The Only Show On Earth

Gunther Gable. Remember Gunther Gable? Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. We went a few times. He was the highlight. The main man. The tiger guy. Jumping them through hoops.

When you’re little, you don’t know all the circus clichés yet. You see a tiger jumping through a hoop of real fire, and you grab your dad’s arm, your mom’s arm, you point. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. Madison Square Garden.

Shifty men walked up and down the aisles and sold pink lights with spinning mirrors inside, a tiger head on top. You’d spin it, and the mirror would spin out light, and the tiger head spun too. Big open jaws, fangs, tongue, everything. Almost the size of a real cat head. That’s Gunther Gable for you. He moved the merchandise. He had the tigers.

We went to see another circus once, in the high school gymnasium. We sat on the bleachers. When you’re little, you don’t know what’s a big circus and what’s not. Every circus is a big circus. When you’re little, you think everyone lives in a house as big as yours. You think everyone’s dad gets up and takes the train—unless their dad is Gunther Gable. You don’t know what those circus trailers smell like. You don’t know if the whole troupe is a big rolling orphanage. Those kids don’t go shopping for back-to-school clothes at the Bedford Barn. You ride new buses; they fly out of cannons.

When you went to the circus, who came up with the idea? Did you ask to go, or did your parents say you were going? Getting what you wanted used to be so easy and now it’s, well—

When did you realize you had to work? Or do you have to work? It’s just that sometimes I sit here at my desk and stare at the phone, and I’m back in Madison Square Garden with the whole place dark, and everybody spins their tiger lights. Spins, spins, spins, and the drumroll overpowers—

My little brother spun his light so fast the tiger head flew off. And I laughed. I laughed. I should have given him my light. But I didn’t.

I still have my tiger light. Keep it on my dresser at home. I see it every day. And it’s weird, because I never would have wanted to think about the circus all the time. But then again, I guess I don’t really think about the circus.

A lot of days I’m close to following my brother into the dark, things spinning around so fast my head’s about to fly off. Jumping through hoops, Gunther Gable breathing down my neck—

But that’s the way it is, I guess. Just like they say, one big circus.