NICKEL CIRCUS

 

This story was told to me about twenty years ago by an old show bum who was every bit of seventy five at the time. I personally have never met any of the protagonists, but I love the story, it feels real, and it goes to illustrate that the more things change, the more they remain the same…

 

I’ve tried to recreate the feel of old Whitey’s words, but I’m sure he told it better…

 

It concerns a Showman, a new development, the exploitation of said development, and human nature, the ultimate downfall of the best laid plans….

 

The tale begins with a gimmick. The Showmen of the era, much as those of today, were always on the lookout for something to give them an edge, to separate them from the pack. A gimmick. The key. The holy grail. The attraction that’ll “bring ‘em in”…

 

Old Ben D. thought for sure he’d found it. This was gonna get attention. It was so new that nobody’d heard of it yet. It looked so slick, shined like silver…

 

Made crap look like jewelry. Slicker’n sliced bread. Make the ole circus look like the Maharajah’s Palace…

 

SILVER PAINT !...

 

Darndest thing, made from looneyum, shined like a brand new nickel…

 

 That’s what he was gonna call it… “BEN DAVENPORT’S NICKEL PLATE CIRCUS” …and they were gonna flock to see it.  Already had the paper ordered, a fortune spent on billing, screw the wait brothers! This’d make ‘em sit up and take notice!...

 

The devil was in the details….

 

The show winter quarters looked more like a gangster hideout. It was way out in the middle of God-Forsaken nowhere, somewhere in a part of Texas that hadn’t been discovered yet. This was so the help couldn’t escape. Or get something to drink…

 

The place was humming. In between bouts of the D.T.’s, the boys were slapping silver on everything that wasn’t breathing…

 

 “ Put some gas in that brush and wring it out, catch it in a can and smear it on a wagon pole, that shit costs more’n you bums is worth” The old man was furious, there was far too much waste, never seemed to be enough paint, it cost a fortune, had to drive to San Antone to get it , shipyard store was the only place to get it...

 

Time to hit the road soon, the paper was going up, need to git this show on the road!...

 

The straw boss was cringing at the thought of telling Ben about needing more paint. Last time he needed paint, the old man blew sky high!...

 

He wasn’t disappointed, after the fireworks, everybody was good and relieved to see old Ben heading out for more paint….

 

So now we have old Ben D. heading for San Antone, again, and about ten miles from the ranch, he spots a barn roof that’s half  rusty, and half shiny. There on the ladder is a farmer painting away…

 

The shiny part is SILVER !...

 

“Whoa there, maybe I don’t hafta drive all the way to San Antone, let’s see if this ole farm boy is getting his paint locally.”…

 

Well, by the time old Ben D. had turned down the side road to the farm, the farmer had spotted his dust trail and climbed down the ladder and was wiping his hands on a rag as he pulled up…

 

“Howdy neighbor, mighty fine looking barn roof you got there, you mind telling me where I can get some of that paint, I been paying a small fortune for it all the way to San Antone.”…

 

“Nope, don’t mind tellin’ you at all. Get it right close, and down right reasonable too.  You jest go down this road a piece to where they keep that circus, and them boys’ll give you five gallons of it across the fence for a quart of corn likker.”…

 

 

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