Hubbub in a Bubble
Saturday, May 6, 2006
NEW YORK, May 5
The eight-foot Plexiglas sphere, filled with 2,000 gallons of warm salt water, sits in the middle of Lincoln Center Plaza. On this clear spring day it sparkles pale blue like an enormous shooter marble. David Blaine is inside this giant aquarium, tethered to an oxygen hose and floating around like a giant Sea-Monkey. The only things missing are fuchsia rocks, fake coral reefs and a plastic treasure chest.
Blaine, whom some call an illusionist, submerged himself in the tank at 1 p.m. on May 1. He will remain under water, hooked up to his breathing apparatus, until Monday evening. Then he will, on live television, be entangled in 150 pounds of chains. He will relinquish his oxygen mask and attempt to free himself while also holding his breath for nine minutes. He will try very hard not to die on live TV.
"Well, he's not breaking the law," correctly notes the nonjudgmental Mary Rhodd, who is visiting from Des Moines. She is taking in the Blaine spectacle for the second time this week after rounding up her son and daughter-in-law for a look-see.
"It's not a negative thing," she says. "So why not?"
Possible brain damage during the finale is one deterrent. After human skin sits in a tank of water for an extended period of time, it starts to get all bleached out, thin, wrinkled, blistered and fragile. It hurts. It looks profoundly disgusting. And there are all those people standing around, staring and taking pictures like they're at the zoo. There was a traffic jam of elementary-school kids on the plaza, nannies with their toddler charges, mommies creating Bugaboo gridlock. You just know they'd feed Blaine peanuts if they could.
Friday morning, there's a line of about 50 people waiting to climb onto a platform that abuts the sphere. From there, viewers take pictures with their cell phones, give Blaine the thumbs-up sign and press their hands against the tank in solidarity with the man inside whose sanity is repeatedly questioned by many of those standing on the plaza.
"I just wanted to come see the sheer level of stupidity," says Joe Rhodd, who is Mary Rhodd's son and proof that a nonjudgmental attitude does not necessarily run in families. "Why the hell else would you sit in a bubble?"
Money, notoriety, attention, the feeling of being invincible . . . boredom?
If the idea of a human being pretending to be a fish sounds strange, the sight of such a thing is bizarre. Let's just dispense with political correctness, niceties and diplomacy and call this what it is: an old-fashioned freak show. Bring on the bearded lady.
Blaine's sphere sits just off Broadway and is a stone's throw from Juilliard, the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera and a host of other high-minded and august institutions. It is a tantalizing juxtaposition.