Don’t Drop It


LOCATION Upper West Side

RENT $3,200 [market]

SQUARE FEET 1,125 [four rooms in pre-war building]

Look at you, balancing a pin on your nose. [Cindy] This apartment is not the ideal place for juggling. [Carter] The ceilings are a little low. [Cindy] This is a seven-ball ceiling. A seven ball-ceiling is not true in every apartment. [She tosses a pin to Carter.] Oooooh. A triple spin here is pushing it because the ceiling was just repainted. [Carter] We can do boxes here.

Oops, you dropped one. But otherwise you’re always perfect. It’s a lateral thing, clacking them in place. That’s why we do boxes on cruise ships. They’re low. [Cindy] These are the clubs I decorated to celebrate my father’s retirement from Columbia and Barnard. He’s a physicist. He’s the one who got me started juggling, completely by accident. He knew how to do three tricks with three balls, but he didn’t know how he knew. My grandmother was Gertrude Tonkonogy. She wrote Three-Cornered Moon. [Carter] It was a big hit in the early ’30s. [Cindy] Ruth Gordon played the lead. The woman who played Auntie Em was in it. My grandmother was the one who taught my father to juggle.

What’s the connection between juggling and physics? Juggling is the physical demonstration of the laws of physics. I am the only American who’s juggled in Los Alamos and Nagasaki. Los Alamos, where they built the atom bomb . . . [Carter] We get a good turnout there because there are so many physicists. [Cindy] Japan hires lots of jugglers.

Did you go to juggling college? [Carter] I went to Ringling Brothers Clown College in ’80. [Cindy] I went to Oberlin. Then I was a student at the Antic Arts Academy. They had to rebel against Ringling. [Carter] Ringling was like the Harvard of clown colleges.

Let’s toss the pin to you, Carter. I grew up at 92nd and West End. My father was a photographer; he did the cover of Vogue in the ’60s. I was in a mime troupe at the University of Vermont. They said, Either you learn to juggle or we’re throwing you out of the troupe. Within three months, I was better than anyone else. Juggling is like walking along and falling into a hole. You never get out. [Cindy] We met in the hole. [Carter] Cindy was taking a workshop in Maine. [Cindy] Paris, Maine. [Carter] I was rehearsing about a mile away. Three years later, I hired her. [Cindy] The love part happened during rehearsal. We were doing serious juggling.

What are you staring at when you’re juggling? You’re focusing on the peak. [Carter] You’re peripherally catching all the props in your field of vision before you physically catch them in your hands.

You can’t be butterfingers. Why is it now that all these affluent families are sending their children to circus school? I’m not speaking of you, who developed your juggling as an art in an earlier time. Historically, circuses were about the remains of society, the freaks. In terms of power, these traveling troupes in their wagons owned no land; they were not rooted in property or financial power. In that movie Trapeze, Biddle, in his tank top, is brooding about the triple spin. Lola the tumbler wants to get in on the act. Who would want their children in such a life? What happened to ballet? A lot of the schools are in exotic places. I think it’s the influence of Cirque de Soleil.

All those slippery leotards. So this non-language-based global theater that can appeal to massive audiences and play forever until everyone drops from hanging on ropes—that’s what brought circus life into the home. [Cindy] I remember being a kid, getting from two balls to three. At music day school, the teacher took away my tennis balls. She said, “When you juggle, the other children get excited. I can’t control them.” Then I’d wrap peach pits in aluminum foil. [Carter] You know the way I get Cindy up in the morning. I spin my diablo ropes though my legs. I’m naked and I get her full attention.