Chapter 6. Circus people


I am beautiful, with long white hair, pink skin and eyes. My complexion is pure as snow, but never as cold. Yes, P. T. pays me because people want to see me, but please don’t think I’m a freak.


I was a tentman. I pounded the stakes, raised the poles, and hoisted the canvas of the big top. I was always pounding down stakes and pulling them up. Town after town, always happy to be arriving, and happy to be leaving. When I bought this farm, I built a house, and let the wagon rot in the brambles. For the first time, I belonged in a place where I was going to stay.


It’s a job. The costume, the makeup, and the routine. Great clowns of history have developed my gags, my gown, my exaggerated smile. The act changes you. I have become a whiteface. My father was both a priest and a whiteface. Both professions assume a demeanor to affect a change. Without us clowns, the circus would fail, because we fill in all the gaps to hold it together. It takes buffoonery, a bit of exaggeration, for most people to see how ridiculous they are, and how surprising normal events can be. People think they’re laughing at us, but, really, they’re laughing at themselves.


Tentman and barker, busker and vaulter, juggler, candy butcher, knife thrower, acrobat, stilt walker and gurner, sword swallower, cook, acrobat and driver in no particular order, everyone has more than one job in a traveling circus. The strongman, for example, is slow but good to call on in a fight. “Hey, Rube!”