stung by fate
The blame for Millie Skarsblad’s
demise…that question seems to keep popping up. The eagerness
of the crowd, her naiveté, my negligence, all of these
are well wide of the mark. I know; I was there. We never remember
the experts discussing the mundane facts: her cotton candy-covered
fingers, the large hornet’s nest left by the Ferris
wheel crew to grow unchecked at the hub of the ride. It always
has to be a person. Someone to blame.
I’ll have a beer, thanks.
I have to say that it was interesting
to work for Ms. Skarsblad, though not necessarily what I had
in mind studying English Language and Political Science in
university. I had envisioned myself translating for the diplomatic
corps, or working with the Danish delegation to the E.U.,
not managing and translating for the world’s foremost
one-legged tap-dancer (probably the only one: I was never
able to ascertain the fact of that matter). Still, in a world
craving novelty, the Platinum Pogo Girl was a rising star,
one easy way into public life. Her second world tour brought
her perhaps inevitably to the Midwestern United States, where
her Danish nationality played strongly among the fields of
swaying wheat, soybeans, corn and the hordes of Scandinavians.
The Minnesota State Fair was to be one
of the highlights of the tour. The showcase revue, Stømpen,
was well received critically, but here would come the popular
exposure needed to move into the Riverdance realm. Fresh from
our WCCO interview, with all the obligatory questions about
lutefisk and whether we felt at home (certainly not…where
was the ocean?), Millie leaned over to me and said she wanted
to see the midway, maybe generate some buzz for the evening
She was a sensation off the stage as well
as on. I know it seems as though her unusual physiology wouldn’t
captivate without the trappings of a show, but the way she
hopped everywhere on her hypertrophied single leg, like a
mermaid with a foot…they ate that up.
“Sven, let’s show them how
high I can jump! Or how far! Get some people to lay down and
I’ll hop them!” She was always eager to impress
her fans, passers-by, really anyone at all.
It was strange, you know, being a highly
trained interpreter asking people to “please, yes, we
ask for volunteers to lay down here on the ground.”
It couldn’t be helped, though; she loved to show her
stuff, loved the attention.
“Sven, we must stop. I want some
of that fluffy sugar!”
“Yes, whatever it is called…get
“Sure.” I stood in line, while
she signed autographs and feigned ignorance of what people
said to her. “No good English,” she’d say,
with a wink to me. Almost every European knows some English.
It was at times like these I felt like a failure, like I was
wasting my life shepherding a circus freak.
Then I saw something I’d never seen
before. Perhaps the one thing that humanity owes to the American
State Fair is the variety of foodstuffs available on a stick.
And I had seen it…alligator-on-a-stick. Alligator? Did
people really eat alligator? I determined to get some just
as soon as I had Millie’s cotton candy.
Sure, I’ll take another.
As I have stated for the record
on so many occasions, it was while in line that Millie made
her fateful decision. “Sven, I’ve had a wonderful
idea! Look at the Ferris wheel…it is all metal and enclosed.
What do you think about doing one rotation with the enclosure
wired for sound and my tap boot on? It would be amazing, wouldn’t
it? The whole fair below us, the rhythm…”
The unbearable noise, I continued
in my head. “Sounds good. When do you want to do this?
You have to get to the dressing rooms in three hours for makeup.”
“Oh, tell them now, tell them
that I want to do it now!”
I relayed her request to our Fair
escorts. How was I to know that she would be whisked away
while I was still in line? I was just paying for my food when
I heard the first rhythmic clangs sound.
From a strictly aesthetic perspective,
the idea was a hit. The acoustics of the steel gondola really
brought a nice tonal range to Millie’s frenetic rhythm.
The Danish Dynamo at her best, with the whole midway looking
up. No sign of trouble could be ascertained as she neared
the top, the rhythm increasing. Thinking back now, I keep
imagining a stutter, some definite spot where I knew something
had happened, but I know it isn’t true. Even as the
tapping slowed on the descent, her tapping was intricate,
polyrhythmic joy. A true show person.
During his testimony at the insurance
trial, Dr. Marvin Gloustenbury, entomologist and expert on
hornets, was quoted as saying that the combination of the
tapping vibrations and the sweet scent of cotton candy on
Millie’s hands and face created a “kind of perfect
storm of hornet aggravation and attraction.” Her finest
performance, her whimsical treat…a summer day of fun
conspiring to her downfall. I still think about that.
Anaphylactic shock is not a pretty
way to go. As the car slowly swung back to the platform, the
tapping was feeble. The attendants opened the door and we
all were stunned. There, swollen almost beyond recognition,
the Mono-Thighed Marvel tried gamely to tap from the floor.
I reached for the epi-pen in my pocket, and jabbed it into
that huge single thigh. Too late.
I still think about that…I
haven’t done any translating since. Just teaching Danish
at these damn language camps, trying to move on, you know?
Don’t get me wrong, the kids are fun and all, but, and
I never thought I’d say this; I actually miss it. The
life with the dance show, the touring, I miss it.
Get me another beer.