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Thursday, December 21, 2006 

Ten days in northwestern Pennsylvania, to date. Unseasonably warm, not that it means much. The brown fields, bare trees, dark skies and wind off the lake still speak of winter. According to the calendar, it’s almost Christmas In a winterland it is hard to recall the summer country of circus. Here however the circus has known both seasons. Each day on the interstate I pass by Girard, once as important to circus as Baraboo or Peru or Hugo. Girard, home to Dan Rice and headquaters for a half a dozen shows in the days before the Civil War. Home to Stewart Craven, among the first of the great elephant men.

In the outdoor show business there are skills that almost carry over into real life, I tell myself each day in hospital in Erie. Carrying injured circus folks to emergency rooms one becomes accustomed to translating from Spanish to English, or English to something else. I have learned to question doctors carefully. Doctors and nurses sometimes speak to patients in shorthand, with too much left unsaid.. My mother’s doctors, though skilled, are no better at communication than most. “Why are you so aggressive when you talk with them?” my brother asks me. “Because I want to know the whole story,” I acn only answer. I sit in a hospital room and I listen, wondering why it is that patients of a certain age, older women are “honey” or “sweetie” to nurses and doctors who have never met them before? It’s an attempt at kindness, but hospital is frightening enough without a demeaning pseudo-familarity layered on top of medical jargon.

Through the years my own trips to hospital have been associated with animals. Horses, cats, primates -- they’ve all taken their pound of flesh. I am the rare character silly or careless enough to have scars from an elephant bite. At least with a horse, or a cat, or a spider monkey, or even an elephant you can calculate the damage done before arriving in the ER. With the snakebites i’s more of a guessing game. “Do I feel lucky today?” You run the numbers and reckon the odds. Thirty percent of all bites are “dry.” Fifty percent of all bites inbvolve only moderate envenomation. Once, in Gainesville, I walked to Shands Hospital after a rattlesnake bite and sat quietly in the waiting room for two hours before deciding to tell the triage nurse that I needed medical attention. Other times I’ve been truly scared. Misadventure, I suppose they call in in mortality and morbidity reports.

Dan Rice died thirty years after the height of his fame, a singing clown in a world where joeys were seen and no longer heard. He was nearly forgotten outside the circus world for decades before historians belated crowned him as America’s first entertainment superstar. In Girard each summer the town celebrates Dan Rice Days remembering when it was once something other than a hamlet along a highway. When it was a circus town.

About me

  • I'm B.E.Trumble
  • From Everywhere, United States
  • Ben Trumble works in circus, carnival, and media relations
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