The Human Cannonball
by Irv Pliskin
I watched in awe as GOGO the Magnificent got shot out of a cannon into a flimsy net. His act was one of the few free features of the New York World’s Fair in 1940.
Four times a day, he would don his helmet, climb up the ladder, stand on a skimpy platform and then, fearlessly crawl into the barrel of a very big gun.
Just before he would slide out of sight, he would wave to the hundreds of people who were watching, then put his hands together over his head, like a diver, and vanish.
Recorded drums would roll.
Zlata, his assistant, a slim, busty, scantily clad lady would stand at attention on the platform. Her shockingly skimpy uniform was tight at the bust and behind. Zlata would salute the cannon in which GOGO was enclosed, pour gunpowder, slam the breech shut. She would light the long fuse with a burning taper and stand back. The drum beats counted the seconds.
Zlata counted them backwards, the way they now do at Cape Canaveral, and then there was an ear shattering explosion. GOGO bursts out of the muzzle of the gun, arms outstretched, hands clasped, in the diving position, head buried in his arms. As soon as he was free from the gun and in the air, he would curl into a ball and somehow manage to fall into the net with a hell of a wallop. The tent pole supported net shivered and shook.
GOGO would uncurl, stand up, wave to the assembled, bow and then, grabbing the edge of the net, roll out to the ground.
It was a masterful, magnificent breathtaking performance.
I watched this at least twice a day, more if I could. I was just a kid working at the New York World's Fair, at an extravaganza called American Jubille. I was a candy butcher selling popcorn, candy, coke and ice cream in between shows.
GOGO was a feature Free attraction. He was called GOGO well before the words began to have their current meaning of a somewhat inexhaustible, perhaps arousing, nearly naked dancer in a smoke filled bar.
GOGO was awash in admirers. Young females would cluster around him as he made his drop to the ground from the net. They were impressed by his prowess and the acrid smell of gunpowder that enveloped him like two dollar a quart perfume from Woolworth's five and ten cent store.
He would bow, and speak to them in a foreign accent. I seemed to believe it was gypsy. Then he would stroll arrogantly to his trailer to await the next performance. There he would be met by the scantily clad Zlata who would hiss nastily at the nubiles who followed GOGO to his dressing room trailer. Together they would go into the haven of the trailer to await the next show.
One afternoon, Zlata went off to do something else on the midway, and GOGO was followed into the trailer by one of the nubile admirers. When Zlata came back, she found the trailer door securely locked, from the inside.
She was remarkable. She neither stormed nor ranted. She didn’t even knock on the door with vigor.
I watched as she shrugged her shoulders, wiped an errant tear from her eye and then walked away.
I watched, with youthful fascination. I wasn’t sure what was going on in the trailer, but I could guess.
A little while later, I looked up from my work to see a determined Zlata, strolling casually to the safety net. She tested the support poles, as he had sometimes done. And then, I watched in surprise as she loosened the taut supports that kept the net up. She did this at both ends, wiped her hands as if celebrating a job well done, and strolled away.
I got busy, and was not aware of her coming back or of the young thing in the trailer leaving .
Two hours later the show went on again.
The same sense of excitement, the drums, GOGO slides in to the gun, waving as he does so. Zlata, his assistant, stands erect, in her revealing costume, loads the gunpowder, slams the breech and then as the drums roll, sets the fuse afire.
The gun goes off, GOGO in his blaze of color comes out of the cannon, rolls into his ball and lands heavily into the net. It teeters for a moment, and then collapses. GOGO crashes to the ground amid the shrieks and cries of the audience.
He lays there, supine, unmoving. Every one rushes to his side. He groans in pain and distress, then lets flow a torrent of language which no one can understand. He is made to lay there until the ambulance arrives and the attendants check him over carefully. "Looks like a broken arm and leg," one of them says.
"He’ll survive. Let’s get him to the doc."
"How the hell can anybody do anything like that?" another asks.
"Jesus, must take guts."
"Nah, it has got to be a trick," one of them says. "It must be."
"Yeah, well this time it backfired."
Moaning and lamenting drying crocodile tears, Zlata followed them to the ambulance as it sped off.
There were no more shows that day. The announcement posters had a banner that said, canceled because of ACCIDENT .
But, when I got to the Fair in the morning, the day’s performances were posted. The human cannonball would be shot from the gun four times that day as usual.
When the time came for the show, I was fascinated to see Zlata show up in the ‘flying uniform’. It was tight fitting and showed every curve, every mouthwatering detail of her figure. She strolled around the net, tested the poles and the ropes to make sure they were very tight and then climbed up to the perch that was usually GOGO’S domain.
GOGO himself, now dressed like one of those toy Christmas soldiers with a high brimmed hat, and crossed white belts on a red uniform hobbled on a crutch to the firing platform. His arm was in a sling and a cast, but it did not prevent him from loading the cannon with powder, and as the drums rolled light the fuse and stand back at attention.
The gun fired, Zlata shot out of the barrel, rolled into a ball and hit the net quite satisfactorily. She stood up, bowed and rolled to the ground. A breathtaking performance!
She walked to the injured GOGO, and as he offered his powdered cheek to her, she kissed him tenderly, and then they both sauntered to the trailer and the door closed. I could hear the locks fall into place.
They seemed, both of them, to get a bang out of life.
Irv Pliskin is a retired advertising agency owner. He is a combat veteran of World War II and an Ex Prisoner of War of the Germans. Married, with three kids, and four grandchildren he devotes his time to writing flash fiction. He hopes, that someday, he may become the Grandma Moses of flash fiction. He lives with his wife of 57 years in Cherry Hill,NJ. Contact Irv.