Our squirrels, ourselves
Christy of Menomonie, Wisconsin: “Why is that cute redhead hanging around the front of our house? And why is she so angry?
“All of the other squirrels prefer the back yard, where sunflower seeds fall from the heavens and ears of corn dangle off branches.
“This red one was quite the diva: As soon as that dining area filled up, she would leave in a huff. She would run around to the front of the establishment and attempt to get the attention of management, to complain about the lax crowd control and unacceptable riffraff clientele. Perched atop my garden gargoyle under the living-room window, she would spit and sputter her displeasure with loud, angry chattering. Her whole body twitched, and her tail switched back and forth. The look was frightening, as if she were doing her best to out-grimace the gargoyle. I just let her blow off steam. After all, what else could a little squirrel do?
“I found out what else she could do when I went out during a January thaw to unravel the Christmas lights from the front shrubbery. Instead of 50-foot strings of lights, I was left holding pieces of wire completely chewed through. She had vandalized my decorations by gnawing up all the lights. Good thing they had been unplugged since early January, or that cute little redhead would have been one hot mama!”
‘Tisn’t the season — anymore!
Anonymous woman: “Subject: You know it is time.
“When you dream about breaking a wrist, you know it is time to pack away all the Christmas ornaments that have cluttered your living room since you put away your Christmas tree.”
Leading to: Oh, and was her face red!
Carp Lips of Wyoming (formerly “of Hastings”) reports: “Just went to dinner with friends, and the waitress was explaining how she was cleaning up another table (while the people were still there) and grabbed a napkin that contained (what were supposed to be) dog scraps. And she felt a little embarrassed about it.
“Our friend Salrah went the whole meal talking about a variety of things. Then, just as we were about to leave, stated: ‘OK, I just have to say . . . why in the world would someone put jock straps on a table?’
“We all had a hearty laugh after clearing things up for her. Salrah included.”
Mounds View Swede: “Subject: Four 2013 Presque Isle River photos.
“The Presque Isle River above the main falls I have been showing in the past is a busy, complex river as it makes its way over the rock formations. Trying to capture its essence is really difficult with the variations it offers.
“I am still intrigued by the many thin layers of rock that are visible.
“We tried photographing just parts of the different rapids presented to us, but it was hard to get something that seemed really good.
“We walked by this piece of the river every time we came up to the U.P., but only on this last trip did I stop to photograph it. The water hid a lot of the rock variations, and its simplicity was also an attraction compared to the busy-ness of other parts of the river. This was also a ‘high water’ year, with plenty of rains to make the river full.
Another circus memoir from Tim Torkildson: “Ringling Brothers was a publicity juggernaut. It never played a town without first inundating the local media with press kits, posters, advance performers, and billboards. While the show was in town, the PR remained relentless, starting with the parade of animals and performers from the train to the building in the early-morning hours before the sun licked the dew off the streets.
“One of the prime publicity stunts was the guest clown — usually a reporter, or some important local bigwig like the mayor. It’s hard to say who the very first guest clown was with Ringling Brothers, but it goes back to at least 1917, when humorist Robert Benchley wrote about his experiences while embedded in clown alley for the New York Tribune Magazine.
“Art Ricker handled the clowns for publicity. He was, in Western-movie parlance, a tall drink of water. Towering over most of us, this balding, cigar-smoking Svengali inveigled various clowns into performing outside of regular showtime hours in order to go visit children’s hospitals or appear on a local kiddie-TV show (usually at some ungodly hour like 7 a.m.). He it was who arranged for guest clowns to submit themselves to our tender ministrations.
“Our feelings about guest clowns were ambiguous. On the one hand, if they kept quiet and brought us donuts, we didn’t mind babysitting them. On the other, if they were sneering know-it-alls who tried to tell us how to do our jobs and didn’t bring any treats for the alley, we couldn’t wait to get rid of them.
“Either way, they were made up with an easy makeup that we called ‘B.A. Clown’ and dressed in a green satin Yama Yama suit. ‘B.A.’ stood for ‘Busted A–,’ because they were given a huge red mouth that suggested a . . . well, you get the picture. The Yama Yama suit was green with age — a one-size-fits-all jumper with black pompon buttons that had its roots in a 1909 Broadway play called ‘Three Twins.’ That show featured a song called ‘The Yama Yama Man,’ in which chorus girls cavorted in Yama Yama suits while a soubrette sang about the creepy Yama Yama Man. (If you want to see an authentic Yama Yama suit and hear the disturbing lyrics for yourself, just watch the movie ‘The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle,’ which stars Ginger Rogers singing the song in costume.”
“As noted earlier, if the guest clown was docile, he or she was treated without prejudice. The boss clown would give him or her a simple clown prop, like an oversized foam-rubber mallet to play with, and then one of the First-of-Mays would be detailed to escort the guest clown around and see that he or she did not get crushed by an elephant or peed on by the tigers (who have deadly aim up to 12 feet away). If the guest clown proved recalcitrant, wanting to go off on his or her own in order to get a scoop or chat up the showgirls, harsher measures were used. Squirreled away in one of the clown prop boxes was the ‘killer kangaroo,’ a diabolical sight gag that consisted of a foam-rubber kangaroo stuffed with a large inflated exercise ball. The victim sat on the back of the kangaroo and bounced around the arena. It was an exhausting workout; a guest clown who managed to make it all the way around the track would stagger back to clown alley afterwards on the brink of cardiac arrest. That usually put paid to their disruptive nosiness for the rest of the show.
“My first year in clown alley, I was an eager beaver when it came to publicity. A rube from the wilds of Minnesota, I was delighted to get my name in the newspaper or be interviewed on an early-morning radio program. Ricker took advantage of my naïveté and gave me all the crap PR assignments. I went up in an Eddie Rickenbacker special to do a radio traffic report, in makeup and costume; the pilot decided to impress me with several loop-de-loops — which ended in my yacking up my blueberry muffin all over his leather jacket. I was tapped to do a solo performance at a school for the deaf and blind. And Ricker had me handing out pamphlets between shows, in makeup and costume, detailing how well our elephants were treated, when PETA decided to picket the show.
“I finally wised up, like the rest of clown alley, and whenever the click of his dress shoes echoed along the corridors near clown alley and the noisome stench of his cigar warned us of his approach, it was all hands abandon ship and devil take the hindmost. We scrambled through the thick blue curtains that separated clown alley from the prying public to scamper away like rabbits. The veteran clowns had no worries; they had paid their publicity dues long ago and were immune from normal requests. They got only the plum assignments, such as interviews with reporters from the New York Times or Chicago Tribune. They also did all the network TV. I still recall fondly the time Prince Paul was asked to do ‘The Phil Donahue Show.’ He kindly asked me to accompany him, so I could be on national TV. When Donahue inevitably requested us to ‘do something funny,’ Prince was prepared with a large shaving-cream pie; he ground it into Donahue’s face without a moment’s hesitation.
“I’ll say this for Art Ricker: He never held a grudge. Even though I had taken to hiding out whenever he was in the market for another victim, he still tracked me down when we played Anaheim so I could be in a ‘Sesame Street’ segment, featuring the Ringling clown car. It took several hours to film, and I missed lunch for it, but it was worth all the bother. I recently discovered that clip here and shared it with my grandkids. Even though you can barely make me out, they were duly impressed.
“I don’t know how long I’ll remain a bigshot in their eyes, but it’s a mighty fine feeling while it lasts.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: We found a website where that clown-car bit can be watched in slow motion. Oh, and by the way: Mr. Torkildson is Number 3.
Out of the mouths of babes
Grandma Connie of Scandia: “My sister’s grandson was visiting and had gone to use the bathroom. When he was done, his cousin called for him to come back and wash his fingers. He just kept walking, so she called again: ‘Zach, come and wash your fingers.’ He stopped, turned and answered: ‘But I didn’t pee on my fingers.’ The mind of a 3-year-old is awesome.
“Later that same day, he was supposed to go up to his uncle’s house to wait for his dad, who was working later. He didn’t want to go. His uncle said that he needed to, as his dad wouldn’t be able to find him if he wasn’t there. Zach answered: ‘Just call him and tell him where I am.’ These young ones really have quick minds.”
Band Name of the Day: The Guest Clowns
Websites of the Day: “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle” (Beginning) and “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle” (End)