A circus came to Sparta Tuesday. Crystal was taking Vada, who is three. I wanted to go to a circus with Vada to see her delight. Crystal's mother, Diana, came along. I looked forward to it, a one-ring circus, my favorite kind. Hadn't seen one in forty years. I anticipated a performer standing on the back of a horse riding in a circle, acrobatic tricks not many people can do. First surprise: no tent. It was in a cinder block box used for county agricultural fairs. I wondered how a circus could occur in this place as we pulled into the parking lot. Seemed like it might be room for a circus, but where to put the people coming to see it? I became all the more curious when I saw the only place it could be, where the big pickup was parked in front with a folding sign standing up in the bed, yellow with red hand-painted letters, CIRCUS TODAY. I felt good in the company of three of my friends I love in my heart going to a one-ring circus. We arrived early, unable to imagine when would be a good time to get there. Crystal wanted to find a place to sit where Vada could have a close-up view. The seats were "bleachers" that go with the place, I think, the cheapest kind ever made for midgets. Boards 6x1 on an aluminum square-tube frame. First row was no more than a foot from the floor. I thought of the Howdy Doody Show when I was just beginning school, where the kids sat in the Peanut Gallery. It was Peanut Gallery bleachers. Cement floor. Radically uncomfortable, discomfort you notice the moment you sit, even before you sit. It gets worse from there. Fast. When people started packing in around me, I was unable to move even a leg. Very soon, I felt cramped into a box and my back hurting to the point I had to at least stand up for a moment to stretch. No matter how I attempted to sit with spine straight up, relaxed on the seat, neck relaxed, it still hurt like hell in the back muscles.
Paid admission to an interesting looking woman at a cardboard booth like you see at some annual event in an elementary school. She had sequins around her eyes, Cleopatra makeup, a striking woman, black hair pulled straight back, red lips, Latina, one of the performers. She and the booth had a south of the border sensation about them, like anyplace in Latin America, or Romania. I was heartened, thinking, it won't be what I imagined, but it could be awfully interesting. She had a particularly Latin beauty about her that feels exotic in America. She took me back to a picture I kept on a wall in my room in early elementary school years. I have no recollection of where the picture came from. It was a Latin woman in a red dress with black flowing hair and a red rose in her hair.The picture was important to me in ways I didn't have any experience with. She, herself, was important to me, like someone I knew and loved. It struck me curious in this time of the life looking in retrospect at a nearly completed lifetime, questioning symbolism, seeing influences along the way. Inside the circus arena, I saw a ring spread on the floor in half the space that was about the size of a basketball floor. We waited for half an hour watching the place slowly fill up way past comfortable. Crystal bought Vada some toys a clown was walking around selling, sparkly things with flashing lights, a green balloon monkey, and some cotton candy. By the time the show started, the place was packed so tight it was like a stand-up concert where everybody is packed tight in front of the stage. The audience seemed to be about half local people with kids and half Latin people with kids. I've thought Latin people were beautiful all my life. I love to see them, hear them and be around them. From first grade through sixth grade, my closest friend was Mitchell Ledesma. For reasons I never knew he left Catholic school and had to go to public school, him the only Mexican. The other kids didn't have much to do with him, because he was a Mexican. I liked the Mexican about him. That the others stayed away from him left me with a really good friend.
The show started with thumping techno beats and a foxy lady giving a hula hoop demonstration. It was so lame I could hardly believe it. Any seven year old girl who put her mind to it could figure out how to do everything she did in one day. The oxygen in the closed space was suddenly turned into carbon dioxide by the mass of people breathing, and the heat went up fast. Next, a monkey on a leash. It walked back and forth across a flat, one and a half inch by one and a half inch, bar about six feet long, four feet high. And? Next the monkey was put on one of three bar stools lined up in a row. It jumped from stool to stool, no more than a foot and a half apart. Monkey show was over. I thought: shit-fire, any cat can do better than that. I was cramped from sitting on the horrible seat, back was in agony, breathing became a concern, and the heat was oppressive. I already knew there was nothing else in this circus I wanted to see. I asked Crystal's mother for the car key, feeling on the verge of desperate. She was holding Crystal's purse, while Crystal was with Vada on the floor around the circus ring where kids and moms were packed in tight. I went to the car and happily discovered the front seat leans all the way back. What a bonus. I sat there and didn't move, opened the window for fresh air, watched the people going out and going in, cars in the parking lot, light sprinkles of rain on the windshield. I felt blessed being outside that box breathing the flowing air of the Gap Civil current. I became so incredibly uncomfortable inside I was glad the circus was a dud. I could leave without dread of missing something good. I could not have sat on that bench another ten minutes. It was a surprise to see how few people were leaving the place. Not more than half a dozen left before it was over. I thought maybe I could start a circus of a dog that goes bow-wow and a cat that walks with it's tail straight up. I'd even have a donkey that goes hee-haw.
I had fallen into such comfort sitting in the car with seat back, it was actually a disappointment to see the people pouring out the door. Vada wanted more circus. Crystal said her back was killing her. Diana was relieved to be off that bench. I asked if anything happened. Crystal said somebody did some juggling and juggled with fire. Vada liked that. Diana said the man with the acrobatic monkey, he sat on a chair balancing on a trapeze. About three feet above the floor. Crystal told about a woman who swung from a rope by her hair. I didn't quite understand that one, but didn't ask for clarification. I knew it was worse than I could imagine. I didn't ask anymore. Any first grade talent show would be better entertainment than this circus. To the kids, it was grownups doing things they can't do, magical, mystical, a real monkey. Crystal told me they had a horse. I said, A horse? She said, Yeah, a miniature pony. Vada had a wand-like toy with a star at one end. Battery-operated, it had a button to make it light up with flashing tiny red, blue and green lights. It had three different patterns of light flashing. It was made of clear plastic, plastic manufactured to something suggesting cut glass, making a fabulous display of light. At the other end of the wand that glowed from one end to the other, red, blue and green, a clear plastic hollow ball. A light in the handle projected a grid of red, blue and green tiny squares, a tri-color checkerboard on the back of the front seat, on the ceiling, on somebody's face. Vada had to project it onto all our faces to see us in that light. She was mesmerized. Ten dollars. The green monkey balloon had a big nose that squeaked when it was squeezed. The arms, legs and tail squeaked when they were squeezed, too. Ten dollars. Vada was charmed by her toys. Crystal remembers her delight when she was little with circuses and state fairs. She wants Vada to have such delights in her childhood too. Vada loved the circus. She was the reason the rest of us went. While we were waiting for the circus to start, Crystal mentioned something about the Chucky movies. I said I'd not seen any. She couldn't believe I hadn't seen them. I said, "I was too old."
red grooms, himself