Cancer Circus and Me
By Leonard William Zajicek
The time finally came, the lot cleaned, knowing it would not be trod on again until next fall. The arrows were up and as each vehicle left the lot to go to our first show, the magnitude of organization and experience showed itself.
We would set up the big top, take two days for rehearsals and then the moment that we all waited for finally came. My job now was to be the front door manager. What I was responsible for was crowd control, sponsor's responsibilities, that is, to take tickets and make sure everyone got seated with safety. The cot-db candy was made, the popcorn popped and the ice for drinks ready As I joked with the folks in line, especially the kids, I too was excited. I found this to be contagious and smiles from them me were all over the show grounds.
The music filled the air, the hands of the customers came alive and our first show of this season began. As each performer did their act, some with great skill, and new- comers with wonderment of being applauded, the show went through its entirety fairly well. The boss man, with his watch, kept time to see if additions or reductions must be made to keep within the time For now it has begun, two shows each day, a different run each day, 7 days a week for the next eight months, except Easter when we had our day off. It should be said, we did a few 2 day stands and one fair in Minnesota where we played for 5 days and again in Chicago for 7 days. These were very trying for all, as we had become used to moving each day without so much free time. It was on these dates, roustabouts got into a little trouble.
I remember one time in Chicago, about the fourth day of our stand when one of the roustabouts came back drunk, picked up a sledge hammer and tried to destroy the sleeper. Needless to say, he was discharged and sent on his way.
When we started playing Wisconsin, I made arrangements to see my doctor for a check-up and cysto. I had to take a few days off from my circus career, but the results were again negative. He found nothing and my spirits were high as my family and I rejoiced.
It was in Wisconsin, playing a small town, when my family was visiting the circus that the boss man came up to me to say, "Mr. Z", (the name I was affectionately given) "How would you like to ride a horse in the show"? My first thought was that I hadn't ridden a horse in 25 years when I owned two horses after I got out of the service. However, I said, "You bet I would". So it was in this small town in Wisconsin with family and friends in the audience that my new career began. I was to ride a horse with the American flag to open the "Spec", the "Spec" being that part of the show where all performers and animals parade around the ring.
I rode the horse in the back lot to get the feeling of riding again, went into my trailer, put on my Western duds, cleaned the elephant dung from my boots and went to the back door where all the performers and animals waited for the grand entrance.
As I mounted the horse and was handed the flag, my nervousness was apparent. The circus family all gave me encouragement, which I really needed. "Go get'em, Mr. Z"! My family and friends had no idea I was about to ride this 'good ole' show pony into the ring! I heard the ringmaster announce the beginning of the "Spec", the music started, the curtain pulled back for my entrance, and both pony and I charged forward with flag held high and the biggest shit-eaten grin on my face you ever saw! It was fantastic, great, I loved it, for those few moments I was center ring and the cheers from the crowd brought forth the 'ham' within me. As I came out the back curtain, the folks gave me a great big "atta boy, Mr. Z".
As I rode across the back lot to tie up the horse and dismount, my thoughts were of "holy buckets, I'm part of the show".
As I climbed down with big grin, I hugged the horse and removed the saddle. My three granddaughters saw Grandpa ride in the circus! My kids and friends saw me and life was sure great. Not bad for this guy with cancer that was supposed to be pushing up daisies just a few years ago. After the show, family and friends, with an abundance of smiles, hugs and handshakes said how surprised they all were to see me riding a horse in the show. My oldest granddaughter said, "Grandpa, I didn't know you were a cowboy". As I knelt down to give her a hug, I'm sure the tear in my eye was apparent to all, and I felt I was the luckiest guy in the whole world.
As I lay down that night, grin still apparent, my unspoken 'reams were becoming real and from now on I am part of the show, this 'ole' drugstore cowboy made it!