been spending far too much time in my apartment this summer. Last week I got
word that the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus was landing in Brooklyn’s
Marine Park for a four-day stand, so I hightailed it out there last Wednesday
morning to catch the end of the setup and see if anybody I knew was running
with the show. The circus is an incestuous industry, and after 13 years of running
with various shows, I’ve reached a point where I can walk onto any lot
and bump into somebody I’ve worked with at some point, somewhere.
I got to
the lot at about 11 a.m. I’d originally planned to get there by 5 a.m.
to watch the whole five-hour procedure from start to finish, but circus nostalgia
only goes so far, and schedules that seem routine in the midst of a tour easily
become unspeakable obscenities in the context of townie life. I parked the car
and strolled over to the box office, where I introduced myself and received
a little cloth press pass that would allow me to amble around the lot unmolested.
red and yellow bigtop looked like a daisy bursting out of a crack in the barren
landscape of outer Brooklyn. CBCBC is the real thing, an authentic traditional
American circus as opposed to the politically correct, faux-traditional replicas
being peddled by the Big Apple Circus or Barnum’s Kaleidoscape. CBCBC’s
been around since 1884, through hard times and bad weather, perhaps the greatest
extant example of circus tenacity and sheer grit. It could have died back in
1979 if it weren’t for the passion and determination of owner Johnny Pugh,
who worked his way up the ranks from performer to front office to manager, in
which capacity he secured the necessary funding to keep the show on the road
at a time when it was nearly drowning in debt. His business acumen and his iron
will have turned the show into a thriving enterprise.
alongside the bigtop to the back lot to check out the elephants. Elephants and
big cats are at the center of the controversy surrounding the circus industry,
thanks to the puerile ninnies of the self-styled "animal rights" lobby.
Most of the idiots involved in dipshit pursuits like PETA and ALF can’t
tell the difference between an Asian elephant and an African elephant, but they
presume to denounce any sort of working relationship between man and
beast. The Big Apple Circus caved in and told old Buckles Woodcock to pack up
his elephants and take a hike after one of its sponsors threatened to pull out
in response to a boycott threat. Barnum’s Kaleidoscape was p.c. from the
get-go, limiting the animal acts to dogs, horses and geese. CBCBC is holding
the line and fighting the good fight against fanatics who think it’s inhumane
to keep a cocker spaniel as a companion.
three elephant partners looked healthy and happy as they tossed a tire around
in the shade under a canopy in their camp, an area about the size of two tennis
courts. Elephants like to play with tires–they’re the Frisbees of
the pachyderm world. CBCBC has a vet onsite, and Hill consistently gets a clean
bill of health from the USDA inspectors who drop by from time to time to check
up on the accommodations. He and I chatted for a while, and I got a line on
an old pal of mine named Pee Wee Pinson. Pee Wee has to be pushing 70, and it
turns out he’s running a pack of elephants with some show based out in
I saw the
name "Rosaire" on the side of a truck and had to investigate. The
Rosaire family is a legend in the circus industry. I worked with Derrick Rosaire
for a while; he and his wife are currently working with a bunch of black bears,
which I met when I visited them at their spread down near Sarasota, FL. Pam
Rosaire-Zoppe worked the African-American show, UniverSoul, with her chimps
back in ’97 when I was on their tent. The Rosaire family has been in the
business since Christ was a cowboy and God was an Irishman, and they are everywhere.
They look and act like they have a Klingon in the woodpile, but their animals
are among the most pampered and well-trained beasts in the business.
up to the cab of a truck with the Rosaire name on it and ran into Ted McRae.
In the past century, only one recorded case of a black lion-tamer could be found,
but then Ted McRae quit his job working for a trucking firm in Baltimore and
stepped into the cage at the UniverSoul Big Top Circus. That’s where I
met him, and he’s still at it, looking all lean and buff, not a scratch
on his perfectly sculpted body. They’re Kay Rosaire’s cats, but Ted
is their working partner on this tour. He’s got his wife, Renee, and three
kids with him now, and everything is copacetic in Ted’s life. Renee works
the cat act with him, and their kids Adrian, Dorian and Jordan are honing up
their circus skills, aiming to get into the ring themselves. The cats were kicking
back, dozing and grooming each other in the languid way of well-fed housecats.
"They like short hops," Ted told me. "They get to sleep more."
going back to see the show with my friends from the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus,
a decidedly nontraditional show of an adult nature. It wasn’t easy to walk
off the lot. The smell of elephants, diesel and popcorn arouses in me a nearly
irresistible impulse to blow off all other responsibilities and run through
the summer in a truck. I convinced myself that I needed a beer and drove down
to Coney Island, where I got a hotdog and a Budweiser and sat on a bench staring
out to sea until the thunderstorm came.
Bros. Circus performs at Midland Beach Park, Staten Island, through July 25.
They’ll perform July 26-29 in Forest Park, Queens, Woodhaven Blvd. south
of Myrtle Ave. The public is invited to witness the tent raising opening day
from 7-10 a.m. For tickets and further information call 1-800-796-5672, weekdays