Who next?

Monday, July 06, 2020

Malls Go to the Movies ... You Tube Revives Past Glories ... TV News Goes Berserk Riding Corona Hysteria ...

      MALLS ARE are now movie-lands, Walmart having  thrown up drive-in sized screens on 330 of its parking lots, running to meet America’s hunger for entertainment away from home.  Happy families, in kind, flocking to “cinema under the stars” — or, as the case may be, under hovering storm clouds — or cinders from nearby riots. ...

.     SELLOUTS JAMMING Walmart screens make it feel like the fifties all over again. Pardon me for dropping the fifties, that reviled decade dammed mostly by people who did not live through it. I will not apologize for too many things about the era that prove their value over and over again on current-day profit-making platforms prone to push whatever still works with the public.  Like The  Twilight Zone on MeTV.  Like great musical concerts on You Tube.

     GRAINY BLACK and white revelations: Other night, I ran into Leonard Bernstein on You Tube introducing pianist giant Glen Gould for the first time on national TV. The fantastically long, nimble fingers of Gould's were as sure and strong as lighting. On the same bill, Igor Stravinsky visited the podium to direct the final segment from his powerful Firebird suite.  And now I love Leonard Bernstein.  My memories of his Young Peoples Concerts on TV in the fifties are fuzzy, but now, all the yeas later from my adult eyes, they are a brilliant achievement.  What a great and gifted educator he was, so easy to understand, and so interesting!  I now regard  him as the greatest figure in American music history.  He had it all.

     ON MeTV,  Rod Serling’s eerie, ever- provocative Twilight Zone was running in marathon over the July 4th weekend.  Between episodes, I broke away to watch a dreadful flick on HBO, Requiem for a Dream.  The characters were so repellent, the subject —  drug addiction, a drag addiction I had no patience for — wore me down in 15 dreary minutes, and I bailed back for more Twilight Zones. 
     BEFORE TELEVISION news got drunk on its own power to fabricate and favor, the boob tube, as they called it, gave you everything, I Love Lucy to Jack Paar.  Best of all, it gave you the news in daily briefings lasting a half hour, max. Such a sane way to keep the public informed without its going insane on broadcast overkill. At the moment, TV newscasters are working overtime to keep us riveted to what next they might drum up on the racist watch.  Lately, I feel like I am being bombarded by that one word over and over and over.  And so I run — anywhere away from news outlets.   Into some kind of a hell hole, we seem to be sinking, literally into mass hysteria?  It feels like an old episode from The Twilight Zone. Read on.

     GOOD CORONA news gets shoved aside. No relief from the media whores, who refuse to give  headline coverage to a drastic drop in the daily number of new Corona-related deaths.  Let me explain: You may hear a TV pundit conceding it to be down “somewhat”  No, not somewhat, idiot.  Down by as  much as 75% from highs in April, and no, I am not quoting either Fox or CNN, but from a CDC graph. Or are they, too, no longer to be trusted?  From a high of 2,700 a day on May 6, down to more in a range of 600 per day now. Only 212 deaths yesterday.   How can I not believe that the media is biased, whatever the reasons?  Have they no shame?  No, they haven’t. 

     WHERE WAS I?  Oh, yes in a Walmart parking lot drive-in under the stars.  Back in 1918, thousands of U.S. film palaces were shut down in the fall of 1918, due to the Spanish flu pandemic making a comeback.  But by spring the following year, most of them were back up and running.  May we be so lucky.  May there be a vaccine soon. May Amtrak still be on the tracks.  And may a real circus somewhere find a return of crowds ready to re-embrace its down to earth appeal. Most of all, may I get to take off this damn mask for good?  Heck, I might be wearing it right now, as once or twice happened in my cozy Corona cave.  And you?

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

MIIDWAY FLASH! ... Cirque du Soleil Cuts 3,500 Jobs, Goes Bankrupt ...

Though not unexpected, the news is bloody: The Montreal Monster, nearly $1 billion in debt, is cutting 3,500 jobs and filing for bankruptcy protection.
From CNN business, via Covington Connected:  The “immense disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic” is blamed for the action. Actually, it may serve better as an excuse for incredibly stupid over-expansion for too many years.

They are trying to restructure their debts with assistance from the Canadian government and private equity firms.  The movie is seen as a necessary "starting point in an auction to draw other bidders.”

No where is mention made of Canadian billionaire Guy Liberate, founder and recent figure wanting to get back into the mix and take charge.  If he really does, how many of his own Big Bucks (net worth, $1.8 billion) might he be willing to throw in as a show of good faith?

Don't hold your breath.
Actually, it was Laliberte himself who engineered the early creation of multiple units, many of which went no where.  And the going nowhere should have given them reason to pause and pull back over the last 10 years, but they could not stop themselves, and are now stuck in a big black hole of their own making.

Friday, June 26, 2020

On Making a Musical: What Did P.T. Barnum Think of the Ringling Brothers, and When?

They stood for two very different kinds of showmanship. The one, for grandiose illusions; the others, for authentic artistry and honest dealing.

On  March 28, 1884 at the Jersey City docks, an anxious press of newsmen gathered in the hold of the ship, Lydian Monarch, to witness the unveiling of a “sacred white” elephant – so claimed its captivating presenter,  P.T. Barnum.  Toung Laloung, “Gem of the Sky,” had been “wrenched” from King Thibaw of Siam by the world’s most famous showman. Only three years before, he and James A. Bailey had joined forces to introduce the first three-ring circus in the world.

The ship bearing Barnum's coup had sailed through the Suez Canal,  first stopping for several weeks in Liverpool, England, where thousands flocked to the London Zoological Gardens to gaze at and ponder the authenticity of Toung Laloung.   His celebrated arrival earned an extra supplement to the Illustrated London News.  Two months later in America, now Barnum’s latest trick faced the more skeptical eyes of the  New York Press, which enjoyed a love-hate relationship with his infamous New York museum of oddities and exotics, freaks and fakes.

“The Sacred Beast Is Here,’ headlined The New York Times the following day, quoting a less than boastful Barnum: “Of course, we have all learned by this time that there is no such thing as a really pure white elephant.   This is a sacred animal, a technical white elephant, and as white as God makes ‘em.” 

In fact, as later remembered by press agent Dexter Fellows in his book, This Way to the Big Show, the immediate reaction of scribes was far more a yawn than a wow.  “`What they expected to see was a mastodon as white as the driven snow.”  Barnum, when pushed for his own opinion, granted, “Well, it’s whiter than I expected to find it.”  What they actually beheld — a kind of mulatto mastodon —  was  “the real thing,” wrote Fellows.  Meaning not a typical hoax from the prince of humbug.

In fact, remarkably, Toung Taloung generated lively, learned discussion in the American press over issues such as race and whiteness, skin-dying and technology.

 Toung Laloung, above, in a farming commercial
Forepaugh's Light of Asia, below

Eight days before, in Philadelphia, rival showman Adam Forepaugh had unveiled his own version, The Light of Asia.  But a sneaky reporter would expose a shameless white-wash job. The two Whites made for better ad copy than patronage.  By season’s end, following the sudden “death”of  The Light of Asia, Barnum would joke in his 1889 autobiography that Forepaugh’s painted pachyderm had not died, but “was simply un-dyed!”

Toung Laloung laid bare.  Pink spots were sacred.

From Silly to Serious

On a more sober note concerning fair dealing with the public,  two months following Toung Taloung’s New York premiere, on May 19,  five brothers from baraboo, Wisconsin, gave their first circus show under a 600-seat tent.  Destined for greatness, in six years the enterprising Ringlings were on rails, and within another three, battling the Big Boys.  They would make a name for themselves by refusing to operate a grift show.

P.T. Barnum, above. the Ringlings, below.  c. 1884.

While working on my musical, Those Ringlings, I more than once wondered what Barnum might have known and thought of the brothers.  He had the last six years of his life to follow their rise. The brothers went on rails in 1890.  Barnum died a year later.   Had he lived longer, I have wondered how he (with Bailey, of course)  might have held his own against the rising force of these five honest-dealing Wisconsin devils.  How he might have answered their bombastic ad copy blasting his show in 1895 as being run by “disgruntled, outclassed, overshadowed and overwhelmed would-be rivals.” And that was just a starter.

Audaciously one season, the brothers pitched their tents virtually across the street from the Barnum & Bailey headquarters in Bridgeport. 

By then, P.T. was long gone

It was tempting to give him at least some kind of a  cameo in my musical. I thought of some of the things herein discussed.  But then, might I risk committing the same fictions that I have accused others of doing?  Is it possible to take liberties while preserving the essential truth of a story?

Those who read my forthcoming book, Those Ringlings: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Musical, due out by fall from BearManor Media, may have to judge for themselves.  I only dare  promise you that, whatever you find, it will (hopefully) fall woefully short of the full scale fabrications on parade in a movie called The Greatest Showman.  Cheers!

A primary source for this posting is the excellent essay, “Race and the White Elephant War of 1884,” by  Ross Bullen, found in The Public Domain Review:


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Big Kid Circus in Lockdown, a Sad Reflection of Big Tops Around the World ... PC Politics Collide in the Big Cage: Take This, PETA!

As finely reported by Douglas McPherson in London’s The Stage, Big Kid Circus tells a story sadly being told over and over again.  This one is particularly engaging in the human interest department.  Said the show's charming ring-mistress, Olympia Posicra,  “We can’t sit on our backsides many months and expect the performers to do triple somersaults straight away.”

25 Cuban ring wizards, signed to appear in Big Kid’s Latin-flavored Cirque de Cuba, gave all of ten shows in five weeks, plagued by disastrous weather, before arriving in Morecambe last March, there to watch the big top going up —  then suddenly being closed to the public.  The stranded Cubans were given a chance to fly home, but that option  — would they or wouldn’t they? — died when the  borders were shut.  Corona was now running the show.

Brother, can you Spare a Watt?

Virtually penniless, Big Kid Circus has relied on the kindness of strangers with legit resources to share. The local city council in Morecambe is allowing the company to hang around as long as need be, and providing free water and electricity.

Food banks are coming to their aid.  In fact, some of them came to Big Kid, having heard from police that company members were “too proud to ask.”

“There's no people like show people, they smile when they are down” —  Irving Berlin

The most prominent member of the company-in-limbo is Doreen Enos, 9l, who came to visit granddaughter Olympia and then had to stay.   She’s proving to be a great comfort to all.  This woman was once a Digger Pugh Girl touring the U.S.,  who trapezed, made magic, danced, and rode  in comedy cars.

Now Enos enjoys watching  acrobats rehearsing in the big top.   No social distancing here, for the company has been officially designated a “single household.”

McPherson writes of a party atmosphere hiding a “financial nightmare for a company stranded with no income for the foreseeable future.”  “If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry,” said Olympia, seen above.

“You may be stranded out in the cold, still you wouldn’t trade it for a pack of gold”
 —  Berlin

 Now Streaming Live

They are now offering the option of either renting or buying the current show. This I am looking forward to, assuming everything works.  Promo clips of  Cirque de Cuba offer a breezy, high-energy mix of salsa dancing and no-nonsense circus action in bright festive colors. Olympia is a cheerful asset to the party.

Noted she: “Circus has existed in Britain for more than 250 years, and we’re good at adapting.”

You sure are, and you had better be, still. After all, you are the people who literally invented circus.  Okay, everybody Over There, keep a cracking!

When Politics Collide: Back to the Future?

Above, one of Egypt's many fearless females. Below, Luba el-Helw

END RINGERS:  Clashing politics turned on their heads in Egypt: Female lion "tamers," the new rage, and may they take on PETA!  One of them, Luba el-Helw, might now wish she had not divorced her second husband, that is, assuming the show in which Luba cracks the whip, sometimes wearing leopard skin and black boots, has been ordered to close.  In a divorce court,  hubbie told the judge that she treats him “like a circus lion.”... As of March 29, when reported in The New York Times, the National Circus was falling on hard times, performing under a “shabby tent” by the Nile in Cairo, barely making ends meet on cheap tickets to school groups and hard-working families. The upscale crowd were said to prefer Cirque du Soleil type shows .... Maybe over there, but not so much over here? L.A. radio host Bill Handle, high on Vegas shows reopening, but maybe not all of them: “I’m getting a little tired of Cirque du Soleil.” ... He may be missing the grittier primal elements, speaking of which, at the pandering end of a recent film fizzle called Dumbo,  this from a voice of apology — weeping violins, please — for Disney: “We believe that no wild animal should be held in captivity.”  But fake elephants are okay? ... From my mask to yours,  that’s a  sheltered wrap ...

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Showbiz David's Ringling Musical to be Published ...

Pleased to announce that I have signed with BearManor Media for the publication of:

Those Ringlings: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Musical.

More later!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Taking my Canon for a Walk on the Street Where I Cautiously Live ...

LATE BREAKING AS I GO TO POST:  Helicopters are rumbling over head.  Last night, CVS here on Piedmont Avenue, which had been boarded tightly up, was broken into and emptied out. Don't tell me these hoodlums and thugs aren't professionals.  Small stores on the Avenue, some seen here,  are also now boarded up.


Here are photos taken by a camera I have fallen back in love with --- my 10-year-old Canon SD780 IS, which I took to China in 2010. Last Saturday morning, I  walked up and down Piedmont Avenue, to snap images of the devastating impact of Corona on a number of small businesses, the "mom and pop" shops that give the Avenue rich personalized color and culture.

The most crushing blow of all, the closing of Issues, owned by two lovely people, Joe, and Noella.   They stocked magazines and books from all over the world.  And the customer base was, surprisingly, predominately younger.

Unable to get any loans to carry on, Noella, seen here, issued a touching farewell on their Facebook page:   "We never wanted to make this announcement. We wanted ISSUES to be a special place in the community forever. We poured our hearts and our souls into ISSUES and Oakland for thirteen years and it was our baby. Again, we are devastated and heartbroken. Thank you for making these years so amazing for us. We never could have done this without all of you. Please take care.With all our hearts, Noella & Joe"

I counted around six to 8  shops on the Avenue that appear to be either closed or on the verge of it

Only a block  down from Issues, Gaylord's now stands empty, too.  It came out of the early 1970s, fostering a funky youthful atmosphere, very laid back.  You'd order at the register, and you could hang out there for hours. Local paintings on the walls, excellent salads and sandwiches. I never thought this place would go dark. 

I went to the Piedmont Grocery over the weekend, the first time in around 10 weeks, just to get fresh Salmon.

At Pete's Coffee. People are very good about honoring each other's six feet.  Virtually everyone wears a mask.

Remember newspapers, and how they once fought for space in the racks?  We are getting closer to  the cold, alienating intersection at MacArthur Boulevard.  

And there it is, the long winding boulevard whose name conjures up the worst images of Oakland.  This is where the wonderful  neighborly look and feel of Piedmont Avenue abruptly ends. Cross the street, and that world is gone.

I hope he's not gone.  My barbershop, with a note on the door stating "temporarily closed". A good sign -- hold that thought, I tell myself.  Recently out of desperation, I raised a pair of scissors to my face in the mirror, and was able to clip away some of the hair around my ears.  I am thinking of asking Van, assuming he returns, to give me a very quick two or three minutes in the chair, just for the essentials, at full price.

Lonely settled morning.  I know that man with the dog, the latter a delight when he wears his little bright red vest and skips on air. And here they are, closeup.

We talked about the closing of Gaylord's.  He said that it seemed to be going downhill the last couple of years, and thinks that we may witness more closings. He is  like many people you pass over the years, to whom you never quite come to introducing yourself.

A picture before and after all viruses

Back to camera talk

Enamored of the sharper detail from my first iPhone, purchased four years ago, I saw no need to carry the Canon with me, hastily letting go of it.

But of  late, four years after I deserted it, I have begun wondering if a camera can be so overloaded with "pixels" as to create impressive images that exceed in detail what the eye actually sees?  That is, if they produce their own dazzling creations, ever more microscopic, rather than honest reproductions? Are the images produced by my Canon more impressionistic?  Or might they also be closer to the truth?  Looking back through the scrapbooks I keep, I marvel at the photos it had produced for me, such as those in China.

Take a close look at the photo, above, of a painting by my grandfather, Carl August Heliodor Hammarstrom, snapped by my Canon.   Notice the faint white streaks above the sun drifting left and upwards? I snapped the same picture on my iPhone SE, which makes the streak more distinctly pronounced, and the sun a little brighter, something I do not see when I stand before the actual painting on the wall. 

And thus, I can say with reason that what I considered might be driven by my sentimental loyalty to things that last and work well, is more than that. And I am left with a re-found respect for this little camera.  How could I disrespect a camera that so accurately captures the subtleties of my grandfather's brush? It feels good to be back with an old friend in my hand.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lights Out for Ageless Delights? In the Shadows of Death, Two Billionaire Ex-Circus Kings Are Stirring to Reclaim Thrones

Was there ever a season in world history as starved for live entertainment as ours? Corona, the villain whose ultimate destruction is yet to be fully known, has toppled big tops far and wide. Almost daily, down the Covington Chute come links to yet more news of more companies going into limbo.   One of the latest is Oregon-based Wenatchee Youth Circus, founded by Paul Pugh. For the first time in its sixty eight years, the show will not go on.

Even Blondie and Dogwood have finally caught up with the sheltered-in crowd.

From tiny to towering, they are all shut down, and we all know why, for we too have been  shut down.  And now we are venturing back into a risky new world, tired of putting our lives on hold, tired of the conflicting dictates of mixed voices.

A few flickering candles keep a few rings alive in video-land. The Big Kid Circus, run by a Bulgarian couple, gives off a wonderful buzz, the action down to earth, its warm and winning ringmistress, Brit-born Olympia —  she of a circus family going back many generations — shining with simple down-home enthusiasm. Now under lock-down, Big Kid’s  current offering, Cirque de Cuba, is performing online. Some 25 Cubans charmingly dominate a cast of 35, whipping up a snappy pulse with cha-cha dancing and lively spirits. How gracefully they mix with zippy old-fashioned circus fun  Not sure about admission charges. I’d pay a reasonable price to see the show here in my Corona cave.  

Giants can tumble, too.  The plight of Cirque du Sloeil, a victim of vanishing fortunes, offers staggering evidence of incredibly reckless over-expansion.  Many years in the making. Circus du Soleil is so much in debt (nearly a billion) as to make me wonder if they follow the U.S.national debt model for endless borrowing — or printing money on demand.  After repeated bail-outs from beguiled investors in exotic locations, the company now faces possible bankruptcy protection.  95% of nearly 5,000 employees were laid off.  Payments to  “dozens of show creations” were stopped.  Gabriel Dube-Dupuis, a creative director for 23 years, told the New York Times that they owe him “tens of thousands of dollars.

Moody's gave Cirque a credit rating of near junk status.

To their rescue, maybe,  comes the founder himself, Cirque King Guy Lalibterte,  who told Radio Canada that he wants to buy back the show, that he has investors lined up. He spoke of a “relaunch,” without giving specifics.   “We think we’re able to bring back the sacred fire in there.”  The Canadian government is on his side, hoping the company can re-anchor in Quebec.

Can he do it?  His biggest challenge may be a waning customer base suffering from Cirque fatigue. Meaning too much boring nonsense  (lame allusions to theater) and not enough great action (as in great circus)  Critics of the show complained to a New York Times reporter of its ground-breaking novelties having fallen prey to “facile story lines and kitsch spectacle, like acrobats in frog costumes.”  That is an understatement.  I have posted enough on the subject.           

Fate may be setting the stage for an even more spectacular comeback, and one more viable, for billionaire Kenneth Feld, who shut down Ringling  in 2017, is now planning to bring it back, albeit in a new form.  He projected a debut in late 2020, all of this in his own words to Spectacle Magazine on-line.  Are we to believe him?  I have never known of so momentous an announcement meeting with such wide-spread silence.  I can’t find a single other item out there drawing on or matching the Spectacle interview, not even on the CFA website’s running list of news topics.

Kenneth Feld may turn out to have picked the perfect time for a Ringling renaissance. By then, we may have a vaccine.  And by then, Americans will be so starved for live entertainment – and circus is as live as it gets — that they might storm the ticket counters to gratefully re-embrace (stand aside, PETA) circus as as once they did. The Feld of  Felds has a cracking good chance to bring off possibly the greatest comeback coup in circus — heck, in entertainment – history.  Best of all, he does not rely on the Federal Reserve for funding.  He will need to focus on what has given circus its timeless appeal. 

Memo to Montreal, in good faith and high regards, to the Cirque King:  Frog costumes for acrobats? A rest, maybe?  Masks? Lock them up. Better yet, throw them away. You might be forced to discover in yourself yet more creativity — and fire.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Circus Impossible: Summers Go Dark .... Parades Disband ... The Show Does Not Go On .... Death Stalks Vacant Midways .... Elsewhere, Art Concello Stirs Again ...

Once upon a glorious time in America, long long ago

And now ....

Hello Circus Vargas Friends! 
We hope this message finds you safe and above all healthy!
We wish everyone the best of health. Please stay safe. Stay home,  and we look forward to seeing you all happy & healthy under the big top in the very near future!

Welcome to –  for now -- the new normal.  To more of the above.  Welcome to more bad news, as if there was anything more to report. 

Circuses were already, pre-Corona, struggling, nearly gasping for each ticket sold,  each fragile new date gotten through.  Struggling to make “nut” before going nuts.  No doubt, what is a labor of love for people in various other arts who never make a dime (acting in community theater, for one), has already become a new old normal for circus folk.   Even the mighty Cirque du Soleil, a victim of its own insane grow-grow-grow mania, is now skirting the un-pretty edges of bankruptcy protection talk.

If there is to be an exception, it may have to be the Big Apple Circus, whose website contains but  this one meager message:

Big Apple Circus is not currently performing
due to COVID-19 safety and assembly precautions.

Have they already thrown in the towel?  On the surface of things, the show fostered a half-believable success at Lincoln Center  over the winter.  Come the new fall, when Corona may return, and with greater force, how can Big Apple talk enough New Yorkers into dawning masks and spatially crowding themselves, six feet apart, into a small and confining tent?

Salvation in the Great Outdoors?

 Circus Bella in an Oakland park

Over summer grass under a sky of natural blue, the circus will most likely return.  Easier to space patrons safely apart, easier to give them a more healthy-feeling atmosphere.  I have long argued for Big Apple letting go of Lincoln Center, and humbling itself back to the real city parks. Like Prospect.

The circus World Museum, ideally suited to present an outdoor show, yet is not going to be presenting any kind of a show at all, not this June.  Cancelled.  A bit in haste?   No, they are up against what all sporting events are up against: Having to severely limit the number of customers.  But sports teams can simultaneously broadcast on TV, and maybe break even until Corona is conquered. 

If it is true that a circus can actually not go broke by averaging a quarter of a house (Circus Vargas, maybe Carson & Barnes fit this notion), well then, they won't have to change a thing!  And by having to suppress attendance in publicity (Hurry! Hurry! Buy Now! Seats limited to a precious few!),  they might make themselves an in-demand attraction.

Am I dreaming? Will they even come back, ever?  No Baraboo parade.  No circus in June.  No Smirkus, either.  Virtually all the big and little tops are rolled up in canvas that may never be unrolled.

Goodbye and Thank You, Chuck Burnes

Death visits us too,  from Don Covington:  Gone now is long-time Circus Report columnist, one time Ringling clown, Chuck Burnes, who passed away on April 20 at the age of 89.  Chuck was a genuinely nice fellow who spent a lifetime luckily employed in many facets of show business –  co-manager of the Palace Theater, producer of stage shows for Disneyland, Great America, and Knotts’s Berry Farm, among others.  He appeared on television shows, toured around the world with Disney on Parade, and only ever once held a “normal job,” as lovingly recalled  by one of his two sons, Chip, and then for only a year and a half.

Chuck met his wife, Bambi under the big top, when she was a Ringling dancer and aerialist. Many years later, I got to meet them for dinner at a landmark eatery in Hollywood, where we chatted about their years with the Big Show.  They were there when the big tents folded for the last time.  And during work on my book,  Big Top Boss, they had me over to meet with a group of local circus fans and talk about its subject, John Ringling North.  Such good company.   

Reenter Art Concello's Greatest Show on Earth

Another sad passing is that of Mort Gamble, right, on January 29, co-author of a promising book in the works on Arthur Concello. He and co-author Maureen Brunsdale, herself a natural born  mover and shaker who heads up the impressively expanding Illinois State University circus archives and collections, were over half way through their manuscript at the time of Mort’s passing.  Maureen will continue on and see it through to publication. And in so doing, she  will be helping to restore and keep alive one of the most remarkable sagas in American circus management history. Concello, as you in-the-know know, was a virtual king behind the throne of John Ringling North, the two composing a Barnum & Bailey combo.  North, the unstinting showman of lavish and eclectic spectacle and world class acts; Art,  the nuts and bolts genius who made it all work -- and then some.

After the big top fell, in 1956, it was the flyer-turned-manager who single-handedly masterminded a long and tricky transition from big tops to hard tops.   A fact shamefully overlooked in too many so-called history books.  Even from Circus World Museum, in their latest newsletter, in which they pay tribute to Irvin Feld, a major donor, they write, “Feld brought the circus into indoor arenas.” No, he did not. 

Maureen has grown to marvel over the colorful Mr. Concello. “He was brilliant and wily, sagacious and tenacious, loyal and kind – in other words, complex! The cast of characters with whom he worked are an equally curious lot.” Boy, were they ever.

 From center ring to front office, where he became known as "Little Cesar"

Now, on her own, Maureen has typed her way up to and  through Art’s sudden resignation at the end of 1953, when he and North had a falling out over Art’s wanting to cut the show down in size.  He had already been experimenting with indoor dates.  The writing was on the wall.

“In 1950 alone, he was involved with bringing a carnival ride over to the US (the Rotor), buying then building a dog racing track in Havana, Cuba, creating the trailer park near the RBBB winter quarters, and working hard with Paramount men to bring the Greatest Show on Earth to life on the big screen.”

And what a perfect way to end this rather bleak posting. Thank you Art, for the part you played in that great great movie.  The more that things darken in the present. the more I thank God that at least we - and the world that comes after us – have and can find joy in the extraordinary visual evidence of how truly great the American circus was in its heyday.

In the meantime, ring-side seating, sir, for a party of  one ... or two? – and,  would that be with or without masks?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

“No Human Contact Required” ... A Darkening Media Circus Shadows Us All

I ask myself: Were I still in the workplace, how would I cope?  I would be horrified. I would be shaken to the core, humbled — wondering if I too would lose my job, and then how would I make my way through a decimated landscape?  I think of all the people suddenly without a pay check,  especially those with children.

This more intimate fear came to me from an aerial view on the nightly news of long long, evenly spaced lines in Dallas – well dressed people waiting patiently for hours for a box of food — a box of food — bringing dry tears to my eyes.  Millions of proud, hard-working Ameriacans thrown into chaos and disarray. 

Perhaps the one single factor that joins the nation is a shared preoccupation with “the curve.” When will it really flatten and stay flat?  And when will it slide down?  What I see is a line near a crest, stubbornly refusing to cooperate.

I am defaulting into food by delivery.  Safeway came yesterday morning.  And for lunch, I finally tried Door Dash, and ordered a Turkey meal from Boston Market.  Delivery a clean efficient pleasure.

Nobody knows how long it will take for this lonely plague to pass,  or how long it may take for the nation to fully recover. (The roaring twenties followed the 19l8 Spanish flu epidemic)  The most promising  news is that scientists are starting to find that far more people than originally assumed have already had the virus. This means, thus, that a much much smaller percent of those who die from Corona may only equal the annual flu rate, at around 0.1%.  

But then, the media hysteria can’t let go, (gleefully?) reporting that Corona will likely return come fall, and with greater vengeance.  Can you see them licking their chops over every new dark detail spelling more of the same?  ABC’s David Muir, who has always struck me if to be  riding a galloping horse while breathlessly delivering the news, must be deliriously charged.

Strangely, right and left wing are joining forces, louder and louder, behind one issue: We won’t take it anymore!  Even here, in blue blue Oakland, I see  people out on the sidewalks not wearing the now mandated mask.  Particularly dog owners and their dogs.  Can you blame anyone for wanting to get back to normal and to work?  I can’t.  They, too, must be respected.

To better understand a degree of the fear driving the anger, yesterday while walking to Piedmont Grocery, which I skipped -- the lines too long -- I ambled up the avenue, crossed the street to pass a  comforting landmark founded in the 1970s, Gaylord’s,  A funky coffee house that caters to students and creative types, at easy prices.  I spent many nights there in younger years, either with pen and paper or laptop.  Hold on ...

Ominously Dark. Ominously Empty.  All the furniture gone. The inside, a gloomy shell of a great  place thriving only weeks ago.  It can’t be.  This can’t have happened!  Not a single sign in the window.  The walls blank.  Nothing there. For a time, they had been offering front of the store take out.  I called their number, and got a recording --- the voice of the owner, I assumed:
Gaylord's has closed it doors. Thanks to everyone who has walked through the doors throughout the years.

These are the kind of small businesses having a hell of a time getting some of the money congress passed with fanfare, supposedly to help  them through.. Remember Mom & Pop, you DC scoundrels?  Too much, if not most, of your fake compassion ended up, in stead, in the coffers of regional and national chains.  So am I to take it that  “small” means anybody who is not a Facebook or a Google? 
Yes, I can better understand — and appreciate —  the rising anger of Americans aching for the status quo, demanding an end to shelter-in.  The lives of millions are at stake.  I now have a better idea of how it feels  to be regulated into a mind set of caution and restraint, and how it it can turn you afraid of your own shadow. How it might be under a totally different form of government. Have they gone to far? Or am I?

The still-functioning Piedmont Café, years ago good an old-fashioned American restaurant with wood booths, still —  without the wood separators —   offers the same sizzling fare --- bacon and eggs and toast leading the parade. Ironically, it’s been owned for many years by a lovely group of Vietnamese.  Sunday mornings can rock with crowds lined up for a sit down at this non-glamorous  but cozy space.  It bubbles.  And they are still hanging on, it would appear, for take out.  I went in this morning to take out a large croissant, and I handed the woman a bigger bill to keep, telling her how glad I was they were still there.  Her smile was bigger than her mask.

The loss of Gaylord's is a blow to Piedmont avenue, as would be the loss of the Piedmont Café and so many other homed-grown stores — another  blow to the binding social fabric of locally owned, served, understood, affirmed.   

No human contact required.