to present a juggling act that was polished and perfect (like Dick Fran.); to be the true professional. How professional, Well, on the last afternoon of rehearsal, when I was juggling Frisbees (while skating about), one sailed off-course and landed where the audience would be sitting later that day. A pretty “fan” (about my age) retrieved the disc, and was standing at the edge of the ice when I skated over to get it But as I reached to take it from her, she pulled it back, smiled, and said “I come with it!. Without missing a beat (my music was playing over the sound-system), I responded: “That’s okay, I have extras,” and skated away to continue my juggling! Now that’s dedication (or stupidity), and it paid off: My performance that evening resulted in an invitation (which I accepted) to appear on the television show ‘Stars On Ice.” So my career was sailing in the right direction – even though the Frisbees sometimes didn’t!

One television appearance led to another (“Circus”), which went well, and that led to yet another – which went … well, let me explain: The producers of NBC’s “Guinness Game Show” wanted me to try to juggle eleven balls on national TV! (Not the soft, light, bean bags that we use for “numbers juggling’. nowadays, but, rather, round, hard rubber bass. And only one attempt!) “I can’t even hold that many balls,. I responded – but that didn’t matter: they’d supply eleven small balls that I could hold, I’d get to show (on air) what I could do (juggling-wise) with fewer of them: and (after that) the contestants would bet whether or not I could juggle (“flash”) all of them (which would be a world record). And, just for attempting to juggle eleven, I’d be paid handsomely – more than enough to cover the cost of a trip (I had planned) to the annual convention of ventriloquists (in Kentucky) with my friend (Jerry Goodspeed) and his dummy. So I accepted the challenge (i.e., I sold out), and they flew me out to “Hollywood!” At the taping of the show, after watching me juggle 7 balls to a neck catch, to a pirouette to another neck catch, and then do (of course) the “Jordan Jam,” all three contestants bet (at of their winnings) that I could As the record…. And they would have been right … had we been on the moon – with Ass of a gravitational pull! (The taping over [and check in-hand], I left the studio [quickly], and headed for the airport.)

After throwing 11 balls into the air (and almost catching most of them [a nice way to put it]), I arrived in Kentucky – where hundreds of people were throwing their voices! There were ventriloquists from everywhere. And I was honored when asked to perform in their public show. I accepted (of course), and my performance went well. But because the show’s director chose me – the only non-ventriloquist on the bill – to be the closing act, there were (as one Might jugglexpect) a few raised eyebrows, and some dummies (and their wooden counterparts) Aft (well) speechless, over that! Of course, most of the conventioneers were wonderful (including Burt Dubrow [who would go on to produce the “Jerry Springer Show.] who offered to book me in upcoming stage productions). Nevertheless, again I made a quick exit (a jugglexit), and headed for someplace .safe”: New York City (the Big Apple) to t, my hand at street performing.

Not surprisingly, the “competition. (on the streets of New York) was fierce: Philippe Petit (the guy who walked the wire between the WTC towers) was performing his street juggling act nearby (in Greenwich Village). So – to attract an audience for my performance – I would stand on the sidewalk holding a flaming torch (like the Statue of Liberty) while yelling “fire, fire, fire” until a crowd would gather for my show (or someone from an apartment window up above would dump a bucket of water on me)! After a few buckets, I moved farther uptown – to the Broadway District – where (following one of my street performances) I had the good fortune (juggluck) to meet a masterful young magician (Jeff McBride) who was performing nightly at a nearby Manhattan cabaret. He invited me to join the cast of that show as one of the featured novelty acts. And (of course) I accepted -not just to get off of the streets (that was fun [most of the timely but because it would be (and was) an honor to perform in the same show with him.

Most evenings (after the late cabaret show), Jeff McBride (now considered [by many] to be the .most influential” artist in the world of magic) and I would hang out together and work on improving our performances. (Although it certainly appeared to me that his was already perfect!) wed try out new moves, and give each other feedback – like: “Yeah, Joey, eating an apple while juggling is really cool, but wouldn’t it be better with a pineapple,. Or: “For sure, Jeff, that rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick is going to go over real well, but wouldn’t the audience like it even more with two rabbits?” (Okay, so maybe my memory of what we actually said has disappeared [or I’m joking], but I do know this: His theatrical ingenuity and artistic insight were unmatched -even then. And the focus on performance perfection that he inspired [in me] was a godsend.)

After the late-night sessions (honing “stage presentation”) with Jeff McBride, I was always eager for the next day when I could go practice my “juggling technique” at the “Big Apple Circus” rehearsal loft in Harlem – where (for several amazing months) I was joined by jugglegend Francis Brunn (once known as the “World’s Greatest Juggler”), who was in town performing (with famed ventriloquist Senor Wences) at another cabaret. His invaluable advice to me: “The best practice (i.e., way to get better) is to perform [before an audience] as much as possible.” So that’s what I started doing…. On weekends, after the cabaret show, I did “spot dates” at Manhattan discotheques – like “Studio 54” – where I could juggle 5 flaming fire torches while revolving on a pedestal in the center of the dance-floor, and not a single patron would notice me! (juggloneliness!)

I also took bookings (on off-days from the cabaret show) at various resorts in the nearby Pocono and Catskill mountains -where I could do my entire stage performance … most of the time. On one occasion, when the airline (on a flight from NYC to Philly) somehow “lost” my luggage, I arrived at the show venue (Mount Airy Lodge) with neither music, costume, nor juggling equipment (no rings, clubs, balls, Frisbees, boxes, net-belt, or torches). Of course, “the show must go on,” and so I purchased 3 rubber “baseballs” and an “I Love Pennsylvania” t-shirt at the hotel gift shop, and (at the theatre) asked the band to play anything up-tempo for ten minutes. After my performance that evening, my agent (who was in the audience, and didn’t know why I had changed things up) came backstage delighted: “Bravo, I loved it – you got rid of all the unnecessary stuff. And that shirt is a real nice gimmick!” (What?) Fortunately, the next day, my “lost” juggluggage arrived, and I Ad my complete act (even the “unnecessary stuff”). The celebrity singer (who I opened for) had a “bad shoβœ“.” (It happens.) And the review the following day (in the local newspaper) read, in pertinent part “If it wasn’t for a young juggler named Joey Jordan, there would have been no show at all.” Ouch, for the singer, but great for me: that’s when management started putting my name on the marquee. (And I got a real dressing room – instead of a closet!)

Indeed, my showbiz career got off to a great start in New York. And – to paraphrase what Frank Sinatra sung: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. His lyricist was right: I went on to perform as a featured variety act in floor and its shows around the globe, including at the Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City (where my “lovely assistant” was a bunny, and not the kind that magicians pull out of a hat): the Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (where I took over for Anthony Gatto [a Guinness world record-holder juggling 7 clubs]); and the Mikado Club in Tokyo (then [according to Guinness] the “foremost nightclub in the world”). I also performed at sea (on cruise ships) – which is where I was when I met the talented dancer (Robyn Ann Foss) who would become my wife (of 5 years) and my loveliest assistant (onstage) even (and especially) when she was pregnant! And when the producer (of the ice show that we were performing in at the time) fired her for being pregnant, and wanted her to , return (alone) from America to Japan (perhaps he didn’t know that there were hospitals and obstetricians in Tokyo), I ended my engagement in that show, and left with her! That’s it – there’s no funny ending, but there was a happy one: a day after we landed in Los Angeles, our twin sons Chris and Joey, Jr. – were born. (Of course, I exclaimed: “Just two, couldn’t you at least have had triplets!”)

With adorable twin sons to enjoy (and diapers to change), I didn’t perform (professionally) for almost a year after their birth. But I kept in tip-top “performance shape” by singing to, dancing with, and (of course) juggling for, my all-time favorite audience: them! So I was “stage ready” when it was time to go back to “work” (my jugglivelihood) in Vegas. So “ready” that – backstage on “opening night” – I juggled 10 rings and (for the first time) slapped all of them down over my head (to stack around my neck). I was so excited that I ran to the dressing room, and asked Robyn to come see Me do it (She obliged.) And “yes,” I got it again on my second try! (I was jugglenergized.) “Did you see that,” I asked (with juggler’s glee). “Yeah,” she responded (matter-of-factly), and then, turning to leave, muttered something about having to Si her makeup. “Well, okay then,” I mumbled (to myself), “maybe she’ll be impressed when I do it with twelve.” (The more the better, right?) Later, she explained: “I’ve seen you do that thing (the ring slaps) many times….” “With eight,” I retorted, “not ten.” “They both look the same,” came her seemingly curt response. And just when I was thinking that finding a marriage counselor (who specialized in juggling issues) might be necessary, she kissed me on the cheek, and said: “I like when you’re putting the balls under your chin (the ‘Jordan Jam”) better than the ring thing (because] ifs funny.” (Funny?)

Of course, my wife Robyn made a good point, a juggler’s job (onstage) is to entertain people, and most non-jugglers can’t distinguish between eight and Its rings. (They need jugglessons!) Nevertheless, I kept working on the ring slaps – because I also juggle for myself. I’m a jugglist, and I love juggling (with or without an audience), and everything about it. (Except dropping!) I’m also a jugglenthusiast (fan) – which is by I was thrilled to read a “salute” to jugglers (published in “Circus Report” at the turn-of-the-century) that was summarized in “Juggle Magazine” (Jan/Feb 2000). It mentioned, among others (I admire), Kris Kremo (who made a triple pirouette with three cigar boxes look easy) and Rudy Cardenas (whose performance that aired in the television documentary “Rings Around The World- was extraordinary). And me: Wow, what an honor (or really cool misprint)! But the acclaim that I will forever value the most came not via publication or professional prize, but, rather, by way of a greeting card from my younger brother (Patrick) who was killed in an automobile accident just before I received it. His message to me read, in pertinent part: “Thanks for being a great brother…. And my favorite juggler.” (And that’s enough for me.)

Yes, I’ve had a wonderful jugglife. It’s been a ball (pardon the pun). And much of the joy has come from, or has been because of, others who juggle – like: Guy Mosley (a tap dancing street juggler [in New York City] who could lay on his back [on the sidewalk] while juggling 3 balls through his scissoring legs); Lou Foldes (an ice skating juggler [from the 1930s and 40s] who was an octogenarian [still juggling 5 balls] when I first met him [at a small its rink he owned] in Florida); Albert Lucas (the spectacular sport juggler (with 5 tennis racquets] who tolerated my regular intrusions [backstage] when he was warming up for his performances with the touring show: “Ice Capades”), Ernst Montego (Francis Brunn’s half-brother – who could juggle 4 soccer balls while bouncing another one with his forehead [and who allowed me to sit-in on his daily rehearsals (I was amazed) for two weeks before I took over for his at the Cal Neva Lodge [Frank Sinatra’s place] in Tahoe); and Kit Summers (author of “Juggling With Finesse” [who kept me in shape – running-wise – because he Si a s so entertaining onstage that after each of my performances at the Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, I’d sprint down the boardwalk (jugglexercise) – to Bally’s Hotel & Casino – to catch his]).

Last on my list, but certainly not least, are the comedy jugglers I’ve enjoyed over the years, those multi-talented entertainers who create jugglee (joy) and jugglaughter – like: Dan Holzman (formerly one-half of the jugglarious Raspyni Brothers (and now 100% A himself]) who – like Steve Mills, Kit Summers, and others had the pleasure A meeting – demonstrates that a wonderfully talented person can be a wonderful person too! (They’re jugglikeable); Michael Davis (the “it-hurts-twice-if-you-swallow-a-ping-pong-ball” guy) who was a good sport when I showed At backstage (after one A his performances in “Sugar Babies” on Broadway) without knowing that my date that evening (for the show) was his ex-girlfriend (thankfully he exercised juggletiquette); Keith Nelson (the incredibly versatile performer in [and producer of] Bindlestiff Family Cirkus) who has presented jugglentertainment at its best (really juggleriffic), and … I can’t finish without mentioning Jason Garfield – because he paid me five bucks to do so! (I’m just kidding, it was ten.)

As you might have guessed, As elicited a few laughs (onstage) myself. Only it wasn’t on purpose. First, there’s that dam “Jordan Jam” that everyone keeps laughing at! (It’s a serious trick.) Next, there was juggling flashlights – which I thought would Aok really classy, but brought laughter from the audience because the strobe-like effect of the flipping beams of light highlighted the contorted expression (5 wasn’t easy in the dark) on my face! And then, there was the unfortunate result of the hitch-kick I did A the beginning A one performance: There I was in the middle of my At (when I turned around to Ace upstage so that the audience could see the juggling clubs crossing behind my back), and I didn’t understand why they were laughing – until I realized that I had split my tuxedo pants wide open! (That’s when I stopped wearing undershorts with polka dots!) Of course, I’m kidding (again), I’d never wear undershorts with polka dots … they were hearts! Why hearts? Well, because they represent happiness and love. And – as I wrote in a poem (“The Juggler”) at the beginning of my jugglife: “The care to keep the spheres above (we’re talking about juggling here), [And the skill to set them free, (somehow fills one’s fife with love (that’s jugglove), A[s] life was meant to be.”

The end. (But not the jugglend.)

The author – Joey Jordan – is a juggler (who As also performed as P.J. Ray), jugglist, and jugglenthusiast, who enjoys juggling (the skillful manipulation of inanimate objects), jugglistics (the training and technique aspect of juggling), juggology (its science), jugglinguistics (its language), and juggliterature (writings about it). He’s also just Joe Jordan from New Jersey, and you can contact him at: jjorclan8054@emailinterface.org

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