The Outstater

January 5, 2023

The Congressional Trapeze

THE PROVOST of my daughter’s college quipped there is only one thing that is exactly as it seems, professional wrestling. I would add two others, the trapeze and Congress.

Reading the news of the attempt to name a new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, I found myself thinking of the Flying Wallendas, the family of trapeze artists, and that difference between phony and authentic.

The Wallendas are authentic. But no, they don’t actually fly but they are nonetheless the real deal. In fact, six of the family members have died in falls from the trapeze or the high wire.

As a young man I saw the Wallendas perform live. One of them, I can’t remember which, was to attempt the great Quadruple, something generations of circus artists in more than 150 years of trapeze history had been unable to perform. Burt Lancaster in the iconic movie “Trapeze” was only attempting a Triple.

Anyway, I watched as the young Wallenda made his four somersaults only to crash to the net after narrowly missing his catch. I was crestfallen but the trick, if that’s the right word, would be accomplished in a live performance years later by Miguel Vazquez of Mexico’s Flying Vazquezes.

To give you an idea of the difficulty, this is from the front-page account in the New York Times of Vazqueze’s feat:

“It takes a rare athlete to complete four midair somersaults while positioning perfectly to be caught by the wrists, but also because of the problem it poses for the catcher. Hanging upside down from his horizontal bar, the catcher must grasp his partner as he spins out of his fourth somersault with explosive speed. The final somersault must be carefully timed so that the force of the fall does not dislocate the catcher’s shoulders. The power of this somersault has been known to strip the skin off the fingers of the aerialist.”

Sort of like electing a Speaker of the House? Not exactly. Sometime the Wallendas worked without a net, as their fatalities testify. Our congressmen hardly ever do. The re-election rate is now above 94 percent.

But there are similarities. For example, counting on a congressman to perform as rehearsed during the election campaign can be risky. The “catch” is often missed or the “catcher” fails to show up on time — if at all.

And yes, they both perform in a circus. — tcl


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