Night Crawler

"It's just wrong," says Miguel Chinti, a disappointed self-identified rube. "There's no grit. No wonder. You can't be in awe unless you're a little scared. For a sideshow to work, it has to be intimate. The crowd has to feel in danger of being raped or robbed. That's what P.T. was about."

For Chantal Morris and her young daughter, this sideshow was scary enough. "I cannot stand snakes. No way. No how," says Morris as apology for knocking over her neighbors' two extra-large Cokes during Tong's routine.

When the main attraction begins it is fairly standard stuff: some deft acrobats, trick poodles, a macho tiger trainer with a bunch of sleepy cats, a line of sad-faced elephants forced to behave absurdly, and a human cannonball. Only Kyrgyzstan's Kambarov Riders -- warrior horsemen from mountainous terrain near China -- leave a sense of lasting wonder, with heroic stunts performed at full gallop. But somehow it is the Quiros who steal the show: four guys from Spain in archaic high-wire attire, playing leapfrog at 30 feet without a net. After two near misses -- when one or another of the Quiro brothers slips and falls, just catching the high wire -- they've worked the crowd into a frenzy. A woman behind me buries her face in her hands, moaning, "My heart can't take this! I can't look."

"There's a sucker born every minute," says Chinti, quoting David Hannum, P.T. Barnum's competitor in the Cardiff Giant fraud. "Those boys are just working the crowd, trying to get them invested." In circus-speak, that's style.

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By Silke Tudor

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