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Sunday, February 05, 2006

I'm your clown

I hated the idea from the moment the wife brought it up.

"The circus is in town," she said.

The circus. It could only mean a few things. First, some naked PETA supporter would be sitting in front of the Bi-Lo Center for a few weeks. Second, it would mean I would soon be spending an inordinate amount of money for an activity I did not fully believe L'il Otis would enjoy. Secretly, I harbored some feelings that the wife is trying to move the kid along at warp speed toward adulthood by pushing him into experiences he's not yet ready to enjoy. That said, then and now, I couldn't come up with any specific example of how she is pushing the kid too fast. Knowing full well that I set the rules on "Full Documentation for Overly-Generalized Criticism" in the house, I kept my mouth shut.

Still, the circus? For a 17-month old kid? If I found his most favorite thing in the world (currently, a beach ball) and offered him unlimited time with it, I guarantee he wouldn't spend more than ten minutes involved in beach ball pursuit. Three hours at the damned circus was going to be a damned nightmare.

What's more, although not a PETA guy, I'm also not a big fan of zoos and circuses (circi?). Captive animals are more often than not unhappy animals. Frankly, there are just too many unhappy animals on this planet--most of them human, but still.

And yet, I kept my mouth shut. Thirty-five bucks a pop for the cheapest available tickets? Make it happen, cap'n. Five days later, I was standing in line listening to a barker repeat the same line over and over.

"Programs! Get your programs! All the clowns and performers! You will need your program before you get inside. You will not be able to buy a program once you go inside. Free light-up clown nose with every program."

From our spot in line, I watched cranky fathers trudge to the booth and hand over--get this--fifteen fucking dollars for a thin booklet and a thirty-cent clown nose. I marvelled at the marketing machine. I looked at the kid and was thankful he was too young to understand what was going on. Just in case, I left Mrs. Otis in line and took the kid for a walk.

When the doors opened, I smelled the money coming out of the pockets. It smelled like cheap plastic toys, $10 cotton candy, and $10 snow cones. I excused myself and took a walk. I had to see how bad it was.

The lines formed within 30 seconds of the doors opening

Even I, who likes a good monkey, ain't spending $22 on one

We had arrived early to get a good close look at the clowns in the pre-show. Together, the wife and I had figured that it would be the only time in which the kid would find any joy. He's an up-close kid and we figured he would have a hard timie enjoying the real show we'd watch from the stands. Even I, family skeptic, was sure the pre-show would be enough and make it worth the $35.

In anticipation of a good time

It was at the sight of the first clown that the kid lost it. A low whine started in his chest and worked its way up to his throat. The clown with the blue hair was apparently too much to handle. And, in case you haven't been recently, you can't turn around at the circus without running into a fucking clown. Hip-hop clowns, karate clowns, regular clowns, and irregular clowns.

Tears of a clown-hater

And therein was the conflict. Part of me felt quite superior. Internally, I had predicted masive failure and the wholesale waste of $100. This early fear and crying was proof I was right, I thought. However, more than wanting to be right, I had suddenly started to hope the kid would enjoy the moment. Watching his lip tremble made me sad.

Discouraged, we sat down in the middle of the floor and did all we could do--pose for a picture

I never thought the Chinese would save the moment. I like the Chinese. They give me good food. But, I don't count on them to perk the kid up. Thankfully, they are nimble little guys and Barnum and Bailey have picked up a ton of Chinese acrobats. At the end of the pre-show, those little Chinese guys turned the corner for us.

Suddenly, the kid was interested. We found our way to our seats (remarkably good for being the cheapest the old lady could find). For the first time as a parent, I found myself watching my kid's face more than I was watching the main event. As the lights and noises met his face, his reactions were better than anything in the circus ring (although, the motorcycles in the big metal sphere came in a close second).

For the next hour, the kid clapped, ooohed, ahhhhed, and danced. He nayyyyyyed with the horses, squealed with the elephants, and whistled at the birds. An hour passed before the first act ended and confetti started shooting into the air around us. Before long, it rained down on us and as I looked up at L'il Otis, I declared--if only to myself--that I was wrong.

I hate being wrong. It's among the things I work hardest not to do. It's an ego thing, I suppose. Nonetheless, when it comes to being wrong about whether my kid will be happy, I'll do it every time if it means I get to see him like he was yesterday.

Just don't tell Mrs. Otis, okay?


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