Clowning around (responsorial)
And: Fun facts to know and tell!
In reply to Thursday’s Bulletin Board:
Semi-Legend: “The detail in the Barnes’ Circus ad, with come-ons like ‘SEE: THE WORLD’S ONLY PERFORMING LLAMAS … THE WORLD’S ONLY EDUCATED ZEBRAS,’ reminded me of the lyrics of the Beatles’ ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’: ‘. . . And of course Henry The Horse dances the waltz!’
“This video of the song includes a similar circus poster:
“And here’s a clearer reproduction of the Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal poster from 1843, on which the song is based.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Be sure to click on that poster link, above, for the back stories of the characters in the song.
Life as we know it
Outhouses and Porta-Potties Division
John in Highland: “Recent continuing memories of outhouses past and present bring back memories of journeys up the Fernberg Road, north of Ely, to Moose Lake, on the edge of the BWCA[W]. Several of my friends had built a rustic cabin on a lot that they had purchased from one of the local canoe outfitters, Don Beland.
“There was no road to the cabin, which stood on the north shore of the lake, so it was necessary to take a boat across in the summer. In the winter, we would hike across the ice, dragging a toboggan that held necessary supplies, including Fitger’s beer, and sausage from Zup’s in Ely.
“Charles Kuralt wrote about his love for Ely and Zupancich Brothers sausage in one of his ‘On the Road’ books. [Bulletin Board notes: If our memory serves us properly, it was not in an “On the Road” book; it was in a book inspired by his travels, “Charles Kuralt’s America,” in which he chose the 12 places in the United States where he would spend a month each, during his ideal year.] He mentioned the founder, John Zupancich, who would sponsor the fireworks display every Fourth of July. Kuralt always wondered if the descendants had loaded John’s ashes into one of the rockets, to explode and shower down over the town they both loved.
“The cabin was truly ‘rustic,’ with no electricity, no running water or well, just a wood stove for heat and Coleman lanterns for light — and of course a one-holer outhouse stood in the woods out the back door.
“My friend Mark informed me at one point that he and the other owners had made ‘a major improvement’ up at the cabin. It seems that they had purchased a small generator and run an extension cord out to a space heater in the outhouse. Although the heat was welcome, its availability was a matter of ‘good anticipatory timing.'”
Joy of Juxtaposition
Judith Blackford reports: “A curious juxtaposition: inside my window, a decorative red-headed woodpecker; outside my window, a wild red-headed pileated woodpecker.
Another circus memoir by Tim Torkildson: “Whenever the dwarf clown Prince Paul was in a reminiscent mood, he would tell me about the old tenting days with Ringling Brothers, when each clown was allocated no more than one bucket of water each day. This was for washing out costumes. And for bathing. And occasionally for drinking. I was appalled.
“’How could you keep clean that way?’ I asked.
“’Schmutz Finger,’ he’d tell me, ‘it wasn’t easy. Sometimes when they were watering the elephants at night with hoses from the hydrant, we’d sneak over close to them, buck-naked, and catch some of the off-spray for our showers.’
“’But what about laundry?’ I persisted. ‘How could you ever keep costumes clean?’
“Prince gave a massive shrug. ‘We didn’t. They stank like hell. Why do you think we all wore such meshuga colors and patterns? It was to hide the dirt.’
“Later research on my part revealed that some clowns, like Paul Jung and Felix Adler, who dressed in a lot of white, simply paid someone in wardrobe to wash and bleach their costumes each week. Wardrobe people had unlimited access to water, in order to be able to keep the show costumes fresh.
“When I first joined the Ringling clown alley nearly half a century ago, all the veteran clowns paid one of the foreign idlers to do their laundry for them at a laundromat. By foreign idler, I mean a member of one of the Hungarian teeter-board troupes or Bulgarian acrobatic acts who had no direct connection with the performance — an uncle or cousin brought along just to help move props or babysit. Every foreign troupe had at least one or two of these third wheels; European circus families were very tight and looked after each other, so they were happy to bring along Auntie Schleppo so she could make a little money and see the wonders of the great big U.S. of A.
“This service was available to me as well, but I balked at the pricing. It cost 75 cents to have a pair of clown pants washed. Shirts were 50 cents. Socks a quarter a pair. And they didn’t do underwear, period. Since I was making only $90 a week as a new clown, I did my own laundry.
“My costumes got dirty quick. The ubiquitous green rubber mats that were laid down throughout the arena were impossible to keep clean; the animal manure and urine were first sprinkled with sawdust and then hastily swept up during the show. This was a rudimentary procedure at best, so when I took one of my numerous pratfalls during a gag, I inevitably picked up some of the remaining effluvium.
“Without a car, doing laundry involved lugging my duffel bag of ripe clothes to the nearest wash-o-torium on foot. Usually a mile or more from the arena. Or, if word spread that there was a pleasant suburban laundry a few miles away, several of us new clowns would pitch in to hire a taxi to take us there and bring us back.
“Back then, laundromats were powered by nickels and dimes. Quarters were still serious money; you could buy postage stamps or a hamburger for a quarter. So each week I had to find a bank for a roll of dimes and a roll of nickels. I could have gotten my change from one of the concessionaires, but those usurers charged a nickel for a roll of nickels and a dime for a roll of dimes.
“Before I joined the show and was living at home, my mother did all my laundry — so I had no idea how to do it on my own. The first load of laundry I ever did solo, I figured I could use a bottle of Joy dishwashing liquid. Why not? Soap is soap, right? The resulting slithery foam bubbled out from my washer for a dozen feet or so, causing the attendant to curse me out in hearty Korean.
“There were a few more minor glitches before I learned the laundry ropes. Then I became an expert at surviving laundromats. And believe you me, survival skills are necessary when dealing with the American laundromat; most are miserable sinkholes.
” — The first thing to learn is to never load a washer and then pour in the detergent before putting the coins in the slot and pushing the button. First make sure the washer is working. Out of Order signs are a luxury that most laundromats can’t seem to afford.
“— Never buy your detergent at the laundromat. Those little machines mounted on the wall that dispense packets of Tide or Oxydol are a fraud. They are either completely empty or take your money and then refuse to deliver, giving a tinny and unpleasant laugh as you bang your fists on them. When you ask the attendant (supposing you can find one) for a refund, he or she suddenly develops a hearing impairment and can answer only in Esperanto.
“— Bring something to read. The magazines provided at a laundromat make a dentist’s waiting room look like the British Library. There are only copies of Snuff Aficionado or religious pamphlets with titles such as ‘Is Hell Located in Your Cookie Jar?’
“— Those big drum-roller driers don’t actually dry anything. They just spin around, making a hellish sound, while you feed coins into them in the vain hope of producing some heat. Or else they become white-hot in a matter of seconds, scorching your whites and shrinking shirts and pants to doll size in a New York minute.
“— Never sit down. Those orange plastic chairs are molded to make your coccyx curl in on itself. Always check to see if they are approved by the Torquemada Council. Better sore feet from standing than sudden-onset scoliosis from sitting!
“As a cost-cutting step, I took to washing my clown socks in the men’s room of the arenas where we played. There was usually a soap dispenser that dribbled out some slimy concoction that could be considered soap by a long stretch of the imagination. And sometimes the sink actually had hot water that came out of the hot-water tap. I then hung them to dry over every square inch of my clown trunk. They proved to be irresistible to Mark Anthony’s Weimaraner, Zip the Wonder Dog. He chewed them up like steak bones. Good clown socks are thick and polka-dot and expensive. I complained to Mark about his dog’s depredations, but he just laughed it off.
“’He thinks your socks are rawhide treats,’ he said with a chuckle.
“So I hung my socks over the thick blue curtains that surrounded clown alley for the purpose of providing us with some privacy when changing. But Charlie Baumann, the fierce German performance director, told me to pull them down ‘Macht Schnell’ because they made clown alley look like a ghetto.
“I finally hung them over the sides of the clown prop boxes, where they remained undisturbed — until I forgot about them one move-out night. The moving crew simply threw them away when packing things up, and I had to wear my white cotton civilian socks for several weeks until my new red-and-green polka-dot clown socks arrived by mail order from Pierre’s Costumes of Philadelphia.
“As a whiteface clown, I was expected to wear white gloves while performing, and those things got filthy faster than a parking meter expires. Plus they were flimsy, ripping easily. I got tired of washing them out in my sink on the train each night and buying new ones at the Army Surplus store almost every week. So I began putting clown white on my hands, just to see what would happen. Nobody said anything, so I thought I had it made; but then the makeup started to make my palms itch like crazy; and the more I’d scratch, the more the clown white would flake off, giving my hands the appearance of something out of ‘The Mummy’s Curse.’
“Swede Johnson, that wise old clown, finally took pity on me and gave me some advice: ‘Hey, pinhead,’ he said. ‘Don’t wear any gloves during the show. Just save them for photographs.’ I happily followed his suggestion, with splendid results. No more evenings spent slaving over a hot sink full of gloves!”
The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Finger-lickin’ evil.
“I was the designated driver for an endoscopy patient this afternoon.
“As my charge was checking in, I headed for the coffee kiosk, where two other chauffeurs were hanging out.
“I’ll admit: It was I who mentioned how much fun it would be to antagonize the waiting room full of fasters by bringing along our lunch. They were readily complicit, though, with suggestions of ‘hot fudge sundaes, or maybe buttered popcorn.’
“I think I won with a bucket of KFC, but we’ll never know. And neither will the pre-probed innocents who just sat there, pecking away at their phones, unaware that just a few feet away, a cruel conspiracy was being formed against them by their closest friends.”
Out of the mouths of babes
Maureen the French Teacher: “Lucy, who just celebrated her 5th birthday, was asked if she remembered what she had said recently.
“Her reply: ‘Sometimes my head falls asleep, and I don’t know what I’m talking about.'”
Fun facts to know and tell (responsorial)
Maureen Kelly of Roseville: “The Dishpan Hands ad in the Sunday Bulletin Board recently [1/15/2017 — picked up from BBonward.com, 1/7/2017] brought back a memory often told by my aunt.
“My aunt was in the kitchen and overheard a conversation between her daughter and her daughter’s grandmother in the living room. They were watching a Detergent Hands ad on television. Grandma evidently showed her hands to her granddaughter to inspect and asked: ‘Do you think I have Detergent Hands?’
“The unexpected, memorable reply, much to my grandmother’s chagrin, was: ‘Yes, and you also have a Detergent Face!'”
Band Name of the Day: Finger-Lickin’ Evil and the Miserable Sinkholes
Website of the Day: The Heirloom Art of the Sewing Machine