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A Night at the Circus
The circus came to town today, and we decided it would be fun to take the kids. I haven't been to the circus since I was very little, and I believe I was sick on the one occasion, so my memory of it is fuzzy, so my concept of a circus is based mostly on what I've seen on TV: the big, elaborate Ringling Bros-style shows.
When we walked through the the doors of the indoor pavilion at the county fairground, I was surprised at how small everything was. There was one ring in the center with four-tiered wooden bleachers on three sides, some room on the ground for kids to sit, and an area for concessions and souvenirs. It occurred to me, though, that this is probably more along the lines of what circuses have traditionally been: small-scale circus families, travelling from small town to small town by caravan.
I found myself enchanted by all the classic circus cliches: the ringmaster with his BIG, DRAMATIC VOICE; the hard, creaky wooden bleachers; the little bags of peanuts (with the shells still on). All of the standard circus acts were present: the lion and tiger trainer, acrobats, elephants, jugglers, Argentinian Gauchos, camels, and a canine RE-vue.
And then there was the most sacred of all circus traditions: the commitment to making a buck in any way possible. Between every act the ringleader was loudly hocking light-up toys, souvenir whips, authentic circus peanuts, elephant rides, photos with the elephants, balloons, and coloring books. At the end of each pitch he would declare, "Just FIVE DOLLARS! If you want one, RAISE YOUR HAND!" at which 100 little hands would shoot into the air.
I loved it. I loved the genuine self-promotion of it. I loved the unironic tackiness of it all. I even loved the shameless pushing of overpriced crap. I loved it because I think this is what travelling circuses have always been: a wild way to bring some rare entertainment to a small town and part the residents from as much of their money as possible in the process.
What I've neglected to mention so far, though, is that it really was a good show. The lions and tigers (some of them white lions and tigers) were very impressive to see parading around, performing tricks, and all that. The acrobats performed cool feats made even more impressive by their ages: most of them seemed to be the children of the men and women running the circus. One girl kept 55 hula hoops in motion, which is much more amazing when you see her do it and realize that the combined size of all 55 hoops is probably larger than the 12-year-old herself.
There was such a variety of talent and exotic animals that I began to wonder how they manage to make a living playing to such small crowds. Even with most of them performing multiple jobs and even the ringleader grabbing a bunch of balloons or an armload of whips to sell during the intermission, I just don't see how they earn enough money in a show to cover expenses.
I'm glad that there are still people doing this though: raising a family of circus performers, taking their show from town to town, bringing some excitement and wonder everywhere they go.