The Magic of Television: A magician, a biker and a motorcycle girl -- and none of us what we seem

Sandra Beasley's first book,
Sandra Beasley's first book, "Theories of Falling," won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize. (Courtesy Author)
By Sandra Beasley
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hey. Hey, girl!" A guy was waving his clipboard at me. I crossed Kalorama Park, slowing a safe 10 feet away. "We need someone to ride on the back of a motorcycle. Can you do that?"

"Yes," I said reflexively. I had no idea what was going on, but it had to be better than a morning spent drinking office coffee out of an office mug. At age 24, I'd recently reluctantly surrendered my crazy student ways to the reality of a full-time job. Goodbye, midnight concerts; hello, 10 a.m. staff meetings. But maybe I didn't look as boring as I felt. "Um, where will we be riding to?"

"Not far." He handed me a waiver to sign. This turned out to be an episode of an A&E magic show, featuring Harley "The Bizarrist" Newman. Harley's talents included lying on a bed of nails while supporting unbelievable weights -- including a one-ton Harley-Davidson, the driver and me -- in a stunt called "Harley & Harley." I stepped onto a temporary stage as a PA announced to the gathering crowd: "Meet Sandra, our motorcycle girl."

People applauded. Someone whistled. I waved giddily before remembering that I was a biker chick, not Miss America. I put my hand on my hip and tried to look aloof.

As the crew set up spotlights, I eyed my new cast mates. Harley, in all black, was holding an apple over the bed of nails. He dropped the fruit and its flesh spit into the air. Five women waited to stand on him, two balancing precariously on stilettos. Was this for real?

I tiptoed to the bed of nails and hunkered down, pressing my hand against it. Real.

"Want to try it?" Harley asked. He took a bite from an apple with visible spear-holes.

"Sure." In for a penny, in for a punctured sternum. He explained that I should distribute my weight over as many nails as possible. Slowly ... sitting ... down ... I yelped as the nails bit me.

"You might want to approach it laterally," he said. "And a bit quicker."

After three crablike tries and a modified limbo dip, I was on the bed. I had imagined this would be a Zen moment. Instead, 300 nails bored through my shirt's flimsy material.

"Smile!" called out the director. "Look like you enjoy it."

"I'm not that good an actress," I said to Harley. So much for being a yogi. I retreated toward the motorcycle, content to be a biker chick. Steve, the driver, had a shaved head, three layers of muscle and a leather vest; the director had said he'd worked with Stallone.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company