Title: Borrowing a Moose Head from Cole Porter
Author: G. Lloyd Helm
Genre: Literary Fiction/Family Life
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Book Heat Level: 1
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I had a bad feeling about Indiana from the first instant I heard we were going to be stationed there.
BLURB: Borrowing a Moose Head From Cole Porter
EXCERPT: Borrowing a Moose Head From Cole Porter
We started Barnum meetings/rehearsals the following Thursday, at the Ole Olson Theater building on the edge of Peru. It was just a big warehouse where lots of stage sets were stored and a piece of floor could be tape marked like the Peru High School stage. Rehearsals would take place there on the improvised stage. The production would actually take place in the high school auditorium/theater.
We were given scripts and notified what parts we would play. As I thought, the main characters were all townies who had been connected with Ole or the circus for a long time.
First night rehearsals were a real trip. We had clowns, jugglers, riggers, fliers and high wire walkers. Most came prepared to perform so there were juggling clowns, balancing acts, and tumblers all over the place. One of the clowns seemed completely ready to work. He was a good deal larger than me, meaning over six feet, made up with white face and red wig, stripped pajamas and floppy shoes. He kinda reminded me of Bozo but not exactly. He did remind me of the Jimmy Stewart character in the movie The Greatest Show on Earth. You know, the clown who never took off his make up because he was hiding from the cops? Anyway, this hulking clown was in full make up, and I wondered if he was hiding from the cops as well. Gave me an itchy feeling which increased when he said hello to Mitch. They seemed to know one another, and that didn’t make me happy.
When I got close enough to ask I said, “You know that clown, Mitch?”
“Yeah, and so do you.”
I looked at the clown again and said, “I do?”
“It’s Big Mike from Church,”
From church and from Our Gang.
“Damn. I didn’t even recognize him.”
“Well, the clothes make the man,” Mitch said, with a grin.
He laughed and went back to talking with Mary who was over by the piano.
I watched them and looked over at Big Mike a few times and had thoughts, but like an idiot, I put them away for later consideration instead of grabbing Kathy and Mitch and running for the base. Instead, I calmed my queasy feeling and looked around at the mess of people there for the first Barnummeeting.
I was fascinated by one girl who rode a unicycle. She was a beautiful young high schooler who spent her waiting time that evening hopping her unicycle up a movable stage prop staircase. She would hop up one step, regain her balance then hop up the next step. The stair was only four steps high, but when she got to the top she would lift her arms in victory, turn and bounce back down the steps. I said, thinking out loud, “How the hell can she do that?”
Sam Grant who was not only the piano player but also the musical director said, “My daughter, Linda. She started doing unicycle when she could barely walk. Now she is the national youth champion.”
“There is a competition for unicycle riding?”
Sam laughed. “There is a competition for everything if you look hard enough. Get a Guinness world record book.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“She won a scholarship to Clown College and a thousand-dollar savings bond.”
“Clown College? You’re kidding me.”
“Absolutely not. Clown College is sponsored by Barnum and Bailey Circus and several other circuses worldwide. If you graduate from there you can go clown at any of hundreds of circuses around the world.”
“Hum. Well, she is good at it for sure. Amazing to watch.”
Sam smiled a proud fatherly smile and said “That’s my girl.”
I let it go at that, but I still wasn’t exactly convinced so, being an information geek, I looked it up and it was for real. I found out later that many of the kids who participated in the Peru Circus went on to life in circuses around the world including Barnum and Bailey. Where some students might talk about going the University of Indiana or Ball State a lot of kids around Peru talked about going to Clown College in Florida with perfectly straight faces.