THE VARIETY SHOW STARTED WITH ITS USUAL ACT: Patti Pancake playing the piano. She sounded pretty talented, but she only knew one tune: ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ I called her Patti Pancake because of all the make-up she wore.
I was feeling pretty confident as organizer and manager of the show; I’d left very little to chance. All the performers had arrived as scheduled and were patiently waiting their turn. The auditorium was packed with people, and everything was going according to plan.
After Patti took her bows to a smattering of lukewarm applause, Ivan Ipcress took the stage. Ivan was a magician of sorts. He called himself an ‘illusionist.’ Delusionist was more accurate. He made an assortment of small objects disappear or change into various small animals. Most of his ‘illusions’ were amateurish attempts at misdirection and slight of hand.
Joe Jackson was up next. He favored me with a confident wink, and I smiled back at him as he slipped past me carrying a cardboard box. Joe was a juggler, plain and simple. He could juggle just about anything and had a broad smile and great stage presence. For a warm-up act, you couldn’t do any better. I had no idea what he was going to do.
I peaked past the curtain to watch him begin his act.
He sauntered onto the stage and set the box on a chair.
With dramatic aplomb he extracted two glass mason jars from the box and held them up for all to see.
The crowd instinctively recoiled in fear and disgust as they realized the jars were filled with swarms of black spiders. He pulled a third jar out of the box, and then a fourth, cradling them in his arms. He extracted a fifth jar with his other hand, held it up and kissed the jar, then tossed it high in the air. The crowd gasped audibly. He tossed the others in rapid succession until he was juggling all five jars. The audience was spellbound, as was I. The spiders flew around in the jars as he juggled them. The sight was at once amazing and repugnant.
Joe the juggler beamed at the crowd with his signature smile, and they responded with applause, cheers and whistles.
I exhaled. Not realizing I was holding my breath. ‘Everything’s going to be fine’ I thought.
Then Joe began to walk forward approaching the front of the stage. The applause died and the crowd became quiet. There were steps at the front of the stage, and slowly but surely, he walked down the steps, juggling the jars of spiders.
The crowd was rapt, I was squinting, my mouth half open. ‘What is he doing?’ I thought.
Joe paused at the bottom of the last step, then slowly walked up the aisle between the seats: Jars aloft, their gold caps gleaming in the spotlights, the spiders flying around.
Then someone stuck out their foot.
Joe stumbled, appeared to lose focus and one after another, the jars smashed onto the concrete floor: All but two, which he caught with each hand. Men scrambled and dove from their seats as their wives or girlfriends screamed.
As the crowd retreated, Joe reached down, picked up a handful of plastic spiders and let them fall back to the ground. He returned to the stage, raised the two glass jars above his head and shook them. Sure enough, they were full of live spiders. Joe took a bow amidst curses and screams, as I ran to fetch a dustpan and broom.