Climbing the ladder is the worst part.
I have time to rationalize the whole thing: I have to hang by my knees? On that little bar? Twenty feet off the ground? Why am I doing this again?
This seemed like a good idea back in my college dorm room in Pennsylvania. I heard about a trapeze school not in some suburban tent in middle America, but right in the heart of Manhattan. I saw the photos on the website of regular Joes and Janes streaking across the sky with the New York City skyline in the background. How cool would that be? And hey, it's a good conversation piece. You won your fantasy football game? Well here's what I did this weekend.
But clinging to a ladder on a rooftop, high above Pier 40, with a group of witnesses there to ogle at my trembling knees -- among them, a DeSean Jackson fan and a Sperm Donor Consultant -- I realize these lessons will probably cripple my self-confidence for years.
The brainchild of Jonathon Conant, Trapeze School New York has been around since the late 1990s, giving New Yorkers a chance to fly through the air with the greatest of ease for more than a decade. A "Sex and the City" episode was based around TSNY's Manhattan location, and from then on, trapeze has become a lot more popular. But still, a lot of New Yorkers don't even know about it.
TSNY's slogan reads, "Don't worry about fear. Worry about the addiction." While bold, who’s to say it's not true? Certainly, there are worse addictions to be found in New York City.
So that's how I ended up here, on this ladder, clad in snug-fitting clothing, $70 poorer and a good deal sweatier. Gulp.
Minutes before, I was given a quick tutorial from the chipper, shirtless instructor. Matt, I think. He explained the steps of folding one’s legs over the bar and swinging from one’s knees like it’s as sensible as brushing one’s teeth. Now Matt straps me into a harness tight enough to make me very consciously aware of how much Sam Adams I drank the night before.
He asks me if I understand the process. I nod resolutely, as if I hunt bears for a living. What else am I going do?
Now I climb the ladder with the coordination of your strange uncle, higher and higher, until my hair feels like it's going to be singed by the strangely bright October sun. I reach the top. A quick glance down and I realize I’m screwed. It’s happening.
A girl wearing black meets me at the top and almost giggles. She’s apparently unimpressed by my keen sense of danger. Perhaps because I look like I'm melting. She tells me to chalk my hands up. Look, lady -- I'm not LeBron. I don’t need that karma.
If it weren't for my impending doom, it would be quite nice up here. Downtown Manhattan is right in front of me, and from this height, you feel one with the skyscrapers. Perhaps after this I'll take my girlfriend here...
Back to reality. I toe the edge -- literally -- while the girl holds onto my harness. If only she knew the effort it took to get to this point.
Is this how it’s going to end? Surrounded by strangers wearing spandex on a roof in Manhattan? The girl behind me calls, "Ready!" -- signaling my trembling knees to bend and mock a confident athletic stance. Taken out of context, I look like I’m afraid of toilet seats.
Please, don’t let my story be told in hushed voices around the Barnum and Bailey’s liquor tent. I await the inevitable call with shameless trepidation.
I glance down one more time at the park below. There’s a baseball game down there. Kids toting oversized mitts and popping pink bubblegum are blissfully unaware of my current problems. Stay innocent, little ones.
"Hep" -- meaning "go" in circus speak -- and I jump off the platform. The Manhattan skyline stands still as I’m at the peak of my hop. Then the world very suddenly drops out from under me.
As I swing downward, gravity grabs onto my ankles and tugs. I reach the bottom of the swing and start to swoop upward, all too visible to those driving on West 30th street below.
An instructor standing on the sweet ground below shouts, "Knees up!" Now I have to somehow muster my gangly legs up and over the bar. It looked so easy for the petite women who went before me; but then again, they make fire hydrants stand proud.
Turns out, for those plagued with irreversible chicken legs, it’s much harder.
I try. Then like Edison, I try again. It’s ugly, like watching Tim Tebow throw an out-route. But like Tebow, then end result is all that matters. I get the legs over and lock onto the bar. Like a monkey, I hang. If only my ex-girlfriends could see me now.
I swing down again while my body flails under my knees. I must look like an awful, sweaty attempt at Poe’s pendulum. The instructor on the ground tells me I’ve had enough; I painfully untuck my legs, kick forward, let go of the bar and do a somersault in the air. The safety net gobbles me up. I breathe; I did it. Sort of. At the very least, I avoided years of therapy.
Once off the net, basking in the post-traumatic stress, a middle-aged female classmate says to me, "You looked nervous as me up there." I glibly assure her that I was merely putting on a show. I don’t think she bought it.
Insensible as it may be, I climbed that ladder three more times. On the last one, Matt caught my hands and I swung off the bar like a trapeze savant. At least that's what I'm telling people.
Climbing your first ladder is the worst part.
Don't look down. Or up. Or out.
But when it's done, you'll want to look back.
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