When I was coming out of high school in Alaska, I dreamed of joining a circus along the lines of Cirque du Soliel, one filled with beauty and truth. A soulful, artful and fantastic circus in the European tradition. I learned to juggle, walk the low wire, do some clown turns and mime and set out as Alphonso the Clown. Where I actually ended up was...
Satan's Wild Animal Circus of Agony. Huge outfit. Five rings, 36 elephants, camels, felons on the lam, father killers, mother rapers, dog people, various screwballs and lunatics. And they had a wonderful band.
When I first arrived at winter quarters in a place called Hell, Oklahoma, Jailhouse Rock was blaring on the TV and they were serving horsemeat for dinner. "We're lucky it was a horse that died," I was told. We did two shows a day, in the mud, got three meals a day, mostly beans, and the rumor was they put potassium nitrate - more commonly known as Salt Peter - in the food to reduce your sex drive, not that it really does, but, the truth is, like the aliens who give anal probes to goofballs in corn country, these so-called "circus folk" surgically removed our libidos while we slept. My guess is to keep the animals safe from sex with other species until they died and could be eaten.
Long story short, I fell and hurt my back really bad. Slipped and flipped backwards and landed on the ring curb. Great pratfall. Biggest laugh I ever got. Oddly enough, dressing up as a woman with a crimson wig and huge balloon breasts and being chased around by Mexican dwarfs with a giant wedding ring wasn't as funny as falling onto the ring curb and fracturing my 4th lumbar. They howled as I was rolled out of the tent in a wheelbarrow along with a couple of watermelon-sized balls of elephant crap. In the weeks that followed, I morphed into something akin to a clownish Quasimodo in appearance. Cracked whiteface makeup, smudged and running eyes, goofy grin, and crooked spine, still suffering the pain of unrequited love of my Esmeralda: the circus of my dreams. As a result of the pain, I started sucking down Percodan and bourbon, and for good measure developed a pretty fancy case of pleurisy. Every breath I took sounded like a fat straw sucking at the warm foam in the bottom of an empty glass of sour milk. The cough was attractive, too. Kids were horrified of me. In my drug and alcohol induced stupor, I really came to enjoy frightening them. Needless to say, when I gave elephant rides, I usually rode alone. Finally, after I started a gang fight in Birmingham with the Circus Fans of America, management asked me to leave when we got to Biloxi. Imagine being asked to leave a nightmare because you're too scary. When one of Satan's minions dropped me off at the bus station, he said, "Don't ever come back here again, punk." Like I might have considered it and needed reminding. What the heck, it was part of my apprenticeship as an actor. And it prepared me for Hollywood. Almost.