Jim Siergey: The Smell of Sawdust

November 28th, 2018

The circus came to town! No, not the one in Washington. That one has too many clowns and not enough derring-do.

This was the Orak Shrine Circus, one of, if not the last, traveling circuses in the U.S. It had pitched its tent in nearby Hammond, Indiana. Why not run off and join it? As a spectator, of course.

Now, it hadn’t really pitched a tent, it was taking place indoors in the Hammond Civic Center. Since it was a cold, wet night, that was a good thing.

It had been a long time since I had been to a circus plus my young granddaughters had never been to one. Every kid should see a circus at least once in his lifetime and since they may not be around for much longer and that iron was hot enough to strike we done struck it.

Me, the wife, the grandkids, their parents and two other kid-at-heart adult friends joined in and we trekked on up to the Hammond Civic Center.

Once inside, the smell of freshly popped popcorn permeated our senses. Lovely ladies clad in pert red usherette uniforms and caps took our tickets and gents in black uniforms with gold braids across their chests showed us to the doorways of entry. As we would soon discover, these same folks were also the circus performers.

circus4Nothing like a circus…
Old men in Shriner fezzes welcomed us all and directed us to the bleachers and seats. We situated ourselves across from the center ring in what turned out to be a three-ringer. In the center ring were elephant rides for the kids (Twenty bucks for two lumbering laps around the ring). In another ring were pony rides. Off to the side was face painting, photos with a snake, photos with Spider Man (one of the aeralists) and other pre-show money-makers.

The lessons taught by P.T. Barnum were still being carried out.

Eventually, the time had come for the Greatest Show on Earth to begin. Everyone settled in their seats and the hall grew dark, except for all the electric sparking toys that kids persuaded their parents to buy for them.

Then came a bit of culture shock. No more calliope music going “Da Da Daddle La Da Da Da Da”. It has been replaced with Disco/House Music/ Acid Rock stuff and lasers as the performers strutted into the arena. Oh well, one must keep up with the times, mustn’t one? Like Paul Simon sang “Keepin’ the customer satisfied”.

Well, it did what a circus does, it entertained. We were captivated by muscular female (and male) aeralists, gymnasts, tightrope walkers, jugglers, an amazing crossbow act, tigers and elephants!

Note: For those who have a phobia, there is only one clown and he appears twice.

The wild animal tamer was not from the Old School, pith helmeted whip handler with a chair held menacingly in front of him. This feller was sort of gentle and had the big cats (one of ‘em was a large white tiger) doing docile yet disciplined acts, moving in formation, leaping over one another and walking on hind legs.

He did not stick his head in any of their mouths.

Now, I understand the whole outrage about animals in the circus and their mistreatment. I’m all for the ethical treatment of our fellow beasts. I always did dislike animal acts, especially the ones where dogs or monkeys were dressed in silly outfits. I even get creeped out by non-circus dog owners who dress up their pets. Brrrr.

The Orak Shrine Circus people go out of their way to give notice that the animals they have in their circus are treated like family. They respect them. It says so on their web site so it must be true, right?

All in all, it was a fun time at the circus. Even the modern day girls, having grown up on Sponge Bob Square Pants, video games and cell phones seemed to have a good time. I sneaked peeks at them from time to time and they seemed to be enthralled by what they were witnessing.

Of course they were too cool to admit it. Afterwards when I asked them, “So, was that the Greatest Show on Earth or what?” their reply was a hesitant “Ye-ahhh, I guess so.”

Kids these days. As Rodney Dangerfield was fond of saying “Ooh, they’re a tough crowd.”


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Support or Stition

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