Two of these stories are true and one is a big fat lie...can you figure it out?Circus Girl
My first story reveals a great deal about the child I was and the adult I've become.
When I was eight, I had the notion to run away and join the circus. In fact, it became something of an obsession for me. My major obstacle was that I had no special talents - I couldn't fly on the trapeze or tame a wild jungle cat; I wasn't even very good at twirling a baton, and that wasn't much of a circus trick anyway. But I did have a life sized fake parrot that I had rigged with a wire contraption to ride somewhat convincingly on my shoulder, and I thought that I could use it as a ventriloquist's dummy and maybe do a clown act. Knowing that my family's annual trip to the circus was approaching, I put together a plan to make my dream come true: sneak the parrot out of the house and into the circus under my coat, ask to go to the bathroom by myself, but instead of coming back – run away and join the circus. It would be easy!
As planned, I hid the parrot under my puffy winter coat. I didn't want my parents to make me leave it behind, and I certainly didn't want them to say anything at the circus. This part of my scheme worked perfectly. My parents were too busy herding my little brothers and sisters through the doors to notice that I looked unusually puffy and was walking like a robot to keep the parrot from slipping out from under my coat.
During intermission, when I asked if I could go to the bathroom by myself, my parents were delighted; the little kids were acting up and I was one less child to worry about. Everything was happening as I had hoped. I headed off in the direction of the bathroom, and after looking around to make sure I wasn't being followed, I continued down the corridor to the backstage area. At the end of the corridor there was an archway that was partially covered with black drapes. Beyond the archway, I saw several of the circus crew and performers chatting and smoking cigarettes alongside a huge pen that held a big mother elephant and her two babies. I remember thinking that it smelled very, very bad...a combination of sweat, cigarettes, and manure...but I was undaunted. I stood to the side and watched as an animal handler let himself into the elephant pen to shovel up a huge pile of manure. As I was wondering if the smell bothered him or if he just didn't notice it anymore, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Can I help you?" I must have jumped straight off the floor before turning around to find myself at eye level with a...munchkin? It was a man in a sparkling shirt and stretchy black trousers held up with suspenders who looked at least as old as my father, although he wasn't much taller than me. His voice was oddly deep, but the fact that he was about my size comforted me.
"Yes, please. I want to join the circus." I showed him the parrot and told him my plan. He laughed and told me that they didn't need any new acts, adding that it would be against regulations to hire someone who wasn't a union member, but perhaps he could give me a taste of circus life...
And that's how I ended up riding out into the ring on the back of the tremendous mother elephant, the parrot attached to my shoulder and my arms wrapped around the little man's waist as he waved his hat to the crowd.The Embroidered Top
My backstage adventures didn't end with the circus, although it took many years before I would have another behind-the-scenes encounter with something larger than life – in the form of Ringo Starr.
Where would we be without the Beatles? They are woven into our musical fabric, either consciously or through some kind of aesthetic six degrees of separation. And if you are of a certain generation, they are woven into your personal fabric as well. I fall into both categories, so you can imagine how cool it was when I got to meet Ringo.
It was spring 2001, and we had backstage passes to a Ringo's All Starr Band concert. Before the show, we wandered up on the dark stage to check out his drums and look at the instruments the various band members were playing before going off to have dinner with some of the crew. The show itself was magical... there on the stage was an actual Beatle
along with other musicians who were rock legends from bands I had listened to as a teenager. I found myself singing along to many of the songs and thinking, ahhh.... getting old...taking a trip down memory lane,
but not caring. I was having fun!
After the show, we went backstage again to see one of the band members, hoping that maybe we'd get a chance to meet Ringo. A few of the other band members stepped out to chat with us, but it was getting late and it didn't seem likely that Ringo would come out. I was beginning to sense the approach of a "so close yet so far" feeling of disappointment, when he walked through the curtains that separated the dressing rooms from the backstage area. With his short hair, sparse beard, and sunglasses, he looked like a hip version of Woodstock, that little bird with scruffy feathers from Peanuts.
At home, getting ready for the show, I had fussed over what to wear...the white top with black pants, the black embroidered top with black pants, maybe jeans and another top...I just didn't know. I finally opted for the black pants and the black embroidered shirt, one of those cheap things that somehow always looks great - slinky fabric, kind of form fitting with three-quarter sleeves and a low neck with a pretty flower and a dragonfly coming up from the bottom of the left side. It was kind of chilly out, so I threw on my jean jacket and called it an outfit.
Ringo was being introduced around our small group, making jokes and conversation as if we were good buddies he hadn't seen in a while. Then my turn came to be introduced, but before I could shake Ringo's hand, he reached over and opened my jean jacket. I felt kind of strange...Ringo was touching
. He nodded his head at the embroidery on my shirt, looked up at me and said in his Ringo-voice, "Very nice." Ah ha! I left the show with a pair of Ringo Starr drumsticks and a smile on my face. Clearly, the black top was a good choice...Gabriella
My last story is a classic person vs. nature conflict in which the heroine survives a shipwreck at sea.
It was the late spring of 1981, and I had just signed on as cook to Gabriella
, a fifty-foot steel ketch. We were a crew of eight, and our job was to deliver her from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to Bath, Maine. I had been working as a cook/first mate on a charter sailboat, so I was fairly comfortable with the idea of living on a boat for an extended period of time, although I had never sailed out of sight of a distant shore. That had me a little nervous, but I knew the first mate well, and I trusted his judgment and ability.
I provisioned the boat with enough food to feed eight people for at least two weeks, feeling especially pleased with a huge chunk of cheddar cheese that cost sixty dollars. In addition to the first mate, I knew the other two women who were on board as passengers, so I was expecting that we'd have a grand adventure on the high seas. And so we did.
The trip started off in an idyllic dream of a dancing blue sea and clear sky. We sunned ourselves on the deck, listened to music, skied behind the boat on a plank, and even went swimming in the middle of the ocean where the rays of sun penetrated to depths we couldn't even imagine. We saw whales and dolphins and flying fish. It was a fine time, and Gabriella
was sailing well.
On about the sixth night, the wind began to pick up. By the morning, it had moved around the compass, and the seas had become so rough that we had to drop the mainsail and drag a sea anchor to slow ourselves down. There was some talk about boarding up the windows in the raised cabin, but we were hesitant to break up anything in a boat that belonged to someone else. Night came, and the waves seemed to be as big as the boat and the wind was so forceful and loud we could barely hear one another, even when we shouted. The person on steering watch had to lash himself to the boat to keep from falling off as we surfed down the face of the waves.
I decided to sleep in the saloon that night, as it was virtually impossible to stay put in my berth below. Even so, sleeping was pretty impossible. I was lying on the bench that ran perpendicular to the port side of the boat, and every time we went over, I was hurled from the bench to the opposite side of the saloon. As the storm continued to gather strength, we became even more concerned about the fact that we hadn't boarded the windows. We were taking big hits from the waves, and some were forceful enough to cause the boat to broach.
Near dawn, Gabriella
was hit hard, and what we had feared the most happened. I remember being thrown against the counter on the other side of the saloon as what seemed like the entire Atlantic ocean came rushing in over my head. I remember chanting a survival mantra in my head, hold on..hold on...it'll be over soon..hold on...
When the boat righted herself, we found that the windows had indeed broken and we were filled almost halfway with water. Books and clothes from below and all manner of debris, including my prized hunk of cheese, were floating in black, cold water that was lapping against our thighs. The pump was unusable as it became clogged immediately with the paper from our books and magazines. Our only option was to bail the boat out using buckets and a large plastic garbage can. We formed an assembly line, and had the boat almost completely empty when we went over for a second time and filled up again.
We finally got ourselves righted and empty, and set about boarding up the windows with the wooden tops of the saloon benches. From that point on, it was a waiting game as we hove to while the storm gradually abated. The seas calmed down after a couple of days, and we managed to sail our way to the Nantucket lightship using one sail and a compass. From there, we headed to Provincetown to drop off the two women and then to Bath to deliver Gabriella
to her owner. That was my first- and last - offshore sailing trip.