Saturday, July 11, 2009

I am of Circus Blood...

Obsessions will follow you wherever you go. Narrowing it down to three things, for me it’s this: magic, horror movies and the circus. Somehow, I think they all run into one another. At an age when most guys my age were out playing football, riding bikes and throwing rocks at passing cars, I was inside, happily alternating my television time between re-runs of The Twilight Zone and Penn & Teller Go Public and practicing my False Transfers and Zarrow Shuffles. I also spent a lot of time at the Bellevue Public Library going through old magic books (the same goddamn 6 books, over and over) copying down magicians names and looking up any old magazine articles on them. I found Ricky Jay and bought his book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (see below) – somewhere in my head, the thrill of reading about human oddities struck a nerve and I have hunted down every book, every magazine article and documentaries on the subject, since. Being lucky enough to live in Los Angeles as an adult, still, one of my favorite things to do is to visit the Ripley’s Museum on Hollywood Boulevard, and while not exactly a circus museum, it’s still home to stories and pictures of the strange world of human and otherwise oddities. I could live there.

In January of this year, I went back home to Omaha for a Christmas visit and in my time there, made the trek to Ottumwa, IA to visit my Grandfather, who somehow becomes funnier with age. It was late Friday night and we were sitting in the living room, talking with the TV on, flipping back and forth between the news and The X-Files. Like it always does with me, the subject of magic and circus came up and out of left field, my Grandpa said something that came out in slow motion. “You know, we had a relative in the circus.” My world froze. “WE had a relative in the circus and you’re only JUST now getting around to telling me?” I wanted to strangle him and hug him at the same time. My own Grandfather. “Oh, yeah… the circus. Ringling Brothers.” Again, I was breathless. “Well, what was she? Was she a trapeze artist? Did she get fired out of a cannon – my God, was she the lady that rides around the ring standing up on a horse? Again, why in the hell are you JUST now telling me?” My patience and breath was getting shorter. “Nah, they don’t have these things anymore –“ at this point, my Grandpa was doing this thing with his hand where he shakes it back forth, trying to remember something, “… it’s considered inappropriate. She was in the… Freak Show. She was the Fat Lady” That’s it. I was done. If I had died then, I would have died happy. A relative, in the FREAK SHOW! He went on to tell me that her name was Dolly and at one point in his life, she came through town for a visit and his parents were nervous because they didn’t have anywhere for her to sit. Good times. In my head, this was all I needed to know. So somewhere, all of these books, DVD’s, copied magazine articles – it’s all been justified. I cannot do justice in explaining who Dolly actually was, but this website seems to have nailed it:

I am of circus blood. And I couldn’t be happier.