You’ll recall from last time, I’d just dropped out of college, after learning my school engaged in deceptive recruiting practices. Then, with new resolve, I set about following my destiny.
I shuffled down the lonely Nebraska highway—corn stalks rising on both sides, as high as an elephant’s eye. The elephant’s name, I later learned, was Wallace. He was part of a traveling circus that was passing out of Omaha at that very moment.
At the front of the caravan of trailers, a rusty old pickup truck pulled along side me and stopped. An enormous man in a top hat leaned out the window.
“You there, boy!” he called from his truck. “You a clown?”
That was too much. All the emotions I’d been bottling up since leaving college 20 minutes before burst forth in big, comic clown tears. “No,” I sobbed, as tears smudged my face paint, hilariously. “I’m not even a stuuuudeeeent!” (That is the way clowns sound when sobbing.)
To my surprise, the man began laughing—a booming, donkey laugh. “My word, boy,” he said, wiping the amusement from his brow. “You have a way about you. My name is Colonel Frederick Niles Baxter, and I am the ringmaster of this here show. I say, I simply must have you as part of my traveling circus.”
Could my dreams really be coming true, here on this dusty Nebraska highway? “Gee, Mr. Baxter. I would love to be in your circus. But I feel I should tell you, I pee’d in a punch bowl once. Also, I haven’t graduated from clown college, so I can’t legally call myself a clown.”
“Ho ho, not at all, my boy, not at all!” chortled Colonel Baxter, his bushy black mustache dancing beneath his nose, “Why, I can’t legally call myself a man! Those Washington fat cats may take comfort in their ‘legalities’ and their ‘municipalities’ and their ‘FDA approvals’ and their ‘electric blankets’ and whatnots and hoo-hahs, but I ask you: will those things keep them warm at night? Maybe so, but can they ever compare to the warm corpse of a freshly-slaughtered goat?”
The Colonel had a point.
So I hopped in the back of his truck and the caravan got underway again. I talked with Colonel Baxter through the window in the cab of the truck. When I say “I talked with”, I actually mean “He talked to”, and when I say “Colonel Baxter”, I actually mean “me”. Generally, that whole sentence should be rearranged. The Colonel was in the passenger seat, and Google the Trained Chimp was driving. (Google was 17 years old, so it’s just a coincidence.)
Colonel Baxter talked and talked. About his youth (he was a fighter pilot in the War of 1812), his love life (including the divine Sarah Bernhardt, star of stage and screen, etc.), and of course his 25-year career as ringmaster of this traveling circus. We were halfway to Topeka before I realized “Colonel W.N. Baxter’s Amazing Traveling Circus” was less a “traveling circus” and more an “unsanctioned zoo”. By the time we passed Wichita it had become apparent that this “unsanctioned zoo” was less an “unsanctioned zoo” and more of an “illegal large mammal ultimate fighting mobile tournament”.
The large trailers in our caravan, which I’d thought were simple animal cages, were actually the wrestling rings themselves. Hairy, sweaty, drunk men were packed into each of the four trailers behind us, watching no-holds-barred fighting matches between a platypus and a raccoon, a cheetah and a wild boar, an elephant (Wallace) and a gorilla, and a horse and a halibut, respectively.
Naturally, when the Colonel told me this, I was appalled.
“That’s awful!” I said. “Just awful! How in the world is anyone going to pay attention to my clown act when all that awesome, awesome animal fighting is going on?”
“Don’t worry, my boy,” he said. I was beginning to view him as a father figure. “You’ll be the one in charge of shoveling away the losing carcasses. Why, you’ll be the star of the show!”
“Oh, OK,” I said. “That makes sense.”
When we stopped at the Starbucks in Coffeyville, KS, something occurred to me. “Colonel Baxter,” I asked. “Can you get in trouble for killing so many animals, including endangered species?”
He chortled his jovial chortle again. “My boy, my boy. The best part is, it’s 100% legal. You can bank on it.” (I believe this last comment referred to the ATM he’d recently installed in trailer #3.)
You see, Colonel Baxter had found a way to stick it to those Washington fat cats once again. A loophole in the Federal Animal Pugilism Act of 1910 stipulates: “If said acts occur while traveling in excess of 295 furlongs per solar inclination [~35MPH], they thereby cease to be cruel, and are therefore ‘A-OK.’” This provision was added at the behest of noted High-Speed Kangaroo Boxing enthusiast William Howard Taft. You see, at the time, the only people who could afford to travel that fast were presidents, newspaper barons, and Sherlock Holmes (who, by that time, was getting on in years, yet still maintained an entirely fictional lifestyle).
“That all sounds great,” I said. “When do I start?”
“We need to pick up a panda in Muskogee,” the Colonel said, combing his mustache. “Then you can start your rotations.”
“Bitchin’,” I said.
Alas, my career was over before it began. When we arrived at the panda distribution center at Muskogee, federal marshals were there to take the Colonel into custody. Turns out the Federal Animal Pugilism Act of 1910 isn’t a thing, so neither is the loophole. I suppose it goes to show you, you shouldn’t get your legal advice from Google.
The marshals were going to arrest me too, so I had to think fast. I plastered a wide grin across my face, hypothesizing that everyone loves a happy person. As it turns out everyone loves to savagely beat a happy person. Fortunately, they thought I was decidedly and inconsolably unhappy (on account of my sad clown makeup, which overrode the smile), so they didn’t beat me. That’s what I call the ol’ switcheroo. They let me go.
I decided then and there that clowning ain’t for me. I stopped at a nearby lake to wash the crusty paint from my face, then embarked on my journey of self-discovery. And what better place to discover myself than the birthplace of both self and discovery: Texas, the Lonesome Realization State.
After a few days of hitchhiking, thumb-wrestling, and bocci ball, I stumbled through the swinging doors of an ice cream saloon on the outskirts of Denison, TX. I ordered a banana split at the counter, and that’s my last solid memory. After that, it’s a blur. (I don’t even like bananas.)
Memories of booze, women, milkshakes, gambling, supercool, the cowboy mafia, sundaes, and goofballs swirl together in a blurry potpourri of perversion. The next thing my mind can firmly grasp is in October 2004. I was in Amarillo, living the Panhandle lifestyle, but everything…was about to change.
Not literally, of course. I just mean it was going to change for me, because now I could remember stuff, see?
Still to come: Lots of dirt and tumbleweeds, burlesque shows, a kangaroo in Colorado(!?), and 2005—2006. Suck it, Texas Yellow!