Sawdust Memories

My lover and I go to the circus every time it comes to town. It's because I'm enchanted by the ballet-slippered nymph who stands on the bare back of the serious white stallion as he gallops round

My lover and I go to the circus every time it comes to town. It's because I'm enchanted by the ballet-slippered nymph who stands on the bare back of the serious white stallion as he gallops round the center ring; my lover because she despises the same woman (both for her grace and her skill) and hopes to be there the night she takes a crippling, career-ending fall.

And so, once again, ultimately, the circus will be fun for only one of us.

We sit in darkness. "Lay-dies and gen-tell-men," the ringmaster crows from his lonely spot of light, "behold the splen-door, the gran-door of the Pah-rade of Staaaaars." With a wave of his hand, the big top is instantly bathed in brilliant brightness. Revealed is the entire troupe ­ every acrobat, artiste, clown, animal and trainer ­ circling the floor's perimeter, passing the stands for review. All of them, remarkably, walking in reverse. When I comment on this exceptional feat, my lover tells me my contact lenses are in backwards.

Though gaily dressed, the clowns are a disappointment. Instead of amusing their audience with acts of buffoonery, they explain to us ­ at length and with the aid of overheads and handouts ­ the theory, historical context and psychology of finding humor in the exaggerated and preposterous behavior of others. Later, I read in the program that these merry-andrews are not only graduates of Clown College but of Clown Grad School.

Our collective attention is directed to a fine and fearless couple 90 feet above the sawdust floor. They dazzle us with their mastery of high wire-walking. Astonish us with some high wire-rope-skipping. Astound us with high wire-bicycling. Begin to lose us with high wire-juggling. Exasperate us with high wire-Parcheesi playing. And, eventually, earn our contempt with high wire-tax accounting, high wire-Web page designing, high wire-accepting a package from UPS, high wire-tire rotation and high wire-wireless phone calling.

The bawl of the wild jungle cats. The ripplingly muscled young men in sequins. The dizzying potpourri of barked commands, swirling hot lights and musky scents. Why am I suddenly reminded of the curious weekend I spent with Siegfried and Roy all those years ago?

In the third ring stands an enormous cannon, its barrel long as a train car, its bore broad as a man's shoulders. But instead of the Human Cannonball we expect, the ringmaster introduces Charlton Heston, who comes out and gives a short talk on how Congressional Democrats want to take away an individual's right to own this gun, even though it's used mostly for hunting.

Everything under the big top fills me with much wonder. A wonder that spawns large questions. Like: What are the physical limitations of the human body? Does superior intelligence make man the master of all beasts or their caretakers? Should a hot dog have a skeleton?

The ballet-slippered angel performs flawlessly, captivating the audience. Then, just as she's finishing her act, at a most critical and precarious moment, I draw an air horn from my coat pocket and give a loud, long blast. The stallion flinches. The girl falters. Pitches forward. Falls beneath thundering hooves. Ligaments snap. With the sound of harp strings.

My lover kisses my cheek. Calls me a romantic. She would know.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.