Today - for the first time since I was around 5 or so - I went to the Circus.
My wife bought some tickets to support the Shriner's Hospital and the great work they do with kids all around the world. I kept telling myself I could do it but as I closed in on the big-top all of the psychological gauze came unraveled.
Let me explain.
When I was a kid there were still traveling carnivals and circuses that wound their ways across southern Ontario. Whenever one stopped in the little town closest to where I lived it was a big deal.
I was just a little kid and the circus was fascinating. There was the tent. There was a rickety midway with the usual assortment of deathtrap rides. There was brutally unhygienic cotton candy and the toothrottingest candy apples to be found anywhere.
There were the carnies. God in heaven, who doesn't love a carny? With their tobacco-scented breath, gold tooth smiles and squinty invitations to "go for a ride." With the friendly, unclean menace in their every word and action. With the 20 pack of smokes rolled into the sleeve of a stained t-shirt. How can you resist?
We did the midway thing, my dad lost the requisite amount of money at the fixed games of chance and then we went into the big-top for the show of shows. My palms are sweating as I type this...
The clowns were fun, I guess, in all their racist glory. The chick with the horses was fine. But then there came the act that still makes my blood run cold.
Tumbling, rolling and swinging into the centre circle came a half dozen fully dressed chimpanzees. Cute and non-threatening in their little suits and top hats and bowlers. One of them, I recall, was dressed like a lumberjack complete with a little hatchet.
They danced and played around a bit but they became progressively rowdy and non-responsive to their trainer. Eventually the trainer lost all control and that's when all hell let loose.
It all started with the chimp in the top hat. That I could swear on a stack of bibles. Let's call him "TopHat" - I do, in my nightmares. Well, the trainer had this cane that he would motion with and the chimps were, I suppose, meant to do something with the object he motioned toward. There was a a climbing apparatus that the trainer kept jabbing at with the cane and TopHat would take a step in the right direction but stopped. The Trainer jabbed again, with more force and intent. TopHat actually took a step back. Now the anger was showing on the trainer's face and he stabbed vigourously at the apparatus. At some point I think the trainer must have bared his teeth because TopHat, for lack of a better term, suddenly went apeshit.
Have I mentioned that TopHat had a walking stick of his own? He did. It was a short little hickory thing with a glass knob to hang onto and a little brass foot at the other end. Well, TopHat flung the thing with great force at the trainer and struck him squarely on the arm that held the cane.
There was a gasp from the audience, myself included, but we had no way of knowing that we hadn't seen nothin', yet.
TopHat bared his teeth and tossed away the top hat. He next pulled off the tuxedo jacket he wore, then pulled off his short trousers with the grey stripe that ran down the seam. Underneath he wore a diaper. This was the next to go, flung into the first row of the audience with more than a hint of disdain.
It was then that TopHat finally mounted the apparatus. He climbed swiftly to the highest point of the apparatus - one must assume it was his usual post - and, hanging by his hands, began to masturbate with those dexterous feet of his. Both feet, rubbing with the frenzied vigour of... well, of a furious chimp.
The other five chimps - all male - followed suit. Each tore off his costume and joined TopHat on that hanging pyramid in an orgy of primate self-gratification.
By this time a few more roustabouts had appeared and were, with no success, trying to coax the glaze-eyed chimps down before things got messy.
Guess what - they don't just fling poo.
That is the horrific little tale of why I don't go to circuses, but today's event passed without incident. My children had a great time but it was too hot so we left at the intermission. Who knows - maybe there were chimps slated for the second half.