- Historic Sites
Sex Death And Ronald Mcdonald
ON THE ROAD DURING THE ERA OF GREATEST PERIL FOR THE ONE INDISPENSABLE AMERICAN SHOW
September 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 5
“The level of competence among circus people is pretty high. In an office job you get a guy who’s not bad, not good; he does what he has to, but not too well. You can’t have that in a circus. If the lion trainer isn’t very good at training lions, if the trapeze artist isn’t very good on the trapeze, they’re not going to last long.”
“Gotta go bible up,” said Greg.
Still juggling, he left to help lay the planks for the bleachers, which could accommodate four thousand people.
Sitting on one of the wooden arcs used to form one of the three rings, Frank Gaona, an aerialist with the show, was taping the flying bar with surgical gauze. Three times he started wrapping, stopped, unwrapped the gauze, and, readjusting it, began again. He worked with the concentration of a man building a card tower. He was a member of a famous Mexican circus family. He and his brothers worked for Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers; relatives worked for half a dozen other circuses around the world. It took him twenty minutes to tape the three-foot pole. When he was done, he ran his fingertips along the pole, held it in his hands in front of him, as though he were about to swing up into the tent from where he sat. Then he unwrapped the gauze, realigned it, and started all over again.
Dick Stewart played the calliope with the humdrum air of someone eating his regular lunch at his regular restaurant. He wore dark glasses, which made him look a little sinister, more carnival than circus, although he was an affable, calm man who assisted the performers in the big-top show. He was dressed in a wilted silvery jacket, a ruffled white shirt with a crumpled collar and soiled sleeves, and a lopsided black bow tie.
A small crowd of parents and children gathered in the midway in the drizzle. When it had started sprinkling about one-thirty that afternoon, everyone who was not fixing a rigging or setting up a concession had retreated into a trailer or under the dining tent. The dogs that traveled with the circus all had slunk under the trucks and lay with their chins on their forepaws, staring out at the rain.
Stewart left the calliope and mounted a narrow stage, called a bally, which had been set up in front of one of the sideshow trucks. Behind him were the painted advertisements for Punch and Judy, Miss Serpentina (the snake charmer), and a wild-animal exhibition. Inside the sideshow the elephants were restless. Their trumpeting sounded like heavy furniture being dragged across a floor. Stewart held a microphone in one hand and with the other hand whipped the mike cord out of his way as he strode back and forth.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, believe it or not, there are some people who have never been to an out-door tented circus,” he said, as though the entire circus had become such an oddity that everything, including the big top, belonged to the sideshow.
He had been joined on the bally by a clown with half his face painted white and half left a natural flesh color, a young man with a straggly goatee, a headband, and glasses, who was draped in a bed sheet, and two women dressed in jackets that looked as if they were made out of chain mail, spangly leotards, ripped fishnet stockings, and metallic high-heeled shoes. He asked the shorter of the two women, who had knelt by a small box, “What have you in there, Miss Serpentina? . . . She says she has a boa constrictor.”
Miss Serpentina scooped a snake from the box. It coiled around and dangled from one arm. She stroked its head between the eyes with a forefinger.
“In just about two minutes,” Stewart said, “she is going to take that snake and wrap it around her neck. You’ll see the little lady and her serpent inside the sideshow.” He turned to the other performers on the stage. “The young man here is Shandor Kalif; you’ll see him recline on his bed of nails. You’ll also see a magician and the mysterious India-rubber-skin girl—inside the sideshow in just a few minutes.”