Sunday, November 11, 2012
The Most Ignored "Greatest Show on Earth" Ever? ... Awating Agent X For an Answer
Only a fool would sit in a two bit coffee dive by tracks no longer trained over in the bitter of a dark fall morning, waiting on Agent X without a promise in advance he’d even show up. Waiting on a thread of hope, to toss a Big Question his way: Why almost no reviews for Ringling’s Dragons?
It’s freezing out there. Once upon a summer, Foley and Burk rattled into to town, its flats screeching onto a siding along the old ice house, long gone. Once, I’d wait to watch ‘em pull and jerk, coax and wiggle old carny wagons from flat to flat, up onto the runs and down banging against street cement, there to be tractored off to the fairgrounds for set up at the county fair.
This current puzzlement over Dragons began after getting from cyber courier Don Covington (I’m on his "media’ list) a boffo boost for the show from the Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones. Made me rue not having seen Dragons when it fired through Oakland a while back. Needed a year off from one loud ringmaster, truth be known. Sorry; I know, I should clean up my act and go Circus Report. Or White Tops. And learn how to compose valentines. I can't.
No sight of a limbo flying past out there. Just the blackness of a chilly dawn. Two other souls inside the place, kind of forlorn, leaning over coffee, one staring hopelessly into a cheap-looking cell phone which I assume is not staring back.. I brought some Genmaicha tea leaves (Japan grown), just in case. A tab of Lipton black tea leaves me seriously wanting. Picked up a donut, tipped the weary waiter good for a pot of hot water, to which I’ve added the leaves. Quality on that count.
Big Apple Circus got a slew of glowing reviews from New York critics in late October. Ringling once rang the attention of virtually all the first line theater scribes. Seven of them. Once, legendary Brooks Atkinson actually took in the show (1942), and filed a notice in the Sunday section, giving John Ringling North, his elephant ballet and other assorted acts, two adoring reviews.
So why not Dragons? In fact, bigger reach, why so little critical coverage anymore of Ringling-Barnum? I e-mailed Jones at the Chicago Tribune, asking him if he had any reasons why. In return, he wrote, "I don’t know why they don’t get covered. You SHOULD blog about it."
So blogging I am, doing some ground work up here north of Frisco. I’ll nail Agent X if I can (who has contacts all over every lot out there ) on the issue.
On the window to Tiny’s coffee shop is an old photo of Tiny (a fat man, when "fat" was okay to say) and a clown. Clyde Beatty’s train bolted through here when I was a kid, but before I could bike out to the tracks to watch it unload, they'd lured me into the punk gang down at the Fairgrounds.
Whose tire power was that out there just now? I’m straining through the window. A white long auto streaked slowly down. Not a sound. Maybe Agent X just pulled up. Keep your fingers crossed. I did something daring this time, sent a message to him, that I’d be seated in Tiny’s — he’d have to get out of his damn car, walk through the door were he to meet me. Think he will?
I’m holding my position, not gonna budge. He owes ME a little respect. I’ve stood out there in the damn blackness while he roared past, stopping long enough to take a question, shout back his wise guy answers, and blast off up the street, leaving me to ponder the smoke strands from his haughty cigars.
Not today. Only a fool would get up so early on the chance that ...Door just opened. Oh, there he is, I think. Still wearing those Hollywood shades
He and two characters, walking in now. Not looking my way. No respect. They're going to a table other side the dinky little sit-down, Agent X and two cronies, ordering from the waiter who bounced to their patronage. I'm getting up, going over there.
"Agent X?" I say in a whisper.
He looks up. Smiles. Stays mum.
‘A question or two? I called your line, somebody took a message."
"Shoot," he says, smiling frugally at his crusty cohorts. Who are they, I wonder. They're sipping coffee and blowing cigarette smoke as if competing to out-cool each other.
"So you're the one all torn up over Ringling getting ignored?" says Agent X, grinning.
The other two smile at me stupidly. .
"Any ideas why?" I ask.
"You haven't figure it out?"
"I did online research."
"The computer?" he says.
"Yes. could not locate anything from New York or L.A., or this area, San Francisco"
He yawns indifferently.
"Look, Agent X ..."
He laughs. "Where did you get that Agent X business"
"You won’t give me your name. You're like those anonymous characters who leave comments on my blog, some of them profane."
Agent X looks at the others. "Profanity on a circus blog!"
"Isn't that how you kill the time," says one of the others to the other.
"Ringling, no reviews anymore," says Agent X.
"Did you see Dragons?" I ask.
"Hey, Shiff ... Clutch" he addresses them: "See Dragons?"
The both nod no.
"How many rings have they got?" asks Agent X
"Sometimes, one," I answer
"Hell, is it that bad over there?" he cracks.
"What about the audience size," one of his cronies asks.
"Out in Oakland, I don’t know, maybe a third of the seats are full.
Agent X sips from his coffee, thinks.
"Times have changed, guy" he says. "All those newspapers are shrinking themselves down to a few pages, staffs being laid off."
"Big Apple got several reviews in New York," I point out.
"That’s New York’s darling little prize. But Ringling needs the Garden, and the Garden’s closed. Under repair. New Jersey? Oh, hell, who wants to review a circus in Jersey? Shiff? Clutch, would you?
"I ain't no circus reviewer," answers Shiff.
The other laughs.
"Here’s your answer," says Agent X. "That Cirque outfit up in Canada."
He turns to his gang. "They get reviewed?"
I took the initiative. "Yes, they do."
"That's for the gourmet crowd with money. Ringling's for kiddies. Who do you think the newspapers want to reach, guy?"
"Yeah, I get your drift," I say, wondering why I didn't figure it out.
"Hey Clutch," says Agent X,on a roll. "Didn’t you tell me you got writers to review that nice little high class one ringer you worked on?"
Clutch opens up: "Some of them hacks came out, took a press book from us, snapped a few pictures, and ditched the lot before first fanfare."
"Easy money," says Agent X. sitting there, letting the others go on. "Makes for a nice notice."
"That's it," agrees Shiff.. "Newspapers would send out dupes from fashion or ballet who don’t know a tiger from a lion. They take your press release and turn it into their review."
Agent X giggled. "Nobody reviews circuses anymore. They end up reviewing a protest. Those high brow critics have issues with animals."
"You mentioned Cirque du Soleil, why?" I press.
"They practically own the world. I’d hate to have to compete against them!"
"They’re not a real circus," says Shiff.
"Hell, they aren’t," says Agent X. "That’s what they call themselves, and people are buying it"
Agent X gets up, turns his attention to some old circus photos on the wall and gazes with a grey glow. "Johnny North did something like that Cirque thing when he came on the scene, made a lot of enemies. Some said he wasn’t putting out a real circus, but a night club show. Even old Roland wasn’t too pleased."
"And what did Robert Ringling do"asks Shiff.
"Hell," said Agent X, "he tried to out-do Johnny!"
He looks at another photo
"Good old on the wagon Harry Dann. We once had to sober him up for a full house. In attendance was the president’s daughter, what was her name, Beth?"
And another: "Pat Valdo. Look at him! He hated retirement"
"How the hell do you know," says Clutch. "You drinking cool aid again? That man died decades ago!"
"I know a lot of things, Clutch," says Agent X.
"He's been channeling again," cracks Shiff.
"Pat wanted to go out on the road in a wheel chair. Just to sit on a mess of weeds, dodge the rain, as long as he could hear the band playing --- on the other side, he'd say. "Other side of canvas, band gets toned down a bit, sounds softer. Old Pat."
Clutch's cell phone goes off. He takes it in hand and listens. "Sure, we’re on our way."
He turns to Agent X. "The Colonel is ready."
"Shoot," says Agent X. With that, his entourage bolts up like a gust of naughty wind under a table, and hustles out the door.
Agent X glances back my way. "Have fun with it, guy!"