“If he saw three balls, he had to juggle. If he saw two towers, he had to walk! That’s how he was.”
Those words describe the inner motivation of Phillippe Petit who walked a wire between the twin towers in New York City in August of 1974. I can't imagine the inner stillness required to walk on a wire that far off the ground.
Gymnopodie number two in The Stevie Dangerfield and Reggie Watts Mysteries has just such a character. Below is an excerpt.
Experience is a form of paralysis.
Miquel, his black hair matted with perspiration, woke up anxious. This morning he would walk the wire. He got up slowly and pulled on his tight sweat pants and sleeveless tee shirt. He made sure his phone and slippers were in his backpack. His hand felt deep inside to check for the pliers, wire-cutters, and snack. He didn’t know how this day would end. Jorge was due with his father’s truck any minute. He let himself out of the back door making sure there was no sound. The only sound came from inside his own head. Down, up, up, the lilting dance rhythm of Satie’s Gymnopodie No. 1 circled around his conscious mind. After his wire walk today he would describe himself as a Gymnopédist.
Miquel and Jorge, crouched down, each kneeling on a platform and looked across the street at each other. The sky was beginning to lighten and tiny beams of light filtered around the horizon making the east side buildings glow a pastel pink and yellow. The town was still quiet at five o’clock on this summer morning.
Jorge took aim with his bow and made sure the hemp rope was untangled. He had one chance to shoot the arrow, with the rope attached, across the street from one tower to the other. What they were doing was well rehearsed but anything could go wrong. The muscles in Jorge’s forearm flexed as he pulled back and he knew he had just seconds before his arm would begin to shake. He released and the arrow shot across the street with the hemp rope dangling behind like the tale of a kite. Jorge saw the arrow fall onto the tower platform and waited to see if Miguel would get hold of it. Seconds passed and drops of sweat ran down the sides of Jorge’s head. Finally Miquel popped up and raised his arms above his head, waving the rope. Now Jorge needed to tie the next heavier rope to his end and signal Miquel to pull. The rest of the hemp rope began slithering through the slats of the railing and with snail speed the thicker rope made it’s way over the street from tower to tower. Again Jorge waited to get a signal from Miquel. The time was getting away from them. He checked his phone. They needed to set their plan in motion in the next twenty minutes.
Attaching the wire cable to the thicker rope was not new to Jorge. He had prepared the cable many times since he and Miquel had started wire walking in earnest. Jorge stopped walking the wire himself but stayed involved to ensure Miquel had sufficient support. What was once a Boys Club gymnastics class activity now turned into a series of daring ventures that were much more public. To walk across a wire from tower to tower above mainstreet, in broad daylight, was Miquel’s idea but both boys needed to be fully committed to make it happen.
Jorge felt the tug on the rope and saw Miquel signal him to move the wire cable across to his side. The cable caught the glistening sun as it snaked over the street. Now Jorge began securing his end to the large metal eye hook which the boys had pounded into the stonework some days before. He felt satisfied that his end was secure. He watched and waited for Miquel to step onto the wire. He was putting on his slippers and then he gingerly stepped up on the wooden railing. He teetered to each side, stretching his toes along the wire. and then reached for the pole. Jorge readied the camera on his phone to start videoing the walk.
He heard piano music from the other tower which must have come from a phone. Miquel had a strange thing about listening to weird music when he did wire walking. Ever since he started piano lessons his musical tastes had changed. Then Miquel stepped onto the wire and with the pole to balance him he walked inch by inch across the street. The sun was now coming over the buildings and illuminated his friend. He looked as if he was walking on air. This was going to be an incredible news story. He kept his camera on Miquel, catching him bending his knees and then straightening them with a dancers grace. He heard some shouting from below. People were seeing what was going on. There were going to be consequences to what they were doing. They might even be arrested. His heart was pounding faster and he felt exaltation well up inside of him as he saw that Miquel was halfway across.
He was fiddling with the video screen when he heard the scream. He looked up and saw that the wire was gone. Feeling the slack cable on his side he knew that the cable had broken. His high school best friend was gone.