Friday, March 24, 2023

A night at the circus

One of our cats, Amber, developed a special closeness with my mom after another one of our cats, Babusz, died a while back. Babusz had laid claim to my mother for years; she alone got to sleep at her head, she would be the first to get pets, the first to race to the bathroom whenever she sensed my mom was heading there. Amber deferred to Babusz's seniority, and mostly kept to herself for over a decade. When Babusz died, Amber emerged and immediately claimed the position of "Mommy's Special Cat." She did all the things Babusz did, but more so. So when her mom went into the hospital in late December,  Amber was very distraught. When my mom came back home on February 3, she and all the other cats hid for the better part of the day - but that night, she finally emerged and let my mom know that all was forgiven. My mom left the house again on February 8, never to return. Eventually Amber came to realize this, and she has become intermittently inconsolable. I try to soothe her with pets and scritches and scratches, with extra treats (as my mom directed), and with words reminding her that I love her and her mommy loves her. Today, during one of these sessions, I suddenly thought of the unmasked ambulance crew that took my mom to the emergency room on February 8, which is the day that she most likely contracted COVID, and I began to curse out the idiots who, after I had isolated her and protected her fanatically for three years, hsd probably given my mother the COVID that caused her to start throwing blood clots that caused her stroke that led to her death. And I wept.

Keith Nelson (second from right) and the Bindlestiff Family Circus

A few days after my mom died I caught a commercial on TV about a circus troupe coming to the Kirby Center. That's neat, I thought. I wonder who it is? The commercial soon informed me that it was the Bindlestiff Family Circus, headed by Keith Nelson. I met Keith years ago at the penultimate Sideshow Gathering. The show was scheduled for a work night, but...I could take time off to do something for myself, right?

I wouldn't even have considered it while my mom was alive, not since the COVID-19 pandemic began. If there were no pandemic, I would have absolutely taken her to it; many years ago I took her to see Penn & Teller, and she loved it. (Someday I will find the photo of her standing next to Penn Jillette; she literally came up to his elbow.) But during the pandemic I would never risk exposing her at a crowded indoor event, even in a theater with fifty foot ceilings, nor would I go myself and risk bringing something home to her.

But neither of those are considerations anymore.

I was able to schedule the day off from work. I bought my ticket online - I agonized for a while over inviting someone else to go with me, but the few I had floated this past showed no interest, and I realized that even if I convinced someone to go with me, I would risk having them be bored or disappointed. So I decided it would be best to go to the show solo, as I had always gone to the Sideshow Gathering. And, of course, I would wear an N95 mask the whole while. Even with my mom gone, I have no great desire to get COVID.

I got there more than a half-hour early, before the inner doors were open. I looked around but didn't see any of the local regulars from the Gathering. The audience was full of children, which was great; I knew they were in for a treat. I could spot perhaps three other people in the whole theater wearing masks.

Keith and company put on a wonderful first half, full of juggling and acrobatics and unicycles and a Pennyfarthing. During the mid-show break, I spotted local performers Pat Ward, Harley Newman, and Michael Kattner, along with several other regulars from the Gathering. I hobnobbed briefly until the troupe took the stage again. The second half featured Keith presenting a bit of sideshow, namely sword swallowing, preceded by some light grifting of the audience. One little girl from the audience got to accompany Keith onstage and draw a bayonet from his throat. There were additional acrobatic acts and juggling to round out the night. Too soon the show was over, and Keith and the troupe greeted attendees and posed for photos in the lobby.

So. That was that. My first public outing in three years.

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