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Love Under the Big Top

 article about the entertainer
2005-02-03 21:10:30
When you are working as an entertainer, especially with a circus
or other traveling show you are bound to hook up romantically with
another performer once in awhile. Sometimes the only people you can
even find to talk to are the folks in your production and you have no
choice but to date another person in the biz.


I had only a
few on-the-road romances in my time with the circus. I can't say that
any of them was earth-shattering or exciting, at least not any more so
than any other relationship I'd had. However one story always comes to
mind first and foremost when thinking about love under the big top.

Someone
had a BIG crush on me. It was more than just a school-girl kind of
attraction. It was a full-on, gotta have him, double-whammy of an
obsession. Although we never dated and rarely saw each other, she was
in LOVE with me.

She was a nice girl, but not my type.
Were it not for the fact that we would occasionally work together I'd
have never given her a second glance. She had bad breath and poor table
manners. We never had an intelligent conversation. She had a mannish
quality about her and she had no sense of style at all. She was of
decent breeding, but otherwise would be considered "common stock" by
most men. She was not attractive. She was too hairy, too stupid and too
short. She was a baboon.

Irvin Hall came from a long line of
circus performers. He had a couple good working acts. Aside from a
unicycle act, he had a very good animal attraction; a baboon act. It
was one of his baboons that fell in love with me.

You didn't
think I was talking about a real woman did you? Oh my God! What kind of
animal do you think I am? I suppose it doesn't matter because this
baboon DID in fact think I was an animal and she had to get with me.

I've
been fortunate enough to work among wild animals often over the years.
I've encountered elephants, tigers, chimpanzees, and all sorts of
exotic birds among others. Until I'd worked with Irvin, the only baboon
knowledge I had was leftover from my Ringling days.

Clowns are told to AVOID BABOONS AT ALL COSTS.
To a baboon, a clown is just another baboon, thanks to the clown
make-up. Baboons are quite territorial and aggressive and when they see
a clown they have only one instinct; kick the clown's ass!

I'd
always made it a point to be very respectful of the animals on a show
regardless if I was wearing make-up or not. I would never try to pet
them or engage them in any way. It is just common sense to treat them
like wild animals and not as pets. More importantly, they were not MY
animals.

With Irvin's baboons I didn't have to worry as much
about being mauled. These were smaller, and did not have the same
colorful faces as the larger, more aggressive baboons. Besides, I had
long since hung up my clown togs by this point and since I never went
out of my way to become chummy with another performer's animals I felt
quite safe.

My first meeting with Irvin started this unusual
tale of love and infatuation. I went to Irvin to learn what behavior
was appropriate around his animals and where it would be best for me to
set up my gear. During our discussions he would "introduce" me to his
baboons by calling out their names.

The first two baboons could care any less about me. The third baboon (I forget her name. I know, TYPICAL MAN!) was quite taken with me!

You
could see a physical transformation in her face as she stared into my
eyes. She became quite star-struck and her eyes were wide open. She was
clearly excited to be around me. By all accounts it was love at first
sight for this young lady.

At one point she left her seat and
followed the length of her tether until she was positioned behind
Irvin's leg. She'd occasionally peer around and get a little closer to
me.

Irvin noticed this and began to laugh. When I asked what
was so funny he told me that his baboon was in love with me and wanted
to get to know me better. Confused, I asked him to explain himself.

I'd
always heard bizarre stories about circus performers dressing up and
making girlfriends of their animal stock. I was hoping this was not to
be one of those instances. I was in no need for a baboon lover nor did
I want to hear any lurid stories about Irvin and his lonely life on the
road.

Instead there was a simple and innocent explanation. I had
reddish-brown hair and a beard that matched. This particular baboon had
a history of falling in love with any man with that color hair. As it
was explained to me, she'd decide the guy was one HANDSOME and virile male baboon. We both got a big laugh at this event and I asked if I should alter my behavior or worry about hers.

"No. She'll watch you very closely and try to get your attention," he said, "She may try to hold your hand or something, but otherwise will not do anything to harm you. She just wants you to notice her."

Seemed
reasonable to me. It was a funny story and loads of fun to watch this
otherwise vicious baboon become a giddy little schoolgirl around me.
Having never petted a baboon before it was very cool to be able to walk
hand-in-hand with one. Eventually I could set up closer to Irvin's
props and sit with her. Irvin would keep a watchful eye and I'd joke
about him being our chaperone. It was just adorable.

This is how
most of my rendezvous with this baboon would go over the years. I'd
give her popcorn or cotton candy (It seems all girls like candy) and
she'd want to sit near me and hold my hand, hoping I would return her
affection. In short, it was the sweetest and most amazing animal
encounter I'd had while on the road. At least MOST of the moments were sweet.

It
had been a few years since the last time I saw Irvin and my lady love.
The passage of time did nothing to reduce her feelings for me. In fact
it had quite the opposite effect.

While setting up my props
backstage, I took a moment to sit and relax. I noticed that my favorite
primate was making her way towards me. She approached cautiously and
nervously, as if she were about to ask me out on a date.

When
she got close enough she tugged on my pant leg and looked up at me. She
reached out to grab my hand. I helped her up to the bench and she sat
next to me, leaning in and resting her head on my side.

There we
sat, hand-in-hand, watching the world go by. When I looked into her big
brown eyes she looked up at me, squeezed my hand…and began masturbating
with her other hand!

She was furiously rubbing and thumping her
baboon parts with every fiber of her being. She panted and grunted and
made it quite clear to me that she was NOT going to live with this platonic relationship any longer! Flattering, but unsettling to say the least.

I
very carefully removed myself from the situation and got Irvin. We
laughed a good laugh over the event and agreed that it would be best if
I avoid her until this monthly urge of hers passed. She looked back at
me with a sad face as Irvin led her back to her seat. That look would
follow me for the remainder of our time together.

A few years
later I found myself working with Irvin one last time. When I asked him
where "my girlfriend" was he told me that she had died the previous
year at the age of 23.

I asked him what had happened and he
explained she had a form of leukemia. However that was not what killed
her. During her treatments she developed a problem with a valve in her
heart and died of a heart attack.

With a smug grin he said, "I guess you can say she died of a broken heart, Andy."

While
I found the joke amusing I was of course, upset to hear the news. These
things happen in the circus but you never get used to the idea of
losing an animal any more than you get used to the idea of losing a
family member. Irvin had that baboon since she was a baby and she was
one of his best animals. I lost a truly unique figure in my life as an
entertainer.


Get to know Andy by visting his blog at andymartello.com. Recently he also published a book, The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club, which you can learn more about here.




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