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Imbalancing act

I’m at the intersection of Brunswick St and Alexandra Parade. From a grassy island favoured by window-washers, a man sets out. His performer’s glow is affirmed by Saturday sun. His shoulders are a specialised set, more muscled than the everyday, and he’s dressed in all black: pants and a cotton singlet. The traffic, here, is constrained, so it takes several green lights for a long queue to turn right into Fitzroy North.


At the seizure of a red, the man takes his chance. He and traffic control are in league. He has, for companions, an array of circus equipment. First, between the lanes, he mounts a unicycle, a stocky black contraption, and becomes a human whisk. Before any might think to scrutinise his process, he’s pedalling with one foot, the other crank turning eerily. His free foot can therefore be put to use spinning a proffered Aerobie around its ankle bones. One foot’s pressing, the other twirling; it’s a ‘pat head, rub stomach’ situation. My streaky windshield may have preferred a spray ’n’ wipe, but behind it I’m transfixed. Lest I and the other spectators get too bored or familiar with merely twin skills in the man’s half-minute of performance time, he starts engaging his arms, as well. He’s suddenly juggling the three or four plastic bowling pins he’d been carrying like throttled hens. He’s pressing the windpipes of the crowd, too, by inciting us to all hold our breath. He floats ahead of the traffic, stretched higher than any of the vehicles, an extended body, a human-centric machine built for only this ridiculous purpose, which tosses and spins and twirls and hovers and balances for the sake of the verbs. Somehow old-school and futuristic, he elevates the present. He could be something drug-induced – adherents should fear an out-of-view bus on upcoming Brunswick St.

From his mount, he must count down the traffic light’s shift. Soon, he alights with grace. Everyone studies him once the machine’s disassembled, confirms his gymnast’s body parts. I hang $3 of coins (would’ve been handy at the laundromat) near my passenger window and he’s slow to take them, like he’s dragging-out this acknowledgement. The green light jealously comes, and no-one should be driving through. All of us should be out of our cars, a procession waiting to meet and quiz the man and get photos. “How long did it take you to learn that?” Umpteen dozen hours – his certain reply. But that’s less than a driver further down the queue spent mastering Spanish, say, or than another person in traffic spent disentangling the jargon of their uni degree, or than a proximate weekend warrior spent training for a recent marathon. And we’ve all seen wonderful, absurd, beautiful things in our time. Especially on television. And we’ve all got talents or appreciable qualities we wished more often made others sit up and say, “Fuck me! Go you!”, and it’s these personal injustices we prefer mulling over, rather than the achievements of strangers. So at the green’s beckon we drive on, away from a performer that surely could make it to at least the semi-final of one of those witless commercial talent shows, who’d richly deserve being there mentored by a holidaying British celebrity.

But at Edinburgh Gardens, in the evening, as I’m watching a trio of twenty-somethings easily negotiate the plastic dancefloor, the cool nostalgia of ‘Twister’, a ghost-image of that performer unicycles across the canvas of my retina to show a real athletic feat. Even at the Bubble Dome, later on the same night, watching the Kangaroos vs. the Kiwis in a rugby league clash that’s about as foregone as if the mascots were to meet, the unicyclist returns to plangently remind me he’d been better. He says, “You coughed-up $3 for my act, my contemptuous defiance of gravity, and paid $25 for this?” His hands are occupied by juggling those pins. At the end of his ghost-foot that’s still twirling a frisbee, the big toe points back to scold the stupid, inevitable collisions on the rugby field. Trying to re-focus on the match, I tell him, mentally, “Yes, but if you diffuse ‘25’ between 30 or so beasts of burden and the two women who shredded the national anthems, symbolically they’re each getting less than a dollar. So buzz off!” Harsh words, I know, but I was only reminding him of the way of things. He cycled away, and I trust it was to take up a place in my memory.

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