The Greatest Show On Earth

ringling1

ringling.com

I have not been to a circus since the age of two. Literally. The only exception was a small big-top show that toured small towns when I was thirteen or so. It was in Marietta, Ohio, and the circus had setup shop in a parking lot somewhere. It had a couple of elephants, one tiger, and some acrobats who failed to leave an impression.

But when I say circus, I mean the circus. I mean Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. That one. The only other one that compares would be the Shriner’s Circus, which will hit Cincinnati in about a month, playing the venerable old Cincinnati Gardens.

Nita used to take AJ every year. A fortunate booking of front row seats many moons ago allows her to get sweet seats cheap. My only memories of my foray at age two to the late, unlamented Cleveland Arena was the man on the motorcycle on the high wire, which looked really really high to my toddler eyes, and stealing cotton candy from a little girl seated ahead of us. Her father apparently thought that was funny. That said, I had little to compare going to Ringling Brothers in my forties. For starters, US Bank Arena did not exist back then, and anyway, I lived in Cleveland. And anyway, my first clear memory before age 4 is watching the moon landing.

So as we went in, I looked up at the high wire rig. Now, US Bank Arena, built shortly after Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum, is considerably larger than the old Cleveland Arena. Yet the high wire did not seem so… High. Mind you, while the old arena was a glorified gymnasium that could handle the odd rock concert in 1968, to a toddler, it was the interior of V’Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which would not bore me to tears for another 11 years. I digress.) US Bank Arena is big, even to my middle aged mind, but…

The high wire did not seem so high. I was a little disappointed.

I was not disappointed in the show. The circus is an old, old form of entertainment. It had been around for ages by the time PT Barnum created the Barnum half of Barnum & Bailey. This show, however, has to compete with pop concerts, rock concerts, the spectacle of the NFL, and the gleefully bogus blood sport that is pro wrestling. The ringmaster even came out with that “Let’s get ready to rumble!” vibe. The lighting, the music – some recorded, but most played by a live band, and the stagework would all put Lady Gaga to shame.

About half of any circus is acrobats. And acrobatics, when you watch it as tightly choreographed as the current Ringling shows (There are three on tour at any given time.), you come to realize that it’s gymnastics on steroids (the act, not the acrobats themselves) with a heightened danger of falling and an element of dance.

I also wanted to see the animals. I won’t speculate here on how they’re treated, but the animals I saw behaved as though they enjoyed working with the trainers. The horses were the most intelligent, one even “failing” a trick on cue. It did not react to being scolded, but the trainer walked over and whispered something to it between staged rants.

But it was the elephants I wanted to see. I’ve heard how, in India, trained elephants are better than horses but that wild elephants are a six-ton menace. The elephants performed well enough, but I did notice one of them needed to be coaxed, as though it may have been in a little pain. Not sure I’d want an injured elephant performing for a crowd of 30,000, especially with a 90-pound woman riding it. Still, they’re magnificent creatures.

The tigers, however, impressed me the most. They really are big cats. Big cats that can kill you with their claws or teeth, but big cats just the same. One tiger acted a little cocky in the same way some dogs or race horses will. As the last animal in the cage during the tiger act, it tossed its head as it was called up to do its tricks, then strutted out with its head up. The other cats looked like they’d just punched a clock and were off for a round of Purina Tiger Chow. Of course, there are accidents. Just ask Sigfried and Roy. But these animals were extremely intelligent and graceful in a way we don’t normally get to see them.

One might ask about the clowns. Why am I not mentioning them here? Well, clowns are a distraction. They do their thing while the crew puts together the animal cages or acrobat rigs. While some of what they do was amusing enough, I found myself drawn toward the unlighted side of the arena. What were they doing over there. It felt a little like peaking behind a magician’s curtain.

And finally, the band. During one segment (a clown segment where they did a bit about construction), the band played “Highway to Hell.” Yes, they played an AC/DC song about going to hell for an audience that was at least 1/3 children. And it sounded like something Doc Serverensin would play on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Overall, the show had more in common with a show by, say, Alice Cooper or KISS than the old image of calliope music, clowns who look like rejects from It, and the big top. In fact, even 45 years ago, the big top was a dead piece of the culture. Every circus I’ve seen come to town (Cleveland or Cincinnati) is an arena show. And half the big rock shows I’ve seen look just like Ringling Brothers.

Sound like it, too.

Advertisements

Three Awesome Writers

I have to give a shoutout to three guys who’ve shown me the love over the last decade. Oh, there’s more. There are even names I can drop. But these three have been going above and beyond for Northcoast and Road Rules lately, and I need to give them their props.

First up is Gerald So. I’ve known Gerald since about 2002 or so, when he first took over for Victoria Esposito-Shea as fiction editor of Thrilling Detective. Gerald and I became good friends over the years, kvetching about various foibles in the writing community, bouncing ideas off each other, and even critiquing each other’s work. Gerald’s moved on to doing a poetry site and put out the poetry mag The Lineup with various other editors for a few years. Gerald often retweets some of my inane promotional tweets for Northcoast. I can’t thank him enough.

I also can’t thank this guy enough. Anthony Neil Smith published my first short story in 2001, “A Walk in the Rain,” in one of the early editions of Plots With Guns. He punished one of the later drafts of Northcoast Shakedown before it landed in bookstores. Neil is a good bud and a terrific writer, and it was Neil who convinced me to try the 99 cent route with Road Rules. I try to promote anything of his that comes out (I read it first, but it’s always a good risk.) and have yet to be disappointed. Neil’s taken a little ownership of Northcoast as he gave me some of the most detailed notes on the early manuscripts. I never asked. He just does it.

Joining him is his former partner in crime at PWG, Victor Gischler. Vic writes some strange, strange shit, starting with his debut novel, Gun Monkeys, the finest novel involving exploding pastries ever written. Vic was among those who looked over my early work and passed judgment upon it. He also gave Road Rules a blurb and has been tirelessly pimping Northcoast.

There are more, of course. Early on, writers like Steve Hamilton took an interest. Ken Bruen was probably my first die-hard fan. Laura Lippman has provided me with several much-needed reality checks over the years.  JD Rhoades not only wrote the intro to Road Rules, but he even tried to get me in with his agent at one point. And I can’t forget Li’l Sis, whose help and support go back long before I started writing seriously.

Still, Gerald, Neil, and Vic have been getting the word out about Northcoast, and I wanted to recognize them for their help. Thanks, guys. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

The Nita Rita

It’s summer (if you go with the hype that summer begins on Memorial Day), and as such, time to think about summer things – like mowing the lawn (a challenge here in water-logged Ohio) and SPF 30.  But it’s also time for hiking and grilling and baseball.

And margaritas.

I love margaritas. As long as you don’t overdo them, they’re like an adult version of lemonade. If you do overdo them – Well, don’t overdo them. That’s tequila you’re messing with, and agave is an unforgiving fruit when fermented and overindulged.

One of the discoveries of my first summer with Nita was what we now call “The Nita Rita.” What’s a Nita Rita?

Well, one day, we had margarita mix and we had tequila – Cuervo Gold. No Triple Sec. Hmm…

But we had Jameson. The Winter household is always stocked with Jameson. So Nita used Jamie to replace Triple Sec. How was it?

Gooooood.

We then tried Bacardi 151 Dark Rum.

Better.

Even tried Jack Daniels.

So how do you make this delicious challenge to the margarita tradition?

4 parts tequila – preferably Jose Cuervo Especial

6 parts margarita mix – Again, we prefer Cuervo

Now here’s the tricky part. What sort of Nita Rita do you want? Well, here’s the final part for each type:

Irish Nita Rita – 2 parts Jameson

Jamaican Nita Rita – 2 parts dark rum

Russian Nita Rita – 2 parts vodka

Tennessee Nita Rita – 2 parts Jack Daniels

Kentucky Nita Rita – 2 parts Jim Beam (also a Queen City Nita Rita as Jim Beam distills here in the city.)

Jaeger Nita Rita – That’s just crazy talk

So there you have it. The Nita Rita, a tradition here at Chateau Nita since 2008. Invented by my wife, the incomparable Nita.


And Now A Prayer To Saints Garcia Y Vega

One vice I used to indulge in long ago was the occasional cigar.  Occasionally, I would go to Mt. Lookout’s Private Smoking Club and light up a nice Cuban-seed Honduran Churchill (those long-ass things Britain’s most famous PM used to chomp on regularly.)  A nasty habit?  Not at all.  Cigars are expensive.  Well, the good ones are.  That ensured I could smoke without developing a habit.  Well, that and you don’t really inhale cigar smoke.

I smoked a cigar when my first short story was published.  I smoked one when I signed the deal for Northcoast Shakedown.  Brian Thornton, a Seattle writer, and I smoked Cubans when we met at Bouchercon in Toronto way back in 2004.  I’ve since lit one up with Gary Phillips and with a few friends in New York on one of my jaunts to see Ken Bruen.  I love a good cigar, especially with a shot and a beer.

Just to be cute one fall, I filled out my non-smoking waiver, which said I’d used no tobacco products the previous year, and turned it into BigHugeCo.  I then left work early, walked down Walnut Street to Strauss Tobacconist, picked out a really long one, and fired one up, enjoying the sweet, sweet taste of irony.

The last time I smoked one, though, was shortly after I bought my condo.  The former spousal unit despised cigars, but I’d just become a home owner for the first time in my life.  And I had a back deck.  And goddammit, I was going to celebrate with a nice, long dark-leaf stogie.  So I did.

Nita is not much a fan of smoking in any form, either, and that stogie on my back deck back in 2007 was my last cigar.  Too bad, because I’ve had a lot to celebrate since then.  Just getting a first date with Nita should have had me stopping at Strauss on my way home from work.  My divorce (amicable, but glad it was over), and of course, marrying Nita.  All those are reasons to celebrate.

There’s a dark-leaf Cuban seed Honduran in my desk drawer right now, waiting for a special occasion.  Since leaving BigHugeCo, I’ve been trying to move to the programming side of IT.  It’s a long, hard climb out of the infrastructure hole, but I’ll get there.

And that day, I will sit on my back patio with a Bass Ale and a shot of Jameson smoking that Honduran.