The Fire Spinner

by

10/13/2002

W 72nd St & Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

Neighborhood: Central Park


Our protagonist, Skunk, in action.

Dan a.k.a Skunk and his girlfriend, Erin, pick me up on the corner of Broadway and 116th Street. Skunk briefly reminisces about his days at Columbia University: after a few years of "getting stoned and sitting on the couch" he dropped out and found what could be said to be his calling.

Skunk aspires to be a circus freak. And his way to the big top will be on the tails of Manhattan’s new subculture of fire spinning. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, circa 470 b.c., declared fire to be the highest good. The flame incorporates what reality is composed of; creation and destruction. I believe Skunk would agree. By way of Phish concerts and raves, fire spinning has segued into the Manhattan underground. Meeting on roof tops, water fronts, vacant lots and desolate spots in Central Park there are at least thirty spinners of which Skunk is one.

We board Erin’s car and head to East 72nd Street. From the front seat Skunk tells me the intricacies of fire spinning. First the chain – a homemade series of links that vary in length, at the end of each is a folded mass of kevlar attatched by twisted wire hangers. The kevlar serves as the wick or "poi." Poi translates to "balls" in New Zealand, the countr from which fire spinning was born. The indegenous peoples of the Maori tribe used the ancient ritual to keep their women agile – Skunk has studied his art well. He pulled this piece of informatiom from www.juggling.co.nz.

Skunk built his first set of chains on Memorial Day of this past year and has already acquired above average skills. He interrupts the information session to ask Erin a question. "I wonder if I’ll have the balls to try out my new move tonight , honey?"

She assured him about his endeavor while continuing to swerve in and out of cross town traffic.

Skunk was drawn to fire spinning after watching "Joe Mamma" preform at some M.T.V Oddville like event. Joe Mamma has been spinning fire for four years, "and is, like, a fire spinning god," says Skunk.

Erin pulls the car up to a curb on 5th Avenue and we head into the park via 72nd Street. A voice calls from the dark, "Skunk?"

"Splinter is that you?" The two men shake hands with one another and psyche each other into a "polar spin session."

Under the Navy Terrace, adjacent to the Bethesda Fountain, Skunk asks Splinter, "whatcha got for juice?" Splinter whips out a jug of kerosene and the boys saturate their wicks with its stench. A towel is soaked in water – "fire safety" – in case anything should get out of hand. "It’s best to wear cotton, polyester is bad." Skunk tells me, he continues, "It’s pretty rare that anyone catches on fire. I’ve been on fire briefly."

Splinter is ready to spin. His wicks are lit and he begins twirling. I hear Skunk exclaim, suddenly, "Are you on fire?"

At that point one of Splinter’s wicks comes flying off and Skunk rushes it with a wet towel. "Fire safety." says Skunk.

Next it’s Skunks turn to twirl. He lights his wicks and starts dancing hip hop style while spinnging his chains throughout the Terrace. Like a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader tossing her baton, Skunk has his chains whipping over his head, behind his back, under his legs, windmilling them so quickly the links become invisible and it’s just Skunk in a t-shirt, in twenty two degree weather dancing with two balls of burning kevlar.

He tries two new moves – both wicks hit his legs but he doesn’t catch fire. He keeps on spinning for nearly ten minute until his wicks burn out. The sight was utterly majestic, medieval even, and though we are all freezing and reeking of kerosene it was worth watching. In between my compliments and commentary Skunk warns me, "We’re a bit more flammable than the average person now." He also explains to me his deep consideration of developing fire breathing skills. What I want to know is the long term plan, what is fire spinnings final destination? "One of these days," Skunk begins, "I’m gonna make some cards and really start networking."

At the edge of the park Splinter departs and the three of us head for Erin’s car. Ironically, we’re boxed in by a Hess truck pumpimg gasoline into the underground of Manhattan. Erin, Skunk and me find a diner to bide our time in. While piling french fries into his face Skunk says he and Erin are toying with the idea of organizing their own circus troop and taking it on the road. "I wouldn’t mind joining the circus, for at least a year. Hanging around clowns all day can be scarey but very rewarding." At this point I can hold back no longer and tell Skunk that he is, indeed, a freak. Skunk rejects this by telling me, "Fire spinning is going to be a huge thing in a couple of years, everone’s gonna be doin’ it, and at that point," he adds meancholically, "I probably won’t be able to join the circus."

So Skunk, I ask, do you believe this to be your calling?

"Well, there’s only one thing in the world that I do as well as spinning," Skunk responds stoically, "and that’s ping pong. The ping pong thing, I don’t think I’m gonna pursue that, I think I’m too old for it."

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