Sunday, August 24, 2008

Things I Learned by Chatting with a Giant at the Circus

I met a giant at the circus last night. If his back had been straight, he might have been close to 8 feet tall, but he was a little hunched over. His hands and feet were huge. He said he always wanted to join the circus when he was a kid, so when he turned 18, he did. He's worked 4 different shows, some of them tent shows. It took him seven years to get into Ringling, but it's by far the best he's ever been on. That's why it took him seven years.

He told me about the one time in Georgia, when the circus was stuck between 2 tornadoes, each about a half-mile away. They evacuated, and everybody left including all of the cast and crew, but he was left behind to "take care of the tent." It had 362 stakes. He ran around and around the tent tightening the ratchets on the lines, around and around until the tornadoes passed. It was loud. But the tent stayed standing.

He's only been with Ringling for 4 months, "ever since New Orleans." His job is taking care of the horses, ponies, and goats. He works one of the shifts, feeding, watering, and scooping the poop. "That's a full-time job right there, just cleaning up shit." When his shift is over, he chain smokes Newports and chats with the guys on the local crew while he waits for the bus back to the train where they all live. Sometimes it's a mile away, sometimes ten. If he knew where it was, he'd ride his bike.

When they travel, he doesn't get much sleep, because the horses only sleep about an hour at a time, and really, "that's not even worth the trouble of lying down." Because of the rocking motion of the train, the water slops out of the troughs, so he constantly has to work at refilling them. It's a bad design. They should make them so that the sides curve back in toward the middle so that when the water sloshes, it just falls back in the trough. Bad design.

The size of your room on the train is based on your seniority, which grows over time, like the size of your room, "if you're a hard worker." His room is about the size of "the back seat of a car." Well, you know, bigger than that. But it seems like it. It has a bed and a small refrigerator. The refrigerator's right next to the bed so he can't open the door all the way. That's a bad design, too. The other rooms have the refrigerators up, but no, his is on the ground so he can't even open it all the way. And he can't put his feet down next to his bed. He has to turn them sideways.

But Ringling's the best he's been on. The pay's good, the benefits are good, and the rent for your room is only $7 a week. You believe that? But then, take a look at the room. He doesn't know what those animal groups are protesting about. The animals get better treatment than the people. Ringling doesn't mess around. If they ever find you beating an animal, they fire you. And the animals' A/C on the train is better. They have fresh food and water constantly. The food they give the horses costs $120 a bag. You believe that? $120. Oats or whatever.

And the elephants are happy. They're like kids, just playing all the time. You see that sand? They like to throw it on their backs, that's why it's there. They throw everything on their backs, water, hay, sand. Then some guys with leaf blowers blow it all off. Then they do it again. That's what it's for. For them to play in it. When the show sits down somewhere, they just dump the sand in a big pile, and the elephants roll in it. They spread it around themselves.

And they get these things they call brunches. Piles of food, apples, watermelons, bananas, whole loaves of bread. They love the bread. It's like a treat for them, whole loaves of whole wheat bread. He's seen their handlers give them a whole tree, like a 600-pound tree. They ate that thing in like ten minutes. Then the Boss Man, he think his name's Asia, he's just swinging that giant log around in his trunk, hitting the ground with it. They like bamboo, too. They like to smack it on the ground. They like the sound. And those stars on their butts? Those are freeze brands. How come only a couple have them? Don't ask him. He doesn't work with the elephants.

He loves Naked Juice. Have you tried that stuff? Pureed fruit. Rinds, banana peels and all. Everything's in there. You can taste it. This one's got 22 strawberries in it. And rose hips. Only $1.69, or some shit like that.

Traveling's the best part of working the circus. He's been everywhere. He's even been to the Alamo. You believe that? The Alamo. It's just a building. Most people wouldn't go see the Alamo, but he's been there. He's been to the top of the Statue of Liberty, too. And he's been to Vegas probably three dozen times. He's been everywhere. How many people can say that? Travel. And it's free travel. Next they're taking three days on the train to get to Illinoise. The stuff for the animals goes straight there, but them? They stop for everything. Every train crossing the track. Sometimes they stop three hours, waiting for a train. Illinoise isn't going to be any cooler, either. People think it's cooler, but it gets to 104 in Illinoise. If you're here next year, you should come see them move in. It's amazing.


Jennie said...

Ohmygodinheaven. It makes me feel really small (no pun intended) to think about how grateful that man is for his life. What an amazing post - I never knew any of that stuff, except how hot it gets in Illinoise.

Living In a Girl's World said...

Wow, the memory you have to remember all that. And I can hear him talking just like you wrote it. Really facinating!

I, Rodius said...

Thanks! He seemed like an interesting guy. I'm glad he was a chatter even though I was a little aloof at first. I still have that Boston subway rider's tendency to avoid eye contact with strangers and ignore people who talk to me so that the crazies and the panhandlers don't trap me. But what the hell, this is Texas! We're all pals here!

The Other Lion said...

It seems you may have the same syndrome I do -- a sign on your forehead reading, "Will listen to strangers." You do get some remarkable stories and interesting perspectives that way, though. I especially like your retelling. Illinoise is damn hot. And flat.

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