Sex Death And Ronald Mcdonald


Last summer, while I was driving my daughter and son from Williamstown, Massachusetts, to Chatham, New York, we passed a billboard with an ad, Crayola red, blue, and yellow, announcing the arrival of a circus. My daughter, who is eighteen, has seen the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden, and both kids have been to the Big Apple Circus. In the early 1950s I went to Ringling Bros., when it still set up tents in fairgrounds.


I was thrilled at the prospect of sitting under a big top and watching acrobats. My kids shrugged and tried to change the subject.

“Don’t you like the circus?” I asked.

“It’s okay, ” my daughter said.

“Okay?” I was flabbergasted. “Okay? But—”

My but bred other buts. . . . I was defending a shadow .

It became dear that circus meant something different to them from what it meant to me.

For them the circus is a historical footnote to a contemporary text that I in turn find obscure. Their text—and context—is a multiverse of media in which the exotic arrives not by a circus train in the middle of the night but through the Internet, the postmodern midway, where the wonders off the world are not tigers and trapeze artists but Web sites.

For me the circus is the smell of sawdust and dung, a trapeze artist in spangles, suspended for a moment in midair, and a flutter in the chest as prodigies parade up Main Street.

“PUT YOUR VAN where I show you, right on the midway,” Noderer told me. “Tomorrow you’ll wake up, there’ll be a circus around you.”

But that world is gone. As it should be. After all, the world—and its associations—are remade every generation. In the sixties, Ram was an Indian religious figure recycled by British rock ‘n‘ roll stars—as remote from the ram on my grandparents’ farms as it is from the RAM in my kids’ computer.

Although Ringling Bros. and the Big Apple Circus are wonderful spectacles, neither is the traditional traveling tented circus.

And I knew something about that kind of circus.

I remembered that nearly two decades ago I had wondered if someday I wouldn’t be having this very conversation with my daughter. She’d just been born, and I had left her for a while to travel with a circus. It was 1977, and the outfit I hooked up with, like every other traditional circus, was in trouble. The people I met that summer had a strong sense of their own history, an ever-stronger pride in their professionalism, and a keen sense that they might be the very last generation to do what they did.

Cold Date

FROM A DISTANCE DAVID NODERER looked like a mime pacing the floor of an imaginary cell. He walked a straight line in the middle of the empty parking lot of the Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Valley Mall, stopped as though he had come to an invisible wall, made a right-angle turn with military precision, and walked another straight line until stopped by another invisible boundary. Every so often he crouched, his knees angling up to form a V, within which his body rested, as though he were the first letter in an illuminated manuscript.

Squatting like an orangutan, he rocked back and forth on his haunches and loosely swiped at the ground in front of him, his fingers curled and his knuckles grazing the pavement. Then he stood, walked a straight line, made another military turn, walked another straight line, and stopped again.

On the asphalt he was chalking small polygons and letters, marks that described a funnel-shaped alley leading to a circle as large as a football field. He measured the parking lot with the care of a magician drawing occult pentagrams before summoning spirits. By the following afternoon the funnel-shaped alley would be a midway and the circle would be a big top. Noderer was conjuring up a circus.

NODERER WAS THE TWENTY- four-hour man of the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. Earlier that day he had driven to Lebanon from Wilmington, Delaware, where the circus was playing the last of a three-day run. At every major intersection he had stopped to nail red arrows on trees, blazing a trail for the thirty-seven trucks and couple of dozen house trailers to follow later that night after the last Wilmington performance.

Noderer hadn’t slept very much or very well the night before, and living out of a van, he hadn’t had a chance to shock himself awake that morning with a cold shower.

After he had finished chalking where each truck, trailer, and tent pole would go—the king-pole markers (for the center poles) looked like crosshairs in a rifle scope—he came over to my van, which was parked on the lot, and leaned against a fender. I was sitting on the pavement, my back to the front wheel.