Wayne Bodenheimer III FRANK METHE PHOTOGRaPHPity the modern, harried, burnt to a frazzle, counseled to a dweeb, medicated into tranquility teenager: juggling home life, juggling school life, juggling a social life, juggling a job. In the end, the perpetual juggling evokes the teenage standby – “Life sucks!”
No such problem for Jacob Sherry. This lanky, 18-year-old Algiers native looks forward to every sunrise because he juggles, well, just about anything he can get his hands on.
Sherry stands near the fountain at the St. Charles Avenue entrance to Audubon Park. He has four white and red juggling clubs going: two in the air, one in his left hand, another coming over his right shoulder.
“Man, that guy’s good!” A shaggy -haired 13-year-old on a skateboard says to his wheeled buddies. “I seen a guy at the circus do that with knives one time, but the circus guy wasn’t as good as this dude!” Even a bride-to-be in full wedding gown regalia, replete with flowing lacy train and photographer in tow, looking for that just-right sun dappled oak tree, must stop and admire Sherry.
“I’ve been juggling about eight years, I guess,” Sherry says, never taking his eyes off the flying clubs. “I got started when I met a guy who had a juggling booth at the French Market. He was a friend of a friend, and this guy was good. I was fascinated that he could do that. I was hooked. He offered to show me the basics and I picked it right up. That’s really how it is. To get better, it’s practice. You’ve got to keep practicing the hand and eye movements. It’s a rhythm and that rhythm takes a lot of practice. Over and over and over. That’s the part that’s not really glamorous … but that’s the way it is. There is no other way.”
The colored clubs seem to fly in every direction, but somehow always come back for a nanosecond to their originating point on Sherry’s fingers before taking off into space again. It’s all ordered and timely and, rhythmic. For that reason, you know it takes a special person to command such order. And this kid is that special person. He isn’t your average high school student who spends his time playing fantasy football, all the while trying to decide which college offers the best accounting curriculum.
With a handful of fellow members of the New Orleans Juggling Club in the background tossing rings, balls and just about anything else “juggable,” Sherry takes a break and stretches his long legs in front of one of the metal benches that surround the fountain.
He lets on to how he was born in New Hampshire but moved to New Orleans when he was eight weeks old, and how he has never spent a second in a high school classroom setting anywhere – he’s been homeschooled by his mother since pre-kindergarten. Dad, Sherry, is an ornithologist who teaches at Tulane and mom, who has a degree in “bat biology,” stays home to homeschool him and give violin lessons. Sister and dad belong to the New Orleans Unicycle Club and they all get together frequently for a little unicycle polo or just to one-wheel it up and down the levees. And, the family that joins the New Orleans Unicycle Club, like the Sherrys, stays together – so much for the Knights of Columbus and the KC Ladies Auxiliary.
While many high school-age kids find their first jobs behind the counter at McDonald’s or bagging groceries at Winn-Dixie, Jacob Sherry juggles for whomever will pay him.
“Right now, juggling is still a hobby with me … one that I love, but still a hobby,” Sherry says. “Mostly, I love getting together with these guys [New Orleans Juggling Club]. That in itself is a lot of reward. But juggling is also a job with me. I perform juggling at conventions and corporate events. Last night, I did a job at the Intercontinental Hotel with a friend of mine. I’ve worked medical conventions, technology and science conventions, Mardi Gras balls – Endymion is a big one. My agents provide the costumes which fit the assignment. It could be black pants, white shirt and a vest or it could be elaborate. I’ll work about three times a month and a usual performance lasts about 15 minutes. I have two agents. They get calls asking for performers for conventions. [Hurricane] Katrina really killed things for me. When we got back into town in December, there was very little work. It picked up, then it slacked off. But in September, things seemed to get back to normal and work has really picked up in the past couple of months.”
All of this, of course, says that this is not your average “let’s send out for a pizza and watch home movies” type family.
The thought sinks in and Sherry lets out a hearty laugh.
“Well, now that I’m 18, homeschooling has pretty much ended,” he says. “Right now I’m applying to colleges – 12 in all so far. I’m going to study film. I haven’t decided yet whether it will be documentary or entertainment. Oh, I had thought about going to circus arts school. Years ago, we used to go to New England to vacation during the summer. Some friends of mine were going to a circus camp and I had nothing else to do so I just went along. They told us we could try whatever we wanted, trapeze, juggling, wire walking – a whole variety of things. I took juggling because, since that time at the French Market, I had become fairly good at it. I focused on that. I even thought about getting a college diploma in circus arts from L’École Nationale de Cirque [a circus arts school in Montreal] but I knew that my future was in film. I think the reason I finally chose film was not only because I love that medium, but because it parallels juggling in a way. It’s show business. It’s performing for people. Entertaining them. Right now my top choices are NYU [New York University] and Hampshire College – a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts.”
“Hey dude!” the shaggy haired kid asks, “Ever juggle while doing a ramp on a board?”
Sherry shakes his head and laughs and admits he is becoming proficient at wire walking – six feet off the ground … without a net. But the thought of riding a unicycle across the wire while juggling machetes has never even crossed his mind.
“I don’t really want to try to combine all of that,” he says. “Juggling is my pleasure. I love it. Even if I became a surgeon, I’d still juggle … every day. It’s part of me now.”
A call goes out from one of the members of the New Orleans Juggling Club on the other side of the fountain: “Let’s go grab a pizza!”
Juggling’s over till another day, but options are still up in the air.