ONLY TO ME: Installment 2
Seeing the Elephant: The exact moment in my life when I used up all my luck
When I was a kid the Bradlees Shopping Plaza was a huge deal. It occupied a vast, flat, open area far from the the congestion that was Main Street. I had never seen so much asphalt, 'course us kids called it tar. It was massive, bigger that a baseball field, longer that a football field with tons of tar to park cars on. A main thoroughfare ran along one side with the stores opposite. Good things could be had there and every kid I knew never missed an opportunity to go. Everything I saw on TV was there, lightbulbs, food, baseball gloves and bats and balls, clothespins, watermelons, windshield wipers, pants, shoes, and TOYS!
Goodies! Kid slang in the day for a toy or treat. The key to obtaining... the best chance I had at... the only times I can remember ever REALLY playing my Mom for... when I coerced her into... manipulated a situation to get... OK so I wanted a goodie alright, was to tag along and not appear annoyed, get fidgety, break something or throw a tantrum. If all went well I would have been rewarded with anything from a plastic dinosaur to a Kit-Kat Bar. Sweet! Actually, I think, Boss! may have been in vogue at the time. A trip to Bradlees was serious Kid business.
On one lazy summer day I pretended to moap as I tagged along with my mom to the drugstore to get who knows what. The proper amount of moaping was difficult to gauge because the trip held little promise of a "goodie". She had already dropped her "just a quick trip there and back" line so showing the right level of disdain to offset the impending desire for any of the above mentioned goodies was difficult to balance. Having little time to calculate, I slogged into my usual with-a-grown-up-stupor clasped her hand and pretended to be a knuckle dragging caveman, trained monkey, or just about anything but the little boy I was at the time. Reality was for suckers; doubt I had come to that philosophical state of mind at such an early age but I'm certain the groundwork was being lain. As I plodded along deep within my afore mentioned coping method a colorful poster cut through my fog of illusion and I stopped dead in my tracks. The Circus was coming. Wow! Now there was something to fire up my woefully underserved imagination. On the poster was a performing elephant, Jugglers, horses, clowns, a large tent, people flying all around, and promises of great and wonderful things too impossible to convey on such a small cardboard placard. My Mom, recovered from the sudden jerk to a stop, saw that I was fixated on the poster, and said "Oh, the Circus, we have to go". Just like that! No, "Aw, comon Maw", no "PU-LEEEEEZZZEuhh", nothing. Some kind of magic just happened, I was sure of it, and the circus must have had something to do with it or maybe it was that large elephant.
Elephants, why had I never thought about elephants before? Big, lumbering, exotic, whether domesticated or in the wild they always appeared to have the same temperament. But what did I know, at the time I was just a kid who's only pachyderm experience came from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, movies, or National Geographic. What would one be like in person I wondered? Big as a house? A Car? Did they smell funny? These questions would just have to wait till the Circus came to town.
At school, when given a chance, every kid spoke of nothing else but the circus. Writing assignments spewed never before applied adjectives describing the much anticipated Big Top activities. The art teacher had seen such a profusion of circus-esque images that her supplies were nearly exhausted. When our teacher turned to math she asked, "who can give me an example of subtraction?” Hands shot up wagging madly, accompanied by painful moans. The teacher, surprised by the burst of enthusiasm, smiled broadly and selected one of her, usually, least involved students, little me. I piped up brightly, "If you had four elephants and sub-a-tracted one what would you have?" Sticking with little me she continued "And what would remain?" Dang, I thought she just wanted an example. Great, now I had to do some math. How was i supposed to do math with a head full of elephant?
When the big day came we parked and walked over what seemed like a mile, paid for tickets and squeezed through the gate. During the long walk I had time to survey the transformed sea of tar. But If I had given it any thought I might have come to the conclusion that THIS "Circus" was a bit hokey. Sure the “BIG TENT” commanded a large part of the parking area and the spinning and twirling rides lit up the night in wild and eerie ways but even as a kid I could tell this was an inferior example. Then I heard the sound. A magnificent noise that could only be an elephant. I took off like a shot dragging with me the hand of one of my older brothers, sister, mother, father, or some person I never met before; I didn't know and I didn't care. There was an elephant over there!
The sound came from a large crowd of people circled around something. What? Then I saw it. The elephant! It reared WAYYYYYYY up over the heads of the adults, way up on its hind legs, front legs pawing the inky black night, and that trunk lifted higher still and when it could go no higher let out another beautiful blast .
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I broke free from my restrainer and pushed, prodded, gouged and grappled my way to the front. What I saw there stopped me in my tracks faster the than the poster did. The elephant was before me. Not bigger than a house but maybe as big but one that could move, spin, wag its second floor and appeared to have a good time doing it. Huh? HUH! It looked at me. I was certain of it. Right at me. Did it see me sneak through, cutting in front of everyone? Was I in trouble with this elephant? Any worry or concerns soon faded as that incredible beast danced and frolicked around. It did what ever the guy with it asked. I suddenly realized I had arrived near the end of the routine and was disappointed until the man announced that Elsie would now attempt to break her record for spinning in place. The crowd cheered and he explained that we should count out each time her trunk past his outstretched hand.
Slowly Elsie began to turn. From my little kid vantage point I picked up on the gear like intricacy of her footwork front-back-left-right-left, again and again, faster and faster then faster still but they never made a sound. The speed increased and my attention raised to the incredible bulk rotating above. I began to focus on the massive profile each time her rotation brought trunk and tail perpendicular to my vantage point. Trunk-tail, tail-trunk, trunk-tail, tail-trunk. She increased her speed. Trunk-tail, tru... then something different. A pucker? Something puckered. Yes, there it was again. Below the tail there was movement. About the same time I realized what was moving, something emitted from the pucker point. I can only describe this by comparing what happened next to the early animations of Sputnik I saw on TV. The view was from outer space looking at earth, the Earth reminded me of Elsie’s backside, then from some indistinguishable point on the surface a projectile launched and arched its way out and away from the surface but curved in a path to begin its orbit one that swooped up and over the viewer. The only difference, from the sputnik animation, was I had to duck Elsie’s... uh, Poopnicks. There were many and they traveled fast. The next thing I knew there was a commotion behind me. The Poopnicks took someone down! A woman had been flattened to the ground, several others splayed out behind her as if someone stepped on a plank into standing wheat and there I was standing alone. The woman seemed disoriented the poopnicks apparently had taken her by surprise. There was an amazing amount of the stuff. Some adult noticed me and shouted "You sure are one lucky little fellow, how'd all that mess miss Ya?”
Was this somehow my fault? Did Elsie really catch my eye? Had she really seen what I had done and launched her revenge? Impossible. She had finished her spin and based on the cheers Elsie must have achieved her goal. She stood once again and raised up on those huge back legs trunk raised high and trumpeting but all the while I felt her eye upon me. Her triumphant blare resonated deep within my chest. A thought sprang to mind, where would those massive front feet, land? A wave of panic swept over me and I followed it back through the crowd.
I saw the elephant but maybe a little too closely, maybe I acted a bit selfish, maybe I was just a kid and wanted to see the elephant. Elsie surpassed my wildest imaginings but one thing nagged at my little mind. Why was I the only one aware in time to duck? Was it really luck? I didn't feel lucky. What was luck anyway? Well by the look of the lady being placed into an ambulance I surely must have used up all mine. That night hers certainly ran low.
Beyond the crowd and back safely with my family as I finished up my sisters cotton candy I felt better about Elsie's piercing gaze and my lucky duck. All I knew was I was just a kid and I wanted see an elephant. Surely Elsie would have understood and maybe I wouldn't need luck anyway. I also knew that the rest of the night could not possibly match my encounter with Elsie but there were still those clowns, THEY looked like fun.