I can‘t hear a thing. The cheering is so loud that it’s just white noise. That evening, A fraternity will send out an email complaining that the members should, yes, cheer for acts by other houses; but not 60 times louder then they cheer for their own house. They are cheering for me. A few hundred people screaming their lungs out. It‘s deafening, but I’ve been here before. I am a performer. On stage for the talent part of a Pageant. 6 feet in the air on a unicycle, balancing a steel plate spinning on a stick, while reciting the alphabet backwards.
So how did I get here?
My first unicycle, a gift, was given to me when I was maybe 10 or 11. I soon realized how difficult it was going to be, but I didn‘t give up, because, “why not try?” Once I was able to go a few feet on my own, everything changed. I would ride around our deck and driveway for 2 or 3 hours every single day, learning the in’s and out's. I was addicted to the feeling when you first can do something previously impossible. I kept getting better and better, chasing that feeling.
Before college, my older sister once asked me if I was going to bring the unicycles with me to college. “No” I said, and she sighed some relief. In reality, I was planning on buying new ones. The current ones could stay at home. For now. I had chosen to keep unicycling. I mean, how could I just stop?
At college, everything had been about performance and showmanship, and improving for the sake of being able to do this for a living. I had performances to do, talent shows to put on. It is a lot of pressure, thinking about it in these terms. I never got that feeling of doing the impossible, it was just nuanced refinement. It took the fun out of the whole thing, and I stopped caring or improving. I stopped unicycling for the sake of it. I focused more on writing and becoming a writer/performer. I wrote plays and one-acts and participated in theater festivals. I wrote book of comedy and self-published it online. I would only ride when I saw prospective students out and about. And instead of spending my summers riding the unicycle every day, I got a job.
My fraternity needed somebody to represent it in Alpha Phi‘s King of Hearts heartthrob pageant. Because I had done it last year, and the year before, I was naturally the first choice. I said no. The pageant is poorly planned, unfairly judged, and I hadn’t unicycled in almost a year. My juggling was similarly out of practice. My friend started to beg me. Nobody wanted to do it but we both knew that I could. I reluctantly agreed. I would be enter the King of Hearts pageant again.
I met with my “team”, two sorority girls who lived next door, and they asked me what talents I had. Juggling, Unicycling, Plate Spinning, Cigar Boxes, Slam Poetry, Harmonica, Ukulele, etc. They blinked. I continued: I do this neat trick with my tongue, I can recite the alphabet backwards, and I'm pretty good at guessing how many floors a building has without guessing. They asked more about the unicycling, and I sighed. I was hoping that the neat trick I can do with my tongue could be my act.
My mom drove up 2 days before the show and dropped a few unicycles off. I had 2 days to practice riding the Giraffe unicycle. Of all of the unicycles I owned, I‘m the worst at the Giraffe. It sits 6 feet off of the ground. Collectively, I’ve probably ridden it a total of 2 or 3 hours. It‘s very difficult to get on - the seat is as high up as I am tall. One of the most common mistakes is me sitting on my own balls, reflexing in pain, and thus falling 6 feet down onto solid concrete, trying to grab the unicycle so it doesn’t break when it hits the ground. Bodies heal themselves. Unicycles don‘t. … I don’t practice the Giraffe all that often.
Thursday, the day of the pageant, rolls around and I have to figure out how I am going to get on top of the unicycle, and grab a plate and balance it while riding an unfamiliar nightmare of a unicycle with an uncomfortable seat. This particular combination of things I have never done before. Ever.
The night before I imagined a way I might be able to get onto the unicycle, using a chair as a step up, and stepping up like a normal unicycle. A quick google search told me that this was in fact possible. Once on top of the unicycle, I would ride in a tight circle around before coming to a stop near the front of the stage, where I would start idling - riding in place. Then I would grab the plate from the assistant that I had previously gotten spinning, assuming the assistant hadn't dropped it. I would, at this point in time, recite the alphabet backwards. That was the easy part. I would then have to stop the plate, hold it, and then gracefully dismount the unicycle without letting it slam to the ground, or in any way let the audience think that me getting off was not on purpose. Then I could take my bow and drag all the stuff off the stage. None of these things I had done before.
I've been unprepared for a performance before, but this by far takes the cake. The best case scenario was mildly entertaining, I thought, and the worst case involved, oh, say, death. Off the stage is at least a 14 foot tall for my skull.
There was one further complication. I had to do it while not being able to hear a thing, due to the audience going absolutely insane, cheering so loudly. The performance went off nearly without a hitch.