Okay, so the economy isn’t fantastic, and winter is here. That sounds to me like the time to celebrate! Huh?…you might ask… but let’s face it, sometimes we just need to do something to lift our spirits a bit. This requires not just getting together, but creative thinking to create a gathering that surprises and delights. Take for example a party I threw a few years ago for my good friend, the actress Ronnie Claire Edwards, known the world around for playing Mrs. Corabeth Godsey, the General Store owner’s wife in the television series The Waltons.
Now the first thing you need to know about Ms. Edwards, is that she’s an American original. The cadence in which she speaks, her flamboyant attire and her love of the downright odd, give her a unique platform from which to observe life and recount stories. She broke into show business more than a few years back in Oklahoma as a knife throwers assistant. Years later she wrote colorfully about the experience. That story, combined with others that are equally entertaining, were compiled in a small book called The Knife-thrower’s Assistant: Memoirs of a Moving Target. I wanted to give her a party in honor of her new book and with a title like that, the theme was pretty obvious. All I needed was an actual knife thrower. It just so happened that I knew the manager of circus acts (don’t ask), and called him to see if he had what I was looking for.
“Well” he said in pure show-biz style, “I have two… one is a young guy, very slick. The other hasn’t worked in a while but I think might still be available. He’s called the ‘Wizard of the West’ and his wife is his assistant. I think he’s around 80 years old”. The choice was obvious; I had to have the octogenarian with the cowboy hat.
Invitations were printed and mailed, a menu of appropriate nibbles were prepared (pigs in a blanket among them) and the house was prepared for the signing. One hour before the party was to start, the ‘Wizard of the West’ arrived. He was tall and gangly; looking every inch the part, while his rather twitchy wife wore boots, jeans and a red, fringed western shirt. As he pulled the car around to unload his gear she quietly confided in me, “I hope this works out alright, we haven’t practiced in a while”. The party hadn’t even started and already the evening was getting interesting.
He unloaded a painted plywood panel with the outline of a young filly, and then took out his knives. Now, I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t a set of 16″ steel knives. The panel was set up in the living room next to my gilded Italian console table. He was clearly the strong silent type, but he did manage to mutter, “Wull, I’ve never dun this before… doin’ my act in someone’s front room!”. At that he flung a knife across the room so it struck the board with a surprisingly loud “THUUUNK” and then vibrated in its perpendicular position. The next one he threw hit the board but didn’t connect, instead it rick-o-shayed across the Persian carpet and slid under the Fortuny-covered sofa. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, just a tad.
Ronnie Claire (not knowing about the entertainment) arrived dressed in head-to-toe red. I later learned that many knife-thrower’s assistants wear red, you know, in case the act doesn’t go “as planned”. I hid the Wizards of the West in another room and threw an elegant cloth over the knife-pricked panel. In short order the living room was filled with 75 guests as our author happily signed books. We then introduced her to the hushed crowd and she read a very entertaining excerpt, setting up our surprise perfectly. After her ovation we brought in the Wizard and his jumpy assistant, then unveiled the brightly painted board.
Given the elegant furniture of the living room, an actual circus act was the last thing anyone expected. The assistant took her place, as did the knife thrower. Guests close to the action started to wonder if perhaps they should re-evaluate their positions. When the cowboy unwrapped his collection of steel knives things got very quiet.
THWACK! went the first knife, popping a balloon held by our brave assistant as the guests backed up ever so slightly. SMACK! went the next as it skittled across the floor in the direction of the increasingly cowering crowd. Soon enough our guests were plastered against the tapestries on the far wall. Meanwhile the brave assistant remained composed, holding a very coy pose that seemed to suit her.
After the first round was done the audience burst into applause, mostly out of relief that no blood was spilled. But after disengaging the knives the assistant took her place once again. This time the Wizard unrolled newspapers that had been taped together to create an enormous sheet. He unfurled it to completely cover his trusting wife as she stood with her back against the board.
Behind the paper she quietly stood, not making even the slightest rustle. Quiet gasps escaped the nervous crowd as it prepared from the onslaught by cowering further into the corners of the room. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!!! As the knives ripped through the newspaper they created a vibrating frame around the bravest person in the room. When the last knife put an exclamation point on the dotted line around her, the knife-thrower’s assistant broke through the paper in triumph, joining the Wizard of the West for a well-deserved bow.
The audience broke into screams of relief and admiration, while I said a silent prayer of thanks for not having to call 911.
So what’s the moral of the story? If you feel winter doldrums creeping in, or just need a little excitement in your life, you may not need to hire a circus act, but you could think of different ways to spark up your next dinner or cocktail party. After all, life is short, and if a knife thrower’s assistant can survive 50 years of being a moving target, you can certainly take a tiny risk and have some friends over for a good, old fashioned PARTY.