Taking my grandkids to the circus

I had forgotten — or, if not forgotten, it had been too long since I last experienced — the wonder of a circus. Perhaps a residue of slickness or a sensation of seediness had draped a cover over it in that portion of my mind where lasting impressions are stored.

The circus’s wonder laid dormant there, covered, until my son and I took my grandchildren to a circus. In England, circuses have one ring, not the expansive three rings that were common here. With one ring, there are no distractions, so it was in short order that my grandchildren had wonder’s cover off. Unveiled, it emerged in the rapture spread upon their faces.


In 1961-62, Judy Kinsel — now Judy McCourt — and I worked for the same accounting firm: M.P. Rosenthaler & Co. M.P. was a gruff old presence to my 18-year-old sensibility. There are two things I remember about M.P.

One, the framed letter to him from Gen. Douglas MacArthur that hung in his office in his building on Park Place, where the PNC Bank parking lot is now. McArthur had sent his regrets at not being able to attend a reunion of the World War I “Rainbow Division” he had once commanded and in which M.P. had served. MacArthur was involved with the post-World War II occupation of Japan.

The other thing I remember about M.P. is his saying to me: ” Son, if you want to be a CPA, go to Chicago.” I didn’t go to Chicago, so I never experienced the wonder of becoming one. A good move for me. A good move, as well, for the accounting profession.

The summer M.P. told me to go to Chicago, the circus came to town. The accounting firm had chipped in to ensure that any kid who wanted to could attend. In return, the firm received two free adult admission tickets. None of the accountants — M.P., Carl Reitz, George Lafleche, Charlie Cernat, Eddie Woerpel, Ron White, or any of the others — wanted to use them, so Judy and I took the bait.

Those free admission tickets got us past the first barrier in a series of barriers, only the last of which allowed entry. At each barrier, another ticket had to be purchased.

That gradual admission process, though expensive and frustrating, came as no surprise. A circus, like most worthwhile endeavors, begins devoid of wonder. Only after barriers are surmounted is an admission granted. Only then is any magic revealed. Always, first, we have to pass through figurative Chicagos.

Unless you’re a kid — then, wonder can be free.

P. T. Barnum made a fortune by creating the illusion that adults, too, could gain free admission.

Phineas Taylor Barnum was one of the most famous — if not the most famous — man in America in the later part of the 19th century. He was in the circus business, a showman, famous for creating illusions people believed to be true.

In his day, P.T. — “The Greatest Showman On Earth” — was more famous than any climate scientist, certified welder, or astrophysicist, than any statesman, pipefitter, or mathematician, better-known than any artist, teacher, or explorer, more celebrated, certainly, than any humanitarian.

None of them had a free ticket to get where they were to do what they did to see the wonder they saw.

P.T. Barnum was more famous than any unentertaining, truth-telling, straight-talking, straight shooter anywhere.

If you plan to attend one 0f the circuses currently on tour, I suggest you avoid the confusion of simultaneous illusions. You will see more clearly observing the action one ring at a time.

Then, check your ticket — make sure there’s no promise of a free admission.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs biweekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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