Monday, June 20, 2011

Carnival of Animals

I hear Broadway's having a good season. A record season. Do I envy the theatre-goers or the cheerful queues of tourists thronging Times Square's 1/2-price booth? Do I get a thrill seeing actors emerge late-night from stage doors, greeting excited autograph-seekers and camera-philes? I do not. I seem to lack the Broadway- audience gene and have always felt squeamish when any actor breaks into song-and-dance or flies throught the air on a harness. My parents never did this, nor my schoolteachers or friends. The spectacle thing embarasses me. In fact I have maybe a clinical mild case of Coulrophobia (Fear of Clowns) and whatever the term may be for circus-revulsion. I love animals--- I am fascinated by the slow heavy grace of camels and elephants--- not so much lions and tigers or bears, but seeing them humiliated by humans in silly costumes, knowing they have been whipped and Pavlov-tricked into behaving like toddlers on a playground--- makes me cringe. What is it besides exhibitionism for the trainer? We all know humiliated animals will lick the hand that feeds them and unfortunately kiss the ass that whips them, and never tweet or testify in a courtroom.

I mean, you have to wonder about that Siegfried and Roy incident. The straw that broke the tiger's back. And you can't blame the tiger. After all, tigers lack ethics.

No matter how many times they revise it..I don't want to see Spiderman; I didn't like the movie and I don't like superheroes, and have enough trouble grappling with Jesus, let alone ridiculous outfits and wings.

I do realize that a certain percentage of the circus audience, like the TV audience for all these survival-type competitive shows--- is just waiting to witness a near-death disaster in real time, which is unsurprising considering the Roman antecedent in which the spectacle was a death-contest without window-dressing. I find it actually incredible that the circus, in all its manifestations, manages to attract an audience. Even as a child, the Crackerjacks were my only saving grace. I knew then that the elephants were only large men in animal suits. The clowns, on the other hand, were true freaks...creatures that had escaped my cartoon nightmares and were honking and slithering and truly beyond-terrifying.

Something so sad and desperate about a circus... something Tennessee-Williams-esque and morbidly wretched. In fact, Times Square has now transformed itself from the honest greasy side-show it was in the 1970's into a full-blown circus of many rings, in which the tourist audience can participate-- in seats, on billboards, live TV broadcasts--- you name it. We have photo-gigantism, freaky M&Ms, dancing buildings, bands and musicians, bad smells, foodcarts, vendors, ringmasters and barkers, Scottish kilts and bagpipes, flags of all sorts, spontaneous streetfights, tattooed men--even a naked cowboy playing bad acoustic classic-rock. We have to go all the way out to Coney Island and even then we get a watered-down version of the old freakshow, a slightly 'Forever 21' cast on the Siren Festival, and a souped-up version of the new HipHop gunslinging party culture. Overpriced cotton candy and a disappointing plate from Nathan's.

I'll take a zoo over a circus any day, however depressing it is to think these creatures are captives in a twilight-zone sort of life-sized dollhouse--giant living toys in a diorama. There's been a little drama in the Bronx this year--- escaping animals and a few disgruntled bear incidents. All in all, though, the zoo is 'chill' and having raised teenagers, I identify with the zookeeper although he gets to shovel food in through cage bars and doesn't have to make sure the tigers have pocket-money.

Several peer-friends with daughters called Zooey undoubtedly after Salinger inspired me to refer to my son as Manhattan Zoo-ey when he is at his most lethargic/slovenly although he fails to take the suggestion that I by proxy am burdened with the role of scheduled feedings and waste-removing, all without pay or a union.
I guess I should be thankful my adolescent giraffes, although wearing the costumes of their culture, no longer suspend themselves from the building ledge or bark and bray at passers-by and juggle basketballs in the street.

I do confess that I love standing by the midtown-tunnel entrance at 2 AM in springtime for the arrival of the Ringling Brothers' elephants who parade into Manhattan in single file, holding tails, the youngest and still unjaded swinging their heads from side to side as though some wide-eyed invisible mother were singing to them 'The Wheels on the Bus'. A long elephant-life awaits them... on trains, in caged vehicles, standing on their hind-legs and twirling around in a sawdust ring for peanuts. Happy? Some of them appear to smile. Not so unlike the rest of us here. You can even get peanuts and hotdogs on every corner, and if you hang with the bohemian foxes and don't care about a seat, the price can be quite right.

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