By Mark Nizer
I have been lucky enough to meet and get to know many of my idols and mentors during my life. The juggling world is so small that we not only can seek out, but also often can become friends and even colleagues with the best.
One performer I have always "looked up to" both literally and figuratively is Philippe Petit. For those of you who don't know that name, you know his feats. He is the man who walked between the World Trade Center towers on a high wire 1,362 feet above the ground. I, too, performed between the World Trade Center towers, except my performance was for a lunch gig and the stage was three feet off the ground.
So ... I was working my first and only fair in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. I showed up hours early to set up and make sure everything would be ready for my first performance later that day. I pulled into the massive empty parking lot with my newly acquired rental car, parked and headed for my stage.
Setup went fine and, as time went by, the activity level around me quickly increased. Next thing I knew, it was time for my first show. It was 4:00 pm on a Thursday and my audience was non-existent. Suddenly, like a scene out of The Right Stuff, in walked the gods of juggling: Francis Brunn (arguably the greatest juggler who ever lived), his sister Lottie (also a world class juggler), her son Michael Chirrick (a prodigy and mentor to me), Ted Chirrick (a circus expert and promoter) and Philippe Petit and his wife.
My heart sank as I realized this was going to be my entire audience for my first fair gig. I think I blacked out, because I don't remember much about the show, except that I survived and stepped off stage to greet the entourage.
Philippe Petit, whom I had never met, but idolized and wanted to impress, mentioned he had to head back to the city and asked if I knew where the nearest bus would stop. I would have none of that. I had time before my next show and could drive them back to the city in my rental car that was sitting just over there in the parking lot. This was my chance to impress him and have him remember me.
They gratefully accepted and I attempted to mutter some French words to ingratiate myself. We headed to the parking lot and suddenly I realized I was screwed. The parking lot was huge and, by then, full of cars. Worse yet, I had no idea where my car was, what kind of car I had or its color. Nothing. This was before car remotes, so I couldn't push a magic button and have it make a sound or flash its lights. All I had was the license plate number scribbled on the key fob from the car rental company.
So, we were looking for XY7-32DK. For what seemed like hours, we wandered the aisle looking for this license plate. By this time, Petit could have gone to the city six times on a bus and perhaps even gotten his professional bus driver's license.
I stayed upbeat and continued childish French-speak. As time passed, the agony of my situation grew until I realized Philip Petit would indeed remember me, just not in the way I had hoped.
We found the car (or, rather, his wife did) and I drove them back to the city. The memory of the agonizing silence in the car still makes my chest hurt.
No good deed goes unpunished.