Missed Burning Man, huh? Me, too. But I did make it to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth. Of course, the circus is for kids, of which I have none, but I did bring my imaginary daughter, aged 4, named Pear. We arrived to front-row seats at the Oakland Arena. "Want a peanut, Pear?"
copy; 2005 Feld Entertainment
A Ringling Bros. circus elephant does what comes
The circus opens Wednesday, Aug. 31, at
7:30 p.m. (and continues through Sept. 5)
The lights dimmed, a band started up, and about 4,000 performers paraded around the ring, followed by a batch of animals that looked suspiciously haphazard, like someone had raided the zoo. A man on a horse appeared interestingly weathered. Everybody was short; the Mongolian pole climbers were especially short. The ringmaster sang a song about what a great time we were all having at the circus.
I grew fascinated with the three-ring setup: Whenever an act ended, dozens of black-clothed men stealthily installed new gear with the precision of spiders constructing a web. "Pear!" I cried to Pear, astonished how the crew managed to stabilize three poles using just rope. She was looking at another ring, where something acrobatic was taking place -- a half-dozen men on their heads and a man (short) flying through a hoop.
The highlight was the Bengal tigers. Large, they sat quiet atop stools as trainer Taba ran around screaming like a lunatic. Then they would languidly drop, perform a trick (typically a single leap), and return to the stool. No sweat being shed there. "Are those tigers really wild? Do they have filed teeth? Where are the fucking lions?" demanded Pear, channeling my thoughts. "Look at Bello!" I screamed.
Bello Nock, the ringmaster's goofy sidekick with the desperate hair, had inadvertently found himself 50 feet off the ground, clinging to the Wheel of Death. The crowd gasped -- the first honest gasp of the night. Bello then proceeded to rule that Wheel of Death, and I, quite honestly, couldn't believe my eyes. His flips remained the best act of the evening until the crew raised a gargantuan trapeze net in approximately five seconds. The daring swingers themselves -- now called "sky surfers," which makes me vomit -- were sadly underwhelming; this is 2005, after all, when skateboarders like Tony Hawk roam the Earth.
Earlier, upon entry, Pear had accepted a flier from a protester and burst into tears, as she does when she inadvertently flips to Channel 29's slaughterhouse exposés. She feared the circus would be the same; perhaps a bloody carcass would be thrown through a hoop. About the worst you'll see, however, is a camel being encouraged to walk in a circle; the rough stuff supposedly happens behind the scenes (though not these scenes, according to Ringling Bros.). But take a good long look at the container trucks parked out front -- that's a shitty way for an elephant to travel.