by Pat Hart
A couple of years ago my husband and I took our boys to the circus, not the expensive amazing, gravity defying, no animal Cirque de Soleil, but the traditional Ringling Brother’s-where-the-heck-is-the-SPCA? chintzy, smelly Circus. My guys saw the ads on TV, one every 10 minutes, until they both became obsessed with going. I suspected they’d be terribly disappointed, but what the heck, it was about time they learned to discern the steak from the sizzle. Charlie was 9; Gilby was 5.
We bought expensive seats, there’s no point in taking kids to sit in the peanut gallery; we bought each kid a $10 spinning, shrieking, lighted device and settled down a few rows back from the center ring.
To warm up the crowd, there were clowns, not my favorite. Though they did do this amazing skit of jumping in and out of boxes the size of milk crates. At one point a very tall clown closed himself up in three of these boxes stacked on end. Then when a fat clown “accidentally” tipped the stack of boxes over, the tall clown was gone and three midget clowns rolled out, one from each box, and angrily chased the fat clown out of the arena. It was hilarious, though a little freakish.
Then suddenly the entire arena went pitch black, only faint “exit” signs glowed in the total darkness. All fidgeting and whispering stopped. In the darkness I could feel a cold draft, as though someone had opened a door to the outside and there was a sense of something, something massive moving in pitch black. And then came the smell…the elephants had entered the building.
Suddenly there was a dazzle of light as eight elephants, outlined in tiny Christmas lights, a glittering show girl in a headdress of feathers astride their backs, stood massive, silent and gray not 20 feet from us. Slowly they turned as one and began to RUN around the arena. They were ass to trunk and really booking it. The showgirls on top were waving gracefully as the elephants, wrinkled and saggy, pounded beneath them.
Next came an acrobat troop, an extended Asian family of older men, young women and tiny children. The kids they launched into the air like t-shirts at baseball game. I stopped worrying about the SPCA and wondered: Where were Children and Youth Services?
The highlight of the evening was to be the Mongolian Pony Riders. This was troop of about eight guys dressed like Genghis Khan racing around the center ring on these incredibly speedy small horses. They were vaulting on and off the horses, doing head stands and swinging giant curved swords over their heads. It did not seem safe at all and after the kids being sling shotted to the rafters, I needed a little anxiety break.
I started watching a much tamer event in one of the other rings. There were four large, white horses trotting, rather slowly, around the ring. A man in the center of the ring was encouraging them with long whip he would crack behind their asses whenever they seemed to be slowing down to an actual walk. The horses had four-foot tall sparkly headdresses with giant white feathers that bobbed from their plodding gate. Compared to the Mongolian ponies these old gals looked done in. I started to feel sorry for them, once they’d been in the center ring, the klieg spotlight making their white coats glow. Now, they were strictly third ring entertainers, getting their bums nicked for slacking off. I decided to loyally give them all of my attention, to hell with those pony upstarts in center ring.
Then the man with the whip rolled out four stands. They were round barrels about three-feet tall, the kind that elephants pose on. He placed the four stands in a circle around the middle of the ring. The horses stopped their slow trot and each put his forelegs up on the stand and stood very still.
I was just wondering if I should applaud this very modest feat when the three clown midgets appeared, each leading a miniature horse. The miniature horses ran into the ring and began running around the edge and under the horses standing with their fore legs on the barrels. The four white horses were now merely Pony Bridges.
The phrase: “…and what? Give up show business?” came to mind.
I started to laugh at this ridiculous tragic sight like I had never laughed at anything before in my life. There are still hulls of popcorn wedged deep in my nasal cavities from the very sudden and forceful snort I made that day. Sometimes, late at night, deep in my nasal passages the hull gently vibrates with my breath and makes a sound like a mournful horse nickering for her lost days in the center ring.
The Pony Bridge has become the benchmark of my humor index; things are either funnier (rarely) or not as funny (usually) as them. Why this mix of pathos and absurdity is funny to me…well, that’s a subject for another blog.
PS Sorry no time for proofing! there's wicked lightning storm going on and the lights are flickering. Its post or perish!