The Big Top tent of “my” circus is up at City Hall Plaza in Boston again– I saw it as I was crossing the plaza in the whipping cold rain, on my way to an interview, my raincoat flapping in time with the tent sides.
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You’d forgotten how cold it was, working the tent in Boston in early spring. The wind lashes in and pushes aside the tent flaps, so carefully pulled taut, the pegs so strategically placed– it’s as if that plasticized canvas that weighs a ton, as you sweating groaning heaving burning haul it up, is nothing but a feather when it comes to the lashing rainy wind of Boston in March.
It mingles, all of it, one sensation overlapping, overwhelming, outcompeting all the others. The freezing gusts that creep beneath the canvas, making your feet freeze even as your head and arms and shoulders, bearing your “popcorn! programs! Sno-Kones! cotton candy!” melt in the heat of the space heaters spaced closer than the fire marshal ought to know about inside the seating area. And that smell of too sweet and too salty, too much program ink and too much elephant horse dog performer sweat and smell of people packed together in a too cold, too hot tent stays with you. You rush to escape the overheated hordes during the longer acts, sometimes just to the entrance just inside the main flap, 20 degrees cooler than the big top proper– thank goodness, it’s the elephants, or the acrobats, you’ve got 10 minutes to use the john, to smoke, to stand outside in the whipping rainstorm, to cool off so you don’t faint like that new girl last week. (You told her she wouldn’t want to wear that sweatshirt once the show started…).
You re-position the Sno-Kones on your tray as you go along, so they don’t unbalance and spill down your neck, in your shirt, in your shoes. Your strong arm’s exhausted from toting that tray, most of the two hours– three if the animals aren’t behaving. The red kones aren’t so bad, but those blue ones stain the skin. You dread intermission, and right after the show– no kid can be trusted with an umbrella or a coat, and any parent who ignores this simple fact inevitably asks the usher to crawl behind the bleachers, use their flashlight to poke the net under the seats until they find teddy or blanket or the errant umbrella. And crawl back out, with the missing items held aloft in the one hand that isn’t now coated in Sno-Kone drips, or popcorn, or worse.
Once intermission’s over, you can all start taking 20 minute breaks, dashing through the rain to the cook tent, for some under-salted, overcooked starch that is the most delicious thing in the world, right then, because you are alone. And then back, to poke your relief with your flashlight, send him on his way, and adjust your concessions as you “popcorn! programs! Sno-Kones! cotton candy,” once again. Sometimes you can score the programs and “laser” souvenir flashlights detail, and then all you smell is soy ink and plastic. Flashlights? Don’t get stuck in your hair. The smells of the wares you peddle mix with the leathery dust of the elephants, the horses’ hairy musk, and the smell of greasepaint and hay-full manure, mingled with the always unexpected wafts of wet and cold of Boston in spring. Who thought it was a good idea to have an unsheltered outdoor venue before May, anyway?
And remembering this, now you finally understand why popcorn hasn’t tasted right, ever since. Because as much as a pain it sometimes was, in the rain and the cold, you were part of the magic–that seasons everything, even the popcorn, programs, Sno-Kones, cotton candy. Especially the popcorn.