There ought to be clowns
Quick, send in the clowns.
In the small town where I grew up -- in the early years, before we had television -- we looked forward to two major entertainments every year. The Carnival and the Circus.
I remember carnivals best, because we were active and excitable kids, and could hardly wait to climb on all the rides. The circus was a slower, more contemplative form of entertainment.
Both were touring shows that came to town, setting up shop for a few days on any available piece of empty property, usually close to the center of town. The carnival was almost always owned by Douglas Greater Shows, which -- in my child's mind -- ran together into a single word: ''douglasgradershows."
The circus, which is today's topic, was either Ringling Bros., or Barnum & Bailey. I suspect both companies came to town at various times, but I can't distinguish between the two at present. I feel confident that at least once, before the circus tents were set up, I saw a circus parade march down the main street -- elephants, tigers in cages, trapeze artists in glittery suits, clowns -- always clowns. But then I wonder -- do I really remember that, or do I just remember seeing circus parades in books and movies? Hmmm. I think I'll go with their actually happening before my dazzled little eyes.
When you went to the circus, the most noticeable structure was the "big tent," of course. But before the big show, you wandered about the grounds looking at the other sights. The animals were in cages, or otherwise confined, giving you a zoo-like experience. But better than a zoo, from a kid's point of view, because these animals, which you made faces at and taunted, were about to perform for your benefit inside the big tent. There were also a number of concessions -- greasy food and cotton candy, fortune tellers, and a number of "sideshows." Sideshows, in smaller tents of their own, presented such wonders as displays of "freaks" (fat ladies, two-headed cows, tattooed man) and the original "geeks" (guys doing nauseating things like biting a chicken's head off). Parents tended to divert our attention from some of these more unseemly or disturbing acts.)
But the big show itself was G-rated. Animal acts (lion tamers, elephant performances, monkeys dressed in uniforms), trapeze and high wire acts, tumblers, jugglers, ladies standing on the backs of galloping horses. The acts in a good circus, were going on -- often simultaneously -- in three performance "rings" -- hence, a "three-ring circus."
And clowns. The clowns were everywhere. They kept you amused between formal acts. They diverted you when something went wrong. They pantomimed commentary on their colleagues' performances. They had their own acts, as well. I remember seeing one of those "a thousand clowns" acts, where an impossible number of clowns emerged from an old automobile. I never thought of circus clowns as being scary -- they were funny, and sometimes sad. Slightly scary clowns -- because they tended to pounce on you -- came along later, as you sat watching a parade, such as that at Portland's Rose Festival.
Anyway, a circus was a great event. You came home high-strung, exhausted, and your belly full of junk food. My brother and I would discuss everything we'd seen for a day or two afterwards.
But no more. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (the two great rivals had eventually merged) announced yesterday that the big tent would be stricken for the last time in May, ending a run that began when Ulysses S. Grant was president, 146 years ago. Kids have other things to amuse themselves with nowadays. Even when I was an older kid, my dad was far more fascinated by televised circus acts than were any of us kids. "Hey kids, come look at this!" "Oh, yeah, amazing. [yawn]."
I haven't been to a circus since I was a teenager. And now I never will again.
Send home the clowns.