Big Top Bang

nathanking /

If I say “circus” I can pretty much guess what you picture in your mind.


A red and white striped tent, right? Clowns? Acrobats? Lions? Elephants? Three-rings? Did I cover the major aspects?


Those are the images I had in my head when I saw the little ticket at our favorite Mexican food restaurant advertising two free children’s admissions to the circus with one paid adult. Being a bargain hunter I did the math and figured… we can do this! Fun event for the whole family!


Little did we know.


Lizard and I teased the girls for several days about their “surprise” and what it might be. They were terribly excited, and so were we.


The day arrived. It brought a snow storm. We worried about whether they would heat the tent and if we should take our kids, who still occasionally hack up a lung, out in public.


Being great risk-takers, we went for it. They have coats for a reason, right?!


When we arrived at the address on the coupon we looked for the tent. It was non-existent. We were at the American Legion hall. They had two hand-painted signs with arrows that said, “Circus Today.”


The parking lot was 70% full. Of trailers and 5th Wheels. We became suspicious. I asked Lizard to go inside to case the joint before we made a full commitment to the circus experience.


When he got back in the car he looked troubled.


“It’s a 1/2 ring circus in there… there’s one other family and otherwise it’s empty,” he reported. He began to reminisce about the Big Apple circus he attended when he was young. “It had a tent!” he said.


At this point the natives were getting restless, wanting to know about their surprise and if this was it. I began to feel sorry for the members of the American Legion and like it was our responsibility to join the other lonely family inside the building.


We went for it, paid our money, got hand stamps from a Bingo card marker, and noticed we could come back for Bingo this weekend if we’d like.


It smelled of stale smoke inside, complementing the 12-foot red velvet curtain with wrinkled yellow swag. There was a youthful dude with a bleached mohawk wandering beside the stage, wearing glitter.


I was nervous. Lizard bought cotton candy. We sat down.


Let me tell you, once the kids started eating the cotton candy the day was a hit!  Their innate inhibitions began to lower in direct correlation to the amount of cotton candy consumed and before the show had even started I had a toddler dancing by herself in front of the 1/2 ring!


About 10 minutes before the show started the mohawk youth grabbed a hold of the microphone and told the seven audience members, “Get your Ithy Cold Kooka-Coola, get your soooveeniers from the SYER-cus!!”


I thought it was a lisp and felt a little sad for him but since the sound system was completely up to the challenge of letting us hear him, I was forgiving. No worries.


We got some ithy-cold Kooka-Coola and a Dr. Pepper. The cotton candy was gone so we got some popcorn, too.


A slow string of people edged their way past the Bingo signs and into the folding chairs of the audience. I looked at my kids, Tres was frantically licking the Bingo stamp off of her hand and running in circles around our chairs.


“When is it going to start?” Dos said as she stuck out her arm and clotheslined her manic sister. Tres hit the floor with a whoomp. She noticed popcorn on the ground and tried to vacuum it into her mouth without hands, just her tongue.


I died a thousand slow deaths and considered asking the old lady who had just walked in with an oxygen tank if I could have a resuscitating whiff.


I realized if we sugar our kids up enough they could sit and watch paint dry and think it’s a party.


I started counting the attendees and figuring the profit in my head. Looked like if everyone had a child’s admission free coupon like us and each family unit spent $10 at the concession stand the Circus Circa was up to a grand total of $540 in profit. Not enough to power the trailers I saw in the parking lot to the state line.


“Purchase your bag of saaaalted peanuths now before they are G-O-S-E, gone!” hollered the loud speaker. I was startled. I noticed the man behind the mike was not my mohawked youth! (Apparently lisps are catching if you use the same microphone, and spelling errors absolutely forgivable.)


When the show got started we found all the participants bore a strong resemblance to one another. I think it was one family with a few friends… and I tell you what, the 11-year-old girl could hula hoop 100 hula hoops at once and looked like a human Slinky! And then, I will always remember the 16-year-old girl who did crazy acrobatics to a techno version of “My Heart Will Go On.”


I put my cynicism aside when I looked down at the girls and saw their faces filled with joy (and covered with pink cotton candy residue). As super sketchy as the 1/2 ring circus and costume changing performers were… the kids were happy and thus we were happy.


“Thank you for your time and cooooo-wuperation!” crowed yet another microphone lisper as the show ended with sparkles and a bang.


Final thoughts about our circus adventure: it was good. The kiddos had sugar and laughed at the clown, and I was once again reminded that as crazy as my life gets I could be touring the country in a 1970s motor home wearing sequins and balancing on chairs for a living.


I’m ok not being a performer.


My kids… not so sure!


Have you ever been to the circus? Did you enjoy the experience?

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2 thoughts on “Big Top Bang

  • February 29, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    My circus memories are all about Circus Flora. It was a one ring circus that came to the park by our house yearly. It was awesome!!!

  • February 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    my favorite circus memory was the Barnum and Bailey circus in Minneapolis when they choose me as one of a dozen kids to ride in the stage coach. It was great, I got to be in a real circus and not just the one I called home 😉


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