HANG THE SEMANTICS

Those of you who regularly read these essays will recall a recent one in which, speaking of my ill-fated boxing career, I remarked in passing that I — like all ex-fighters of even middling quality — can perform a certain physical trick. That trick, having nothing to do with boxing as it happens, is to grab onto a sign-post and hang from it. Horizontally, that is, with torso and extended legs held straight outward, parallel to the ground.

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Wrong kind of pole

From one suspicious … can I say fan? — from one suspicious fan, who happens to live only a few doors down from me, I received the following provocation by text message:

Having us on? Or should I say, “hanging” us on? Please demonstrate, before I bust you to your readers.

I never responded and would have forgotten all about it, had the good neighbor not flagged me down as I cycled past his front yard later that afternoon.

“Ah — right on time.” He pointed gleefully to a no parking sign across the street from his place. “There!”

I shook my head. “Nope, won’t work. It’s gotta be a cylindrical pole, not square-edged like that. It’ll dig into my palms.”

He scanned up and down the block. “OK, how about that one?” Now he was pointing to a bus stop sign, of the very kind mentioned in my essay, on a corner maybe six houses away. He laid his hose nozzle down and began lurching up the sidewalk. I sighed to myself and followed by bike.

I say “sighed” because the prospect of such a demonstration had me worried. For one thing, not having tried this particular feat of acrobatics in some years, I felt doubtful that, despite my boast, I would still be able. For another, even if it were successful but especially if not, the whole neighborhood might bear witness to a sixty-something idiot — adorned in the ludicrous sponsored lycra of the European team I consult for — attempting a trick normally performed at the edges of dusty towns, under droopy strings of lights, by carnies.

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Right kind of pole

“So let’s see what ya got.” He was practically hopping now, cackling snidely, while seeming to glance up and down the street, as if hoping to draw a crowd to my debacle. I handed him my bike and stripped off my half-gloves, which lacked the right grip. Then I set down my helmet and backpack. Clutching the bus sign’s steel post tentatively, perhaps praying just a bit, I slowly lifted my legs into the air.

And by god if it wasn’t working! I could still do it! I was horizontal, my whole body hovering four feet above the pavement and perfectly level. Suppressing grunts, I locked myself into that rigid position and held it steady for twenty, thirty, forty seconds … one minute, two minutes. People walking dogs stopped and gawked. Their dogs stopped and gawked. Finally I lowered myself back to earth and straightened my wind shell, which, responding to gravity, had rotated to a crooked position. I replaced my helmet and backpack, took back the bike.

“Ha!” said my neighbor. “You cheated. I knew it. That’s not hanging. That’s grabbing a pole and making your body stick out sideways.”


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