A topic over Thanksgiving dinner was the new PBS documentary, Circus, which I’d not heard of, but which was highly recommended.
It made me remember seeing the Shrine Circus as a kid, and the sense that I wasn’t precisely enjoying myself but that I was transfixed that so much could be going on all at once and if you settled your eyes for a second, you’d miss ten, twelve things, both beautiful and frightening, strange and oddly flat (because aren’t you always, somehow, expecting something to go very wrong, and it rarely, rarely does).
I remember more, though, the pre-kitsch-revival version of the sideshow, at the annual St. Joan of Arc’s Carnival every year. It seems telling I can’t even remember what the promise was inside, but I remember my dad warning me of seeing an alligator woman at a carnival as a kid, and he never forgot it.
When I still too young to go inside (and in fact, I think by the time I was old enough, the sideshow no longer arrived with the Scrambler, the Pirate Ship, the Cyclone and shoot-the-clown booths), I remember standing in front of the stage, which seemed 50 feet high, hearing the barker (in my memory he is not leery, nor tantalizing but filled with true, stern, nearly desperate warning), haunted by what I imagined lie behind the brightly painted shaggy wood-planked dividers that seemed to separate me from the mysteries of life.