Rock juggling with Cirque du Cement

It was the guys on the city sidewalk crew that did it. Made me want to juggle, I mean. Maybe I should explain.



It was the guys on the city sidewalk crew that did it. Made me want to juggle, I mean.

Maybe I should explain.

Long ago and not far away, I was working a summer job on the cement crew with the city. My job was mostly to drive around with another starving college student occasionally picking up the wood and metal forms used as the sidewalk frames for the cement pour, and deliver them to the next cement crew whose job it was to mostly stand around waiting for cement trucks to arrive.

This was the joke back then: “What do you call 10 guys in bib overalls standing around leaning on goon-spoons?”

Answer: “A city cement crew.” Haha. Oh, and goon spoons were their name for shovels.

They were a good old wacky bunch all right, except when the cement trucks arrived.

Then it was all business, pouring, troweling and finishing before the cement dried — and they were surprisingly good at making a reasonably recognizable sidewalk out of large blobs of mud.

And as we watched from the comfort of our city flatbed truck, cranking up the tunes on the radio, I wondered how in the world any of them could resist putting a handprint or scratching their name (or better yet — the name of a co-worker) in the enticingly smooth wet cement.

But after a fairly brief flurry of intense and concentrated cement work, the finishing crew would be, well, finished and ready to hang around and hurry up and wait for the next pour.

And that’s where the juggling came in.

Several of the guys, apparently bored with leaning on their goon spoons, would pick up three nice-sized rocks from the road and would start tossing them in the air, and pretty soon they were juggling.

And pretty soon after that most of the entire crew were juggling rocks. It was quite a sight — all these sun-baked road workers all covered in coveralls and dried cement wandering around randomly, rocks flying in every direction.

It was Cirque du Cement right there in the middle of wet sidewalks.

So I decided right then and there to have another coffee break. And, also, after coffee, to learn how to juggle.

But I wasn’t very good at tossing rocks, and when summer ended I went back to school and back to attempting to learn how to twirl pens and pencils and soon forgot about juggling.

Then one day a few years ago, somehow the juggling bug hit me again, right out of the blue. I’m not sure where this “blue” is, but I do know I’m often hit by things that come from there.

So I bought some actual cheap bean bag juggling balls that came with an instruction booklet and proceeded to flail away, knocking over lamps, scaring the cat, bonking one or other of dogs on the head with falling balls, annoying the Better Half, etc., until I was banished to the backyard to practise my juggling.

I finally got so good at it that I could juggle three balls more or less for an impressive six to eight seconds!

So I gave up again.

I forgot about juggling again until recently, when it came from that blue place again. I found myself digging around in my important junk boxes, my sort-of-important junk boxes, and my dusty old get-rid-of-junk boxes, and finally found my official leather bean bag juggling balls.

Whereupon I proceeded to trash my little home office with flying projectiles in my very own version of “juggling,” which consisted of erratically throwing and not catching very much of anything.

But after a while (a long while), I got so that I could keep the balls in the air for a whole eight to 10 seconds before one got loose and I knocked over something valuable.

But then, I was hooked. I wanted more. “Bowling pins,” I found myself saying out loud. “I’ve always wanted to juggle bowling pins.” Right out of that blue place again.

So I immediately started learning the devil sticks.

Maybe I should explain.

You see, I had some devil sticks but I didn’t have any juggling clubs, which I thought were called juggling bowling pins, but are called “clubs,” which is probably why I couldn’t find any for sale.

Devil sticks consist of one large stick and two smaller sticks, which you hold in each hand and use to manipulate the large stick. It’s like juggling, only with more damage involved.

I knew the Rotten Kids had some back in our camping days so I dug through more junk boxes and soon I was knocking, twirling, stick-handling, batting, bashing and thrashing away, with wild abandon and absolutely no control whatsoever. Even out in the backyard this summer I was menace, and very nearly put a twirling rampant devil stick right through our back window.

So, of course, I decided to take them with me to our holiday last week in B.C. — you know, to practise.

After a lesson or two on YouTube, I nearly put one through the TV in the hotel room. So, after being banished to the hotel lawn, I managed to pull off a few momentary moves like ‘the helicopter,’ ‘the tick-tock’ and ‘the spin.’ And then my Rotten Kid, the son one, picked up the devil sticks and proceeded to spin, helicopter and tick tock on his first try.

“Clubs,” I said to myself, “I’ve always wanted to juggle clubs.”

And low and behold in a store called Out of the Blue — kidding — in a novelty store in Penticton the RK found some honest to goodness, official actual juggling clubs.

So I had to have them.

I took them back to the hotel room, gave them a mighty twirl, bounced one off of a painting on the wall, another one off the ceiling and spun one with great force onto my bare foot, very nearly breaking my big toe.

I was banished back out to the lawn, where I decided to take up reading instead.

But really, none of the unfortunate juggling mayhem was my fault. I blame it on the guys who got tired of leaning on their goon spoons.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.