That Time I Took My Sons to The Circus

W  hat do you mean you’ve never been to the circus?!?!

“I haven’t,” she said.





It was inconceivable! I was in Jackson’s Gallery mentioning to The Groovy Framing Elves ™ that The Colonel and I were going to take our sons Hudson and Harding, who were five and two, respectively, to the circus.  And Cathie – who’s MY age, dropped the bomb that she’d NEVER been to a circus!

“How can you get to the age of –”

“Watch it.”

“Uh…our age without ever having gone to a circus?”

“I dunno, we just never went,” Cathie said, sniffing.

“I’ve never been either,” said Lisa.

“Me neither,” said Amanda.

I was aghast. “How can all of you stand there in your lackadaisical manner as if this is no big deal? It’s a travesty! You have to go to a circus.  It’s just what’s done!”

They all gave a bored shrug and went back to work.

This was just too much. Earlier in the year, Cathie had floored us with the news that she had no idea who Jerry Seinfeld was, and that she’d never had a Cinnabon. We may have to run an intervention…


I love circuses

The snow cones and cotton candy, the cheesy music, the barkers, and the crappy toys on those thin bamboo canes that smell like a headache. And who doesn’t have that tense secret yearning for someone to take a tumble off the high wire, or to get a sound chewing from one of the lions? Maybe this would be the year we get an elephant rampage!

Those folks who witnessed Roy getting munched really got to see something…

The Colonel got us goodish seats towards the middle, and I ran out and got The Boys First Ever Snow Cone.


Owen, Harding, and Hudson before the circus got them down…

Circus Grub

We all know that circus and carny food is exorbitant. (For the sake of this discussion we’ll call it food). Most of us don’t mind paying a little more for something that’s really good, but we all know that circus and carny food is complete crap. And we keep buying it.

It must feed some perverse cultural neurosis in us that we willingly stand in line to be “served” by antagonistic, odiferous, and sometimes openly hostile transients – whom I refuse to believe have passed any food service training.

Then we hand over chests of gold for food that, by all appearances, has recently hit the floor and/or has already been refused by the circus animals.

I’ve not had the benefit of the experience, but I bet the food is better in prison.


Jabba the Snow Cone Lady

In these enlightened modern times of political correctness, you don’t see many sideshow acts anymore. You may be happy to learn that these folks are still in circulation, and have been redeployed as food service workers.

When the line finally shuffled up to my turn, I nearly turned and ran.

The woman (woman?) running the till was enormous, filthy, and very agitated. Her colouring was bad, but it was hard to tell in exactly what way because she had a crust of some sort. It may have been food. Or it may have been dirt. My money is on a combination of the two.

Her voice was also notable, if a little hard to describe. It had lots of volume, and elements of “nails on a chalkboard”, chainsaw, and Dollar Store smoke detector. It was also completely unintelligible. People’s primary reaction upon hearing it was to give a sort of cringing flinch.

Her teeth – I know, I too was surprised she had any –  were uneven in shape and color, and they seemed to move around her mouth somehow. There’d be a big one over here, and then it’d be over there. They didn’t even look like teeth: they looked like yellow fungusy toenails.

All in all, she looked like Jabba the Hutt wearing Halloween dentures who’d just got dug out of a landslide.

Someone with a permanent marker had clumsily crossed out every flavour except “blue”, so I smiled nervously, and ordered four blue snow cones, please.

It cost about three hundred dollars. Or something equally outrageous. Whatever it was, I whinnied and reared on my hind legs when this huge unwashed matron screeched for her cash.

Jabba the Snow Cone Lady (artist’s rendition)

The Comedian Camel

They delayed the show about a half an hour to, I guess, maximize the revenue from the elephant rides. There was a pretty good line for them, and they had camel rides too, but they weren’t as popular.

As I have a neurotic aversion to standing in line, we went down to the camel ride, blue to the elbows with melted snow cone.

This camel turned out to be a wiseass. He wore a perpetual grin and liked to headbutt people and chew their hair and spit at them. He also had the air of a Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield who, after zinging you, would clap you on the back and say “Hey! You’re alright!”

I’m convinced that this same camel did the Geico commercial in later years (see below)


“MikeMikeMikeMikeMike! What day is it?!”


Back in our seats, Hudson was studying the elephant. He’d ridden one on his first birthday, and had an altercation with one a little while back.

“How old is that elephant?” he asked, frowning.

The elephant was an old liver-spotted relic that looked like he could use a walker. Come to think of it; he kinda looked like the Snow Cone Lady.

“Dad, YOU could give rides faster than that,” Hudson said, thoughtfully.

Karla had been taking a drink of pop when he said this, and she made a sort of ‘koomp’ sound and launched into a coughing fit that got the people in front of her nervous to see if they were going to get showered with pop. But my wife is good with money and managed to keep her extravagant mouthful of pop to herself. Pretty much.

“SHHH!! THEY’RE STARTING!” shushed Harding.


Well, they were almost starting

For the next 45 minutes, we had a parade of a pipe band, and old duffs wearing fezzes and toddling around in mini cars.

Hudson groaned and rested a dour chin on his palm. I had to agree: it seemed that only half the band was playing at any given time because the geriatrics shuffling along could only manage about 4 or 5 notes before launching into racking coughs.

Then came 15 minutes of introductions. Evidently, these old gents were of some importance, as they had titles like “His Omnipotence”, and “His Royal Potentate”. A couple of them had to be woken up to wave when it was their turn, but they all had a go.

A high point came when somebody’s great-granddaughter came out to sing O Canada, and I’m proud to report that, for once, every fella in the place removed his hat.

Then we had another intermission while they prodded the 40 or 50 old timers into action and herded them out of the ring. They looked like they were all imitating the elephant.

Hudson asked, “Dad, what makes a circus good? This isn’t very fun, and we’ve been here a long time already.”

Just then the light went down, and they pumped music at us. This wasn’t the usual Nickelodeon stuff; it was ‘updated’ dance music from the late 80’s.



Step Right Up…

I’ll spare you the torture of a play by play. It was awful.

  • The horse act was a ‘cowboy’ with a French Canadian accent, and who had no assistants, so we had to wait between tricks while he set up.
  • The elephant heaved to for a show that highlighted with raising her trunk and one leg.
  • There were no big cats or high wire acts.
  • The clowns did just one hokey gag that took 7 minutes.

And you KNOW the circus is a dud when a 5-year-old turns to you and asks “Dad, when can we go? I’m bored…”

The best part of the show was Jabba The Snow Cone Lady, and when the camel almost got a guy’s toupee off.

That might’ve made the whole thing worthwhile…!


The Colonel and Harding on that wisecracking camel

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  1. Jasmine Hewitt

    The circus is a rite of passage. That being said, not all circuses are good. The last time I recall going to a circus, because the ones here were generally “drunky the a** clown magic fun hour”, i was eight. The had one elephant. That’s it. One chick would do high wire acts, but mostly swung from a 2×4 7 feet off the ground in various costumes and wigs. We only realized (at 8) that it was the same chick because one audience member accidentally ripped the wig off during a trick. Good times.

    • The Pencilneck

      Sounds about right. Entertaining, but not for the reasons they intended…

  2. Jim Davis

    I just spit coffee all over my desk for that “Jabba the snow cone lady” picture! Holy crap is that hilarious! LOL! I have actually only been to the circus once myself and I swear you had a way better time than I remember having. I think they need to have something for the dang clowns though. lol

  3. Tristan

    “Toys that smelled like a headache” Funny!


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