Surprisingly, Tweens Still Dig the Circus

FRI_Ringling Bros Circus_Credit Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.jpg
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

"I remember when cotton candy was twenty-five cents," my dad said as I shelled out $12.00 for a bag at the AA Center for the circus, Barnum and Bailey's show, Barnum 200: Barnum's FUNundrum.

"We're going to need another bag," my daughter said as I handed her the puffed-up bag with a circus hat on top. I looked in my wristlet for $4.00 to add to the $8.00 in change in my hand when the vendor said, "Just give me a five and I'll give you back a one." Very confused, I did as the guy said. I guess he thought he hadn't given me back the $8.00 in change. But he was on to the next customer before I figured out what the heck had just happened. I just hope the poor guy didn't have to make up the difference from his own pocket.

The circus was just as I remembered, but smaller. Although I suppose that's only because I'm bigger now, or older at least.

I took my dad (the Rabbi), my girlfriend Jamie, my daughter Emily and her friend. I was curious to see what everyone would have to say about the outing, from the little ones to the Medicare-card-carrying one. (It's the first thing my father showed me when he got off the plane. "Look what you'll never have when you get old," he said. Nice.)

There was a whole lot of "Are you ready for the Greatest Show on Earth?" before the show actually started, and then it was a parade of the usual suspects. The show opened with beautiful aerial work. Then there were the tigers, who just didn't seem up to performing. The trainer was sweet to them but you have to wonder if those tigers are really cool with the whole circus deal.

"It makes me a little sad," my girlfriend said as we watched. "Maybe I've been watching too much Animal Planet." And maybe I've been reading too many PETA pamphlets, or maybe training giant cats to roll over isn't the best idea. I don't know. How is it that I can enjoy something and still be ethically confused about it? It was Block's Conundrum, I suppose.

In between each big act, there was a little skit, mostly with the clowns. One was an ode to the old side shows with the clowns dressed as the strong man, the bearded lady, Siamese twins, the wild man of Borneo, among other side show characters.

FRI_Ringling Bros Circus 3_Credit Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.jpg
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
And so the show went with a man walking on glass and fire, a girl spinning by her hair, a guy juggling balls the weight of bowling balls and lifting over half a ton with his legs. There were three women folded inside a glass cube, tightrope walkers strutting on some serious inclines, seven motorcyclists riding in the Globe of Steel (one of whom was a woman), and, of course, miniature ponies.

I think my dad's biggest thrill was the mirror advertising in the bathroom. The mirrors look like ads until you stand in front of them, then the advertising minimizes and glides up to the top left corner of the mirror. It is pretty cool.

After the intermission I had to laugh when I saw the poor dads in front of me who got suckered into buying all of those boxes of popcorn, snow cones, and twirly light-up toys for their kids. But the last laugh was on me when those kids played with those twirly light-up toys for every second of the second act.

"It's a circus in here," my dad (Kenneth) joked.

When the second act began it was on to mini donkeys, goats, a llama, and an
elephant which held basket in its mouth with a dog in it. There was also the smallest longhorn I've ever seen, but I have to tell you I couldn't tell if the horns were the real deal or not.

A group of performers came out on Segways at one point. "We knew they would become a circus act and not revolutionize transportation," my dad said.

They actually launched a guy on stilts into the air, who did a flip and then landed upright on his stilts, followed by a guy who did the same with both feet strapped onto a single stilt. Pretty amazing.

"Do you know what they call a guy who misses?" my dad joked. "A eunuch."

Perhaps the most extreme act was a guy on a motorcycle riding up a steep tightrope with a girl hanging beneath him. Crazy. And then, just as quickly as the whole extravaganza materialized, it disappeared. All of the sudden majorettes came out of nowhere and confetti shot into the air. That was it, folks.

I had a great time, and all of the kids around me seemed to be having a good time as well. I did have to wonder if kids actually think the circus is cool and whether they understand this is real. Afterward, we went to Frankie's for some seriously good Mexican food and a good grilling of the family for their take on the whole experience. To protect the privacy of my daughter's friend, we'll call her Abby.

So, did you like it?
Abby: Yes.
Emily: Totally.

You're not too old for the circus?
Both girls (wearing the color-drenched top hats that come with the cotton candy): No way.

Do you think it was like last time we went to the circus a couple of years ago in Fort Worth?
Emily: No. It was completely different.

You think so? How?
Emily: Every single year there are clowns. This year there were no clowns.

Well, there were clowns.
Emily: But they didn't do their regular clown things.

Like what?
Emily: Like all come out of a car.

What was your favorite part?
Emily: The trapeze.
Kenneth: The girl who was hanging from her hair spinning and juggling fire.
Abby: That was just weird. It looked like it was painful.
Emily: The hair thing was fake. It was like fake hair with a skull cap.

What did you think about the animals in the show?
Emily: I thought the elephants looked sad and the tigers looked like they didn't want to play.
Abby: It's not right to take animals out of the wild and make them perform.
Emily: They looked like actors, like, "OK. I'll act ferocious."
Kenneth: Look, they're employed. You know how many people would like to have that job right now?

Well, could you have a circus with no animals?
Abby: You have to have animals to have a circus.
Jamie: Cirque du Soleil doesn't have any animals.
Emily: That's different.

What did you think about the miniature ponies?
Abby: Creepy. That I didn't feel as bad about. That's just kind of weird.

Did you like the contortionists?
Emily: That was crazy. I had to say to myself. "Is that her front? That's her leg." It's so confusing. They were so tangled together.
Abby: I don't get how they did the motorcycles.
Emily: I don't get how they don't fall out. What would happen if they crash or lose count?
Kenneth: They'd all die.

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2 comments
Joel in VA
Joel in VA

Great article. I was laughing out loud.  Plenty of funny lines.  I liked when Rabbi waived his medicare card and said to Jenny you will never get one of these.  Would be really funny if it weren't true.  Also your reply to Emily's motorcycle question was very funny in a disturbing way.  Even though it was in print - I felt like I was there.  Thanks for the entertaining recap - haven't been to the circus in years.

John in Pilot Point
John in Pilot Point

Watching the circus with my 12-year-old grand daughter last week, I noticed the really old gentleman who helps with the elephant acts.  He was around the show doing pretty much the same thing when I'd take my son to the circus 25 years ago--and he seemed really old then.

It seems that in those days, he was tending to most of the animal acts, making things happen the way they were supposed to while Gunter-Gebel-Williams or whoever was wearing sequins in the spot light.

I don't want to start an animal-rights debate here, but I'd like to meet that man and thank him for helping to entertain so many for so many years.

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