TT with HD: Sara S.
[Ed. note: In the background of the above image, Bruce Fields is visible working on a 7-ball cascade. Sara would probably let you have a try with the spinning handkerchiefs if you showed up to the regular meeting of the Ann Arbor Juggling Arts Club from 2-4pm Saturdays on the U of M Diag. One online source for them is Good Orient. Annie, from Good Orient, was kind enough to pass along the romanized spelling of the Chinese word for the spinning handkerchiefs: Er Ren Zhuan Shou Juan.]
HD: I will move forward a little bit as well. Now when you say you feel 'light', you mean you feel like you don't have enough control over what's happening to you?
SS: No, just that I'm not spending a lot of time on the ground.
HD: So is this going to work?
[Ed. note: Photography ensues.]
SS: I saw somebody doing this on the bus one day--I ride the bus to work--she and her friend seemed to be Chinese, so I asked a Chinese friend about it and she said, Oh yeah, I know what those are, the next person from my lab who goes back to China, I'll ask them to bring you one! And she did.
HD: Okay, hang on, can you keep doing that while I take a picture?
SS: I'll try to!
HD: Because that's pretty cool.
SS: So apparently in China they have them in parades and they throw them around and between people and do all kinds of fancy tricks.
HD: Huh! So you first observed this on an AATA bus??
SS: Yes! There were these two ladies who were playing with them and giggling! And I thought, That's neat!
HD: So you didn't actually ask them, you waited until ...
SS: ... no ...
HD: ... so you did ask them?
SS: No, I did not.
HD: And that was because they didn't appear to have any English-language skills, or?
SS: Because I don't have people skills!
HD: Oh, okay. Fair enough. It's always hard to know, though, with bus culture. Are you supposed to talk to people or not?
SS: You can talk to some people, but.
HD: But you know there was--I forget which blog it was, but maybe two or three years ago, there was a Do's and Don'ts published for how to ride the Big Blue bus [University of Michigan campus buses]. Okay, you can keep doing it by all means, but photographically I am satisfied. But anyway one of the suggestions, I think, was: Don't talk to people! Basically mind your own business, nobody wants to hear what you have to say, just ride the bus, get on, and get off. But anyway, you observed this, and you have a Chinese co-worker, is that it?
SS: She was a friend from another lab.
HD: And she totally knew what this thing was?
HD: Is it actually hard to learn how to do, to spin that?
SS: No, it's not really. There's a ring of wire in the middle that is covered with this rick-rack. So you just make the ring go around your finger. You want me to ... ?
HD: ... yeah, why don't you slide it down. Let me just make sure that my equipment is still on. So you didn't make these yourself?
SS: No, this was from China. I would like to make one, but I have to find out where to get the thin wire that goes in the middle there.
HD: So how do you start?
SS: Grab it like this from the bottom, so that you've got your fingers all of your fingers around the edge of the ring.
HD: Okay, got it.
SS: And you want to give your wrist a twist so that you get it started, because that's the hard part. Once it ..
HD: ... yeah, it's harder than it looks.
SS: It slings out, and then it's got the weight, yeah, there you go!
HD: Ahhh, crap. So is there a name for these--I'm sure there is, so I guess really my question is, What are they called? [laugh]
SS: [laugh] I know, I asked my friend and she said they're handkerchiefs! And then she told me something in Chinese and I didn't write it down, so I don't know.
HD: I can track it down. I will track this down. I'm keenly interested now. Because, you know, I lived in China for two years.
HD: And I never saw anything like this. But I did find that my rudimentary juggling skills served me well in my life in China.
HD: Yeah, my wife and I were teaching English at a medical University, and there were, I would say, once every two weeks or so there would be some gathering or other, a departmental meeting or a banquet or something--they were always doing something and inviting the foreigners along. And there would be an occasion for people to give performances, and the master of ceremonies would sometimes just call on you to render a performance of your own choosing. Our Chinese colleagues, they would typically do something like recite a famous Chinese poem, or sing a song, or something like that. And I think for Americans--the first time it happened, well, I just panicked.
SS: Yeah, I would think.
HD: I mean what do you do? A performance??! Our handler was explaining to us, Well you know it's anything you like, there is no requirement that it be any particular thing. But it seemed pretty clear that it was a requirement that you do something. You couldn't just say, No that's okay, I prefer not.
SS: Recite Hiawatha or something?
HD: Yeah, you know, I don't have any memorized poetry in my repertoire. But there was fruit on the table, right? So I said, I can can juggle the apples there, so that's what I did.
SS: So that's good to know you could put juggling skills to use.
HD: Yeah, life skills. So if someone called on you to give a performance like that in that context, where it's basically anything at all will do, what would you do? And let's assume that you don't have these magic handkerchiefs handy?
SS: I have no idea.
HD: Yeah that was exactly my feeling. I was just like, Oh. My. God. I think we should introduce that into American culture somehow. You know at company meetings, board meetings, Alright, Fred, we would like you to perform now!
SS: You know, you get a little bit of that when you're a kid--you're always being asked to perform a school thing, a talent show, so you might have some of those things ready. But once you're an adult, you figure you're safe.
HD: Yeah, you figure you're home-free. Nobody's going to ask you to do that stuff. But with a kid though, it's typically a parent saying, Okay, Timmy, show grandma and grandpa that thing that you've been practicing. It's awkward, and it's painful, and it's humiliating, but at least you know what it is you're supposed to be doing. So it's, Do I twirl my baton, or sing this little song that I learned, or do this stupid little choreography that I learned. But it was just the whole open-ended nature of it, where you can do anything you'd like.
HD: Is this something you look forward to every year that you have been to in the past?
SS: Yeah. I go to the regular meetings on Saturdays, mainly because my husband goes.
HD: [Ed. note: HD has continued to try to spin the handkerchief without great success.] You know, I'm just not really getting the hang of this.
SS: Actually you're doing better than most people do when they first start it.
HD: Oh, you're just saying that to be polite, I think!
SS: Actually, no. Really part of the trick is just to try to get it to move around in a circle. And you've got that. It should feel like the ring is going around your finger.
HD: Oh, okay so your finger kind of osculates around the side instead of staying in the exact center?
SS: Yeah, your finger will stay in the same place, but it will move around it, and you will feel like the ring is touching each side of your finger in turn.
HD: Okay, I'm going to give this a serious go now. So I guess people who are really good can do one on each hand ...
SS: ... yeah, throw them up in the air and toss them on to their friends.
HD: And like exchange them?
HD: Probably if I go on YouTube, if I find the right name of what this is. If I go on YouTube, I bet I can find examples. So you guys juggle at home?
SS: I don't. Bruce does a little bit. You know I learned to juggle in college, just three balls, and I practice by juggling a few minutes at Juggling Club each week. I'm not a real ...
HD: .... you don't aspire to do like seven clubs or something like that?
SS: No, and I consider myself a pretty clumsy person, so. I feel like doing three balls is fine with me.
HD: So the Juggling Club, then, as a social outlet is a reasonable sort of group of people? I mean, you can do your three balls and that's okay, and nobody makes fun of you?
HD: Not that you are aware of at any rate.
SS: Right. [laugh] Maybe when I leave.
HD: There goes Sara, still doing her three ball cascade!
SS: Exactly! [Ed. note: HD continues to try.] Maybe it's just going to other way that ...
HD: ... yeah, maybe I'm going the wrong way. Well, no. This is something I don't think I'm going to be able to perfect. Thanks for riding! Anything else you want to make sure we talk about?
SS: I would say that for riding the bus, I think you should talk to other people!
HD: Oh yeah?
SS: I don't know where that 'rule' came from.
HD: Well, I remember thinking when I read that, I think you can look at a person and tell whether they might respond positively or not to a conversational gambit. I mean, some people clearly, if they have their nose in a book, I don't think I would say, Hey, Whatcha readin'?
SS: I actually have done that, when I thought I had read the book before myself.
HD: Oh really? Just said, Whatcha readin'???
SS: It was a book on special relativity that I had in college and I was like, Hey, I think I've seen that book!
HD: [laugh] So what was their response?
SS: He was just like, Oh yeah, it's pretty good.
HD: Did you say, I know how it turns out!
SS: Um, no, he probably knew how it turned out, he was a grad student.
HD: So you are on the bus everyday pretty much?
SS: Pretty much. I'm trying to walk more often. If it's good out, I shouldn't be on the bus every day anymore. I need the exercise.
HD: So what do you think about the idea of switching over from buses to streetcars, just saying, Screw the buses, let's get us some streetcars!
SS: I like street cars where I have seen them before. But you can't get the variety of routes.
HD: That's true. Would you be willing to pay more? If they decided to levy a county-wide millage for transportation, as part of a scheme where they're going to really invest heavily in streetcars?
SS: You know, I rent, so the property tax doesn't hit me directly.
HD: I guess for you, the proper way to phrase the question would be, Would you be content to have your landlord raise your rent by $25 a month because ...
SS: ... $25 a month??! Gosh!
HD: Or $10 or whatever it would be, so that your landlord could pay his increased millage.
Interested Onlooker: Excuse me, I saw you juggling those scarves, what you doing? Can I try those?
SS: What you're doing is you're starting off by holding onto that ring in the middle, and then you do a twist and you stick your finger here so that it rotates around your finger. You want to get it started pretty fast.
HD: I have never kicked anybody off of here yet. [to Interested Onlooker] And I have to confess, I am totally rooting against you to be able to do this, because I did not achieve success, so I don't want you to, either!
Interested Onlooker: Look, look, look, look!
HD: I don't think that really counts.
HD: You're not really doing it, though, not as good as Sara.
SS: But that's really great!
Interested Onlooker: Not really doing it?!
HD: Yeah, I have to concede, you are doing it. Now you have to keep doing it here, I will take your picture. [Ed. note: The magical moment passes and the handkerchief is dropped.] See, now you're going to have to do it again.
DL: Are you teaching people to do that?
DL: How come you could never teach me?
Interested Onlooker: I have to go, thank you so much!
SS: Oh, you are welcome!
Interested Onlooker: Rock on, teeter boy!
SS: The funniest thing that ever happened to me on the bus--it was one of those Michigan buses. They turned out the lights--this one driver didn't like to have the interior lights on, so nobody could read or do anything, so we were all kind of just sitting there. And somebody was talking on their cell phone about getting an apartment, and she was talking really, really loudly on her cell phone about all the different apartments they had looked at and the different roommates. And everyone on the bus is just going, Okay!? And we got off at Pierpoint Commons ...
HD: ... that's North Campus, right?
SS: Yeah. And this guy got off and he was like, Good luck with the apartment!
SS: She said, Oh. They're making fun of me on the bus, Goodbye, I have to go!
HD: I think it's nice when people feel an appropriate amount of shame. Shame goes a long way towards modifying human behavior so that we all get along, I think. Sometimes you have to sort of, I mean people, don't bring their own shame to the equation--they have to be shamed by the public consensus.