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I finally had to face up to a gap in my sports repertoire. I could field a sharply hit ground ball, turn a respectable double play; drive a golf ball 275 yards on occasion, hit a decent iron shot; body surf; ski both downhill and cross-country; make an occasional diving save in volleyball—in short, hold my own in numerous sports. But I couldn't keep three lousy balls aloft long enough to recite my Social Security number.
Let's face it, everybody wants to juggle. Admit it. You've tried. Maybe while killing time waiting for a tennis court. (Why else would the balls be packaged three to a can?) Or perhaps you've reached into some friend's fruit bowl and plucked out an apple and a couple of oranges. When they hit the floor you probably attempted to make some crack about fruit salad.
I don't have to make excuses anymore. After countless attempts since childhood, I now know how to juggle. I couldn't be prouder. Really. Until about a year ago, when I learned how to make three ordinary beanbags dance in the air, I was unfulfilled. Each time I saw a street performer or circus juggler blur the air with balls or clubs or rings I felt envious. Of course I still envy people who can juggle four, five, six or even seven objects. But I can live with that, for I can juggle now, too.
I learned how to juggle soon after my 31st birthday. A thoughtful (or mischievous) brother-in-law had sent me a book. It came with three beanbags and an apt title: Juggling for the Complete Klutz by John Cassidy and B.C. Rimbeaux. On the back cover the book offered some encouragement: "If you can scramble an egg, find reverse in a Volkswagen, or stumble onto the light switch in the bathroom at night...you can learn how to juggle."
I did, in about a half an hour.
And so have many Americans. Sales of Klutz recently topped 600,000, and that's just one of several indications that a juggling boom is sweeping the nation. Juggling has successfully invaded Broadway. You had to be able to juggle to be in the cast of Barnum. The Flying Karamazov Brothers, a flamboyant, comic juggling quintet, recently drew enthusiastic crowds to New York's Ritz Theater.
As recently as 1976, the International Jugglers Association (IJA) had fewer than 500 members. Today it has more than 2,500 members listed in its computer. Furthermore, plastic juggling clubs and other props, long made-to-order specialty items, are now readily available by mail and are even sold in some sporting goods stores.
Why the boom? Says Gene Jones, convention producer and former president of the IJA, "I think it's because juggling is finally being exposed to the general public as a recreational activity. It used to be identified mostly with the circus." Traditionally, he said, juggling was something the average person watched, not did.
I caught up with Jones at the 36th annual International Jugglers Convention, held last summer on the SUNY campus in Purchase, N.Y. I arrived, beanbags in suitcase, in time to watch the so-called "joggling" races—a 100-meter dash, a mile run and a five kilometer run—all requiring start-to-finish juggling of three objects. A Guinness world record was set at the convention for most objects juggled at one time when 476 people kept aloft 1,867 items.
At the start of the 100, competitors dropped balls, bent to retrieve them and often felled somebody else. Michel Lauziere, a comedian with the Canadian troupe Les Foubrac, emerged from the confusion to win with a time of 14:63 seconds. Lauziere also won the mile joggle. In sweltering heat on a recently lined soccer field, he fought off a closing charge by Andrew Head of Oak Park, Ill. and finished in 5:25.58, some 22 seconds slower than his IJA record. Lauziere dropped not a single ball—for him, no great feat. A couple of years ago Lauziere ran the Montreal Marathon, juggling all the way, without a drop.