Rubber, Glue and Whatnot

hermannismOn a grade-school playground, next to the metal-scaled tornado slide, a little girl with pigtails swaying in the limp breeze says to a bully boy two years older and six inches taller, “You’re mean! You’re a meaning mean face, and I hate you!”

The bully, used to such piercing taunts, smiles and replies, “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

The Juggler, hanging out in the playground for reasons I cannot explain, overhears this exchange and decides to test the bully’s bold claim.

“Hey, boy,” he says. “Come over here.”

The boy, his wolverine face turning to timid squirrel at the sound of The Juggler’s voice, obeys. “Yes…yes, sir?”

Wasting no time, The Juggler throws a gold Dube European club directly at the boy, which bounces off his face and on to the ground, rolling beneath the merry-go-round. The boy, who should be ecstatic now that his rubber-skinned boast has been proven accurate, turns and runs away, wiping a drop of blood from his nose.

As The Juggler quickly exits the playground, he realizes how prescient the young cad was. Jugglers, you see, need to be equal parts rubber and glue to perfect their craft.

For sometimes the balls must transition from catch to throw so quickly, they literally bounce in The Juggler’s palm, an act that is aided by the concrete callouses created from hours and hours of practicing. At other times, The Juggler’s skin must transform into something sticky–Krazy glue, thrice-chewed bubble gum, a cheating lover’s clumsy lie–to catch each decending throw.

Considering these diametric necessities, The Juggler’s mind is flooded with qualities he must also possess to become the greatest. He must be a clown, white makeup covering red face, ready to entertain his audience no matter how silly he appears. He must be pitbull tenacious, fierce enough to take any established pattern and flip it bum-over-tea-kettle according to his whim.

He must be pick-pocket quick, able to snatch a ball from the air and feed it to the other hand, often behind his back, before the audience understands what just happened. He must be laser-beam precise; not a laser shot by a Stormtrooper, since they never hit their target. No, he must be Luke Skywalker lucky, blasting the baddies–and nailing each throw–with alarming accuracy.

He must be selectively deaf, able to ignore the saddening thud of a droped ball and continuing with a pattern that suddenly has a free space. He must be near-sightedly blind, able to ignore the vomiting girl in the first row and her tight-sweatered mother, in order to focus on the balls.

He must be a six-fingered freak, able to hold and throw four and five balls from one hand. He must be an eagle-eyed eagle, watching each object rise and fall with complete comprehension of its path.

He must be Inspector-Gadget springy, go-go-gadgeting his arms to catch every widening throw. He must be Richie-Rich rich, able to replace the above-mentioned gold Dube European club with another once he’s forced to abandon it on the playground.

He must not be a he. The shes of the world need to possess these qualities just as much as those jugglers with extra balls.

So now we see, The Juggler is not a simple toss-about. He’s not a repetitive robot, throwing the same pattern over and over again. He’s complex, like a flower held by a four-armed Vishnu in a hall of mirrors. Or like a math problem involving trains. Or like Ikea instructions. Or like Rubenstein’s Revenge.

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Jonathan Hermann juggles words, balls and small children in Alexandria, Virginia.

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