I plead guilty. I am a circus fan, although were I a member of the official club, the Big Top Brethren might kick me out. Lack of gratitude for what’s left on the lots. Lack of backyard courtesies.
“We Pay as we go,” was at one time one of the founding slogans of the CFA, and once, while walking with my late friend Hugo Marquardt, determined to remain ticketless, onto the lot of the Carson and Barnes Circus at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds, there to take in a tight little firecracker of a show, Hugo, mimicking CFA loyalty (pardon my irreverence) clapped his hands together and said, “We clap as we go!”
Like most good circus goers with a big top habit, I prided myself on getting into as many shows as I could for free. So did Hugo. Some of us were dubbed by the shows we crashed “lot lice.” Almost a badge of honor. Even when the Moscow Circus played the Oakland Coliseum Arena in 1967, I managed, though with ticket in hand, to walk right in through the back door. What a coup!
In later, still opportunistic years, when I now and then free lanced for Variety, I would state that fact and usually extract a freebie, though never to my knowledge from the Ringlings. You’d have to shill ahead. Still, I’d wander into the back door of the Cow Palace before the Felds secured it, and then wander, following the example of my late friend Don Marcks, like “one of them” into the arena, and then into a pricey box seat, when biz was not very bizzy. What an affordable deal.
I plead guilty. I’ve walked miles to see what miles up the road may reaffirm my high regard for big top magic, or may uncork my nitpicking side. Last year, I did some extensive secret sleuthing and found that a certain circus I kind of wanted to see would again be playing a certain New Jersey City in June on a Thursday. Okay, then I managed to weave together a day-long itinerary from Greyhound to local bus service, so I could catch the early show and make it back to New York late that night.
But, did I really want to take that much time for so iffy a show? The name Kelly-Miller. The place, Pemberton. I was reading a blog that hangs out dirty laundry and gives you a blow by blow account of audience reaction and size, and is now addressing the issue of whether or not to tip surly prop hands (which some call extortion); it helped dampen my resolve. Then, I learned that Ringling-Barnum would be opening under canvas at Coney a week Later. I could take In Big Apple Circus in the morning, Boom A Ring that evening. What luck! So I moved my travel plans ahead by a week. Good bye, Pemberton. Sorry, Greyhound.
And now, I pride myself on paying as I go. I’ve turned myself into something of an ultra purist. Some people respect me, and so that gives me greater incentive to try being as fair as I can. My uncle kept hammering away, “be objective!” I go out of my way to avoid the subliminal effects of gratuities. How I’ve changed, from guy pushing thin Variety credentials to Mr. Anonymous. Plus, in these tense bloggy times when some people out there, it seems, would love to get their hands on me for unkind circus thoughts, it’s safer. One of them asked me if I knew anything about how circuses are run. Having worked for Sid Kellner, I learned a lot about how boiler rooms are run (no, I never personed a phone, but did the press agent thing), and how they nearly ran the circus into the ground.
I approach every circus like a blank slate, with high hopes. Sometimes you get thrown a thrill: Ringling at Coney, I suspected, would be the indoor Ringling only under a tent. How wrong I was. The best complete circus I’ve seen in years, and now I’m blasted for blasting the Felds. Sure, I never was a great Feld fan, although I’ve always stated how impressed I was with Kenneth Feld’s apparently (notice I said “apparently”) unstinting devotion to the proper care and treatment of his animals. Only trying to practice basic journalism.
Boom A Ring makes you want to return. Renews your faith in Circus 1A. Which is why I have questioned the absence of an important high wire act from the show, noting a certain weakness in the air.
Those who can’t accept the fact that life is always changing, so too the circus, will never understand me. A Feld fan? Who could have ever guessed. Well, of Boom A ring fan, anyway. Having ordered my ticket on line, I’ve since received an email to the “Hammarstrom Family,” thanking me for my patronage, signed b Mr. Feld himself. Better not swoon to soon. Zing Zang Zoom is on its way. A fresh slate.
Some know how critical I can be of the owners. I have many times said how much I respect their skill in keeping their respective shows on the road, but that doesn’t mean I have to like everything they keep on the road. Another matter altogether. Not very circus fanish of me, I know.
Every year is new year for all of the shows, which is why I enter each with renewed faith that this could be the one. And which is why I fight to stay open to all the changes that can either bring out my un-circus fan side, or set me wallowing in my own purple prose. Ugh.
Does my “Arrogance know no boundaries,” asks one rather edgy guy who, it seems, takes very personally anything critical I say about Kelly Miller, even though I have offered his act distinct praise. And I smiled. When I wrote the still-smolderng post below (somebody who called me on the phone said his PC was on fire), I amused myself being mock arrogant. Actually, I held back on my “arrogance,” for instead of issuing optional directives to circus producers, I was tempted to issue full scale mandatory commandments from on high. May I insert here: LOL. By the way, does anybody out there ever laugh? My friends laugh at a lot at the things I say. Must being a circus fan be so deadly serious? One of you said the world could do without this blog. Well, Pal Anonymous, the world does do without this blog, but you can’t seem to, nor can a few others.
I plead guilty. I’m a circus fan who is not a circus fan. Funny that way.