Across the street from the Palm Beach Kennel Club, royal palms stand like sentries under a blue sky striated with cumulus clouds. People scrimp and save for years to live in Palm Beach Colony Mobile Home Park, but Cynthia Morrison is trying to escape.
In the clubhouse, within sight of a sparkling sapphire hot tub and pool, Morrison writhes and wiggles her way to freedom. It's a mere 120-second struggle, but first things first: She must liberate her hair. (Isn't that always the way?)
Ah yes, the hair. Morrison is tall and broad-shouldered. Though her imposing frame is enveloped in a white canvas straitjacket, her hair is her iconic feature because, number one, it's blond, and number two, it's the luxuriant length favored by late-'70s celebrities and Polynesian dancers.
Morrison is neither. She runs a foreign-car repair shop in West Palm Beach. But today she is the Amazing Cindini, a self-taught escape artist whose Crystal Gayle tresses are tangled in a length of steel chain. In fact, she will later admit, this happens a lot.
Cindini pauses, lets out her breath, and sweeps her golden mane to the side so it cascades from one shoulder like that of a medieval maiden, or if you prefer, an angel. "I like it," she mutters, stifling a smile, "the Farrah Fawcett look."
Few among us count our hobbies as literal expressions of our psychic yearnings. Morrison has always prized power and freedom. Her pursuits, it seems, reflect this: "No kids, no pets, no debts," she likes to say.
Among her neighbors at the Congress Avenue mobile home court, Cindini stands out a bit. The place went 55-and-over a few years after she arrived in 1990 and she was grandfathered in. It was a change of pace, she says: "Most of what I do in life is muscling my way out."
Her handcuffs, shackles, and chains provoke the obvious sadomasochism jokes. Comeons come with the territory, which is not what it seems. (Is it ever?) "To me, [escape artistry] is the anti-bondage. You're not enjoying being in restraints, you're focusing on getting out. The applause is the turn-on."
Growing up in West Palm Beach, the turn-on was power and speed, Cindini says. She adored the Lone Ranger and competed in barrel racing. By high school she was winning medals in the hammer throw, a track and field event. She continued competing while studying criminology at Palm Beach Community College. In 1993 her lifelong fascination with medieval myth prompted her to participate in the Highland games at Treasure Island, Florida. She jousted, tossed the caber -- a tree trunk ranging from 15 to 17 feet in length and weighing 75 to 120 pounds -- and threw stones and hammers. It was the realization of a childhood dream, and in 1994 Morrison says she became the first woman ever to compete in Scotland's 1500-year-old Highland Games.
She was also the American Jousting Association's International Women's Champion in both 1999 and 2000, for which she won a plaque and a shield, respectively. A few years ago she was asked to pick a nickname to use in jousting competitions. She chose Bold Wolf, a translation from German of her maiden name, Baldauf. (Although she divorced in 1990, she keeps her ex-husband's last name in everyday life because it's more familiar to most people. "Morrison," she tells them, "like the cafeteria.")
Like skateboarders and rock climbers, Morrison sees challenges in the landscape. To stay in shape for power lifting, a sport in which she has won several national titles, she used to engage in "spontaneous training" -- going out into the woods and hefting as many large boulders as she could find. Once, three or four years ago, as she and a date were about to pass a construction site, she told him to pull over so she could test her strength. When the parking lot at Lake Worth Beach was being refurbished, she found another opportunity: "I stopped right there and had to go start lifting railroad ties."
Despite her displays of strength, in everyday life, Morrison is demure. "She's a very soft-spoken, quiet, feminine lady," says friend Larry Gluck. "She just happens to like physicality."
Morrison hasn't done any powerlifting for about a year, a respite not brought on by injury. No, she explains dryly: "I'm 41."
Her online scrapbook (www.palmbeachweb.com/boldwolf) illustrates her stunts, which are accomplished against a backdrop of far-flung natural environments and captioned with the giddy exuberance of a high school yearbook: "Who asked for the barrel of fun?" reads one, as Morrison holds a wooden barrel aloft. "Love those railroad ties!" says another.
There's Morrison in an ankle-length black lace dress, grimacing as she hoists a hunk of New England granite. There she is again, wrestling with a Florida gator and a California boulder. And, in a photo taken, naturally, in Palm Beach County, she tows a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III with a rope.
"You challenge yourself when you try something new," she says, her deep voice more molasses than honey. Such was the spirit at work a couple of years ago when she wandered into Mr. A's Magic Shop in West Palm Beach for some medieval-warrior face paint. When a salesman performed card and coin tricks, she started yawning. Similarly she was unimpressed with the escapes he did for her, so she wound up buying a straitjacket and making up her own.
Straitjacket sales are rare, says the shop's owner, Richard Adler, also known as The Amazing Mr. A. At about $200 each, he sells one, maybe two, per year. They have to be special-ordered from a Seattle company and are all but obsolete these days. "They don't even use them in mental hospitals anymore," Adler laughs. Made of white cotton canvas and cinched by untanned leather straps, the straitjacket is as unforgiving as a Chinese finger trap. "The more you struggle," he warns, "the tighter it gets."
Indeed, in a straitjacket escape, as in life itself, sheer effort does not always yield success: "With escape, I've put the least amount of work into it and gotten the greatest response," Morrison observes. "It's more of what people are familiar with."
In the two years since that magical day at the shop, Cindini has studied books and built a repertoire of escapes. At the moment, though, her gigs are scattered and infrequent. She's performed five times, twice at semipro wrestling tournaments held at the West Palm Beach strip mall where Mr. A's Magic Shop is located. The best of the other three was in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she did a challenging rope escape.
Blindfolded and handcuffed, she makes her way out of a body bag. Chained and handcuffed, she frees herself from a locked box. Her signature stunt is getting out of a straitjacket while suspended upside down from a crane.
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Cindini plots her performances carefully, right down to the music and costumes. She's even found a voice recording of her hero, the legendary escapologist Harry Houdini, and hopes to incorporate it into a show.
Nightclubs, like the ones on Clematis Street, would be a particularly appropriate venue for her act, she believes, because it owes more to entertainment than athleticism. Still, she insists there is no illusion, but she won't reveal how, exactly, these things are done. "It's against my oath," she says, referring to the vow she took to become a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
And though escapology is related to magic, Morrison is quick to make a distinction. "Illusion is "Alakazam! Presto-change-o!' I only do escape. I don't do illusion."
She doesn't do hyperbole either, which is why the name Amazing Cindini is just for gigs. Her magic-shop friends gave it to her, and she winces when people mistakenly refer to her as the Great Cindini. It sounds too much like the Great Houdini, a comparison she doesn't feel is fair. "I don't want to be a fantasy character," she insists. "I want to be myself."