The things I remember about going to the circus as a child are limited, but they are awesome. I distinctly recall riding an elephant -- though my parents do not -- and only recently have I accepted the vegetarian guilt that comes with that potentially false memory. This was before I saw It and came to equate all clowns with Tim Curry, before the Museum of Nature and Science taught me that two types of zebras are endangered, and before I realized that if elephants put about 200 pounds of food into their mouths each day, some serious business must come out of the other end.
There is something magical about eating a rainbow-colored snow cone out of a cup shaped like an elephant that just doesn't translate to adulthood (I tried). In honor of Ringling's Colorado legacy and its run in Denver through October 9, Show and Tell looked into the realities of attending the circus as an adult without a child.
Here are the five creepiest culprits.
5. The size As a child, everything is bigger. This is a universally acknowledged truth, and it needs no further evidence than the experience of revisiting the circus roughly eighteen years after the last time you did so. It might also be because I have gained glasses since my youth, but the details are heightened. Do those strongman look strong or just a little chubby? Sure, it's easy to pick up those women if they each weigh eighty pounds. How many trailers are just full of stage makeup? The tires on that clown mobile are just inner tubes, and if you start to experience awe at the level of danger present, you need only play a game of count the fire extinguishers.
4. The singing There are certain things that should be musicals -- Barbra Streisand movies, plays about Mormonism written by the creators of South Park, anything starring Julie Andrews -- but the circus is not one of them. I honestly don't remember the circus of my childhood including random breaks of song, but the one I just attended created a level of disconcerting musical accompaniment in exact proportion to the amount of nostalgia that kept me going.
3. The blatant reappropriation of classic music The circus can have "I Want Candy" (and it does). Aaron Carter ruined that song in the '90s, and it was always a bit obnoxious to begin with. I'm unwilling to settle when it comes to Black Sabbath, however, particularly the disturbance that is witnessing a clown pretend to play "Iron Man" on an electric guitar. The circus has cornered the market on people riding bikes across a tightrope. Let corporate radio tackle the market on ruining the classics.
2. The guilt It's an established fact that the single most thrilling aspect of the circus is the sight of somewhere between eight and ten elephants (roughly 1,000, to the exaggerator) walking into the arena holding each other's tails. What is less, thrilling, however, are the photos of how they are treated -- and the stories behind those photos. In Denver, where PETA is protesting the circus every night it is in town, these two things are impossible to separate and combined perfectly right in front of the Will Call station. I witnessed one elementary school-era girl ask her mom what the photos were. In anticipation of an awkward situation, I did not wait for an answer.
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1. The poop Perhaps I was a naive youth, but I seem to remember spending more time looking at the animals than I did grimacing at what was coming out of them. As an adult, this reversed. Sure, it's natural and universal, but it's hard to focus on the man being shot out of a crossbow on fire when you're actively trying to dismiss the size of what just shot out of that elephant.