I used to subscribe to both Jugglers’ World and Kaskade, two publications dedicated to juggling… It was the 80s, pre-Facebook, pre-Instagram, pre-YouTube, pre-Internet. The only way I had to connect with the global juggling community was through these magazines. As soon as one arrived in my mailbox, I’d drop everything and read it from cover to cover looking for inspiration and affirmation that there were other misfits like me in the world.
After appearing at the European Juggling convention in Louvain la Neuve, Belgium, where he rocked all in attendance by juggling nine rings while standing on top of a free-standing ladder (Holy Crap!), Russian juggler, Gregor Popovich, graced the front cover of Kaskade and then was featured on the poster for the 1987 European Juggling Convention that I attended in Saintes, France. That poster still hangs in my office!
Climb up a ladder that doesn’t lean against anything? That’s insane… But apparently people could do it, so when I attended the 1987 International Jugglers’ Association annual convention in Akron, Ohio, and saw that some people had brought free-standing ladders with them, I took the opportunity to start practicing because the trick, well, it just seemed impossible, and I wanted to be able to do it.
1987–I got my first ladder. 1988–I had another one made. That same year I decided to put little tiny shoes on the bottom of the ladder so it didn’t slip around when I started climbing. It’s been a bit of a trademark ever since.
Without going into too much detail about the technique involved in executing this particular stunt, the moment when I lift my leg over the top run has always been the one thing I dread in my show… I’ve been performing the trick for over thirty years, but it still gives me the willies. Yet every show I go up and attempt… With a 97% success rate, it’s a nice reminder to face one’s fears head on and stay focused on the positive.
Do anything long enough and that pesky 3% will show it’s ugly face… One time I came off the ladder and popped an inguinal hernia… That wasn’t fun. Another time I came down unexpectedly and caused soft tissue damage to the entire left-side of my body… But those are the exceptions, not the rule…
None of this has anything to do with why I opted to tribute my own career as a performer with a hefeweizen. I made my first batch of Hefe when I was first started kegging my beer. I have vivid memories of grabbing a pint, walking into the back yard, and communing with the hop yard. Inevitably one pint would lead to two because it was just such an easy-drinking beer. I also loved the fact that hefeweizen as a style uses a yeast strain that’s said to produce notes of banana and bubblegum. Because bananas are such an iconic emblem for slap-stick comedy, I wanted to have that association in my beer. There’s German heritage on my Dad’s side of the family, so that was a nice tie-in, and adding ‘Checker’ to weizen seemed to flow nicely.
I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary with this beer… Just stuck to the parameters that are classic for the style, which is much like my career as a juggler… I wasn’t so much of an innovator as a hard worker. Do what works, do it to the best of your ability, and do it a lot. That’s been my secret to success. That and remembering to have fun and every-so-often attempt the impossible, like transitioning from a career in juggling to becoming a aspiring brew master.
“I’ve got to be honest…I don’t like ladders, and I’ll tell you why–they’re always UP to something!”
–The Checkerboard Guy (Thanks to Andre King for writing that joke for me!)