- 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 bright morning sun made a screen of the tea-colored big top. The shadow of a flag flickered and waved like a lizard’s tongue, and a flock of birds swooping above the tent cast large surprising batlike shapes on the inside of the canvas.
“ Perdito, perdito, perdito , ” Frank yelled.
He had swung out on the flying trapeze, tried for a triple flip, and missed by inches being caught by Arturo, his brother and David’s father, who swung, hanging upside down by his legs from the catch bar. He fell just as the bird’s shadow soared up toward one of the big top’s peaks.
Frances Padilla stood on the platform, holding a guy wire with one hand, waving her other hand and one foot in graceful ballet sweeps as she sang to herself. She was dark and small with an uncomplicated beauty. During her act, a tightwire performance at the beginning of the show, she moved her body—stretching it, bending it, balancing on the wire, and arching backward to touch her head almost to her heels—as though it were a single muscle. Her taut twists and turns, the little wiggling dance she did on the wire after each trick, reflected better than any other act in the show the connection between risk and eroticism that electrifies the circus. The skimpy costumes the performers wear may have originated in convenience (if you wear something brief and snug, you’re less likely than you are in floppier clothes to get tangled up or trip) and showmanship (the spangled leotards focus the audience’s attention), but they betray a message of sex and danger, the impulse to create life and to end it, which is the hidden moral of the circus.
IF A CAT GETS out of hand, all I do is flick it with a light whip on the tender spot on the tip of its nose. If he charges, I hold up a chair.”
Frances swung out on the trapeze, somersaulted, and caught Arturo’s wrists. Letting go of Arturo, she dived into the air and bounced into the net. Frank swung out, flipped, dropped to the net, and, grabbing the net’s edge, rolled off backward like a scuba diver going over the side of a boat. Arturo swung, flipped, dropped, and joined the other two. They left the tent, unwrapping the gauze from their wrists and discussing their technique, gesturing, grabbing invisible trapeze bars, suggesting somersaults with quick hunches of their shoulders and circular hand motions.
Little David Gaona climbed back up to the platform, used a horizontal pole to give himself height, and clambered onto a trapeze. He sat, his back against one of the ropes, holding on casually with one hand, one foot on the bar, the other dangling, surveying the nearly empty big top.
Outside the tent, before the elephant races, a local ten-year-old boy scrambled up a slender tree on the edge of the parking lot. He hung upside down from a branch.
“Hey,” he announced, “I’m in the circus.”
A woman a dozen feet away said out loud to herself, “Where’s his mother? He could fall and hurt his back.”
“It’s time you learned to juggle,” he said. “Start with two balls.”
He handed me a second ball.
“Toss one up,” he said. “When it reaches the top of its arc, toss the other one up. That’s right. Try three now.”
I kept dropping one of the balls.
“Practice up against a wall so they don’t roll away,” he said. “When I was a kid, every day before I went to school, I’d practice—even if I was late. Two years ago, when the circus came to Wilmington, Delaware, I just asked if they needed an extra clown. They did. So I got the job. In juggling I don’t really relate to the audience. I just perform and entertain them. In clowning, though, in a circus like this, you always play off the audience.