Gritty in Pink

In a quest for fame and fortune, a unicycling superhero battles the stigma of a troubled past.

As one of nine children, Maxfield was the family exhibitionist and musician. "Mike followed his own path," said his brother, Peter, the only family member whom Maxfield wanted interviewed. "He's unique with a capital U." The others, Maxfield says, don't understand his life choices: "Last time I went back there, I slept in my car in my own hometown."

At 13, Maxfield discovered a unicycle languishing in the family cellar, and tried it out. The learning curve was steep, but soon he was able to pedal it around the neighborhood. He was a sensitive, talented kid, but at school he never felt popular, and by 19, he had tired of Leominster. He packed a few things, unicycle included, and caught a bus to San Francisco.

Once here, he took odd jobs and experimented with acid at Grateful Dead shows — not a great idea, he says now. He and a buddy then moved to Oregon, where he lived in a tepee, became interested in the New Age movement, and wrote and performed songs at Rainbow Gatherings and drum circles. During one unforgettable drum circle, he noticed a beautiful woman sitting across from him. Her name was Myrica. They were married in 1984, and moved to the outskirts of Cave Junction, a small town in southwestern Oregon.

The couple raised four children — Raya, Telos, Lily, and Orion — on 29 acres of land by the Illinois River, and Maxfield maintained the property for its owner. He and Myrica formed a music duo called Myrichael Way, but their gigs didn't pay well, so Maxfield also worked selling vacuums, digging ditches, and clowning on the unicycle (he called himself Jester Max). Near the family's home was an idyllic, isolated swimming hole, and friends often brought their children over for nude bathing.

"It was all very harmless, until something turned inside me, and I started acting weird," Maxfield wrote in his autobiography, which he's been working on for seven years. He says his behavior at the time was totally unacceptable. He won't discuss the details, he says, because he doesn't want to cause additional harm. But newspaper accounts reveal that by 1991, Maxfield had admitted molesting three young girls. Two were the children of friends, for whom he babysat. According to the newspaper story, after the girls fell asleep, Maxfield lightly touched them. When they began to stir, he became horrified by his actions.

In agony over the incident for two months, he finally summoned the nerve to drive to San Francisco for a support workshop, where he told others what he had done. On the way back to Oregon, he considered driving off a cliff, but says a single thought kept him going: "I imagined going on Oprah to speak out to perpetrators, to call them forward to get help."

Upon his return, Maxfield gave a tearful, trembling confession to his wife and the girls' parents. "It was the hardest thing I ever had to do," he remembers. The adults expressed both anger and compassion, and one of the fathers even held Maxfield. It was decided that the town should be informed and that Maxfield should turn himself in to police, although the parents of the girls did not press charges.

Although Maxfield hoped to salvage his marriage, a distance crept in after his confession. Myrica wanted to stay in Cave Junction, but he believed people there thought he was a monster. Although he began private and group therapy and attended a sex addicts' meeting, he eventually fled to Seattle, where he spent long days in a friend's basement, depressed and crying.

Then, for the first time in more than a decade, he returned to Leominster and confided in his youngest brother, Andy, with whom he had always been close. Andy, who had muscular dystrophy, used a wheelchair, so the brothers often took "four and one" rides via wheelchair and unicycle. Maxfield also spent many therapeutic hours dancing on his unicycle to Enigma's "Return to Innocence."

He sometimes pedaled around the town, occasionally doing a pole spin or dancing at red lights. Maxfield was excited when the Worcester Telegram wrote a story on "unicycle man" that ran on his birthday, with a big color photo on the front page. He was then asked to be the mascot at his old high school's Thanksgiving football rally. He dressed as the blue devil on a single wheel, and the lead cheerleader sat on his shoulders. The unpopular schoolboy inside him had a field day, he remembers.

The positive attention started to make Maxfield feel better, and eventually he moved to Eugene, Oregon, to be closer to his kids. There he worked as a smoothie man at a juice bar and as a bartender at a strip club, where he observed the techniques of pole dancing and applied those flirty moves to his own work. Although he was still performing as Jester Max, he didn't like it when people said, "Look at the clown." He wanted to become something unprecedented. On the hunt for a new unicycle persona, Maxfield looked through a catalog of costumes and stumbled on a photograph of a pink unitard. Yes, he thought.

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