I was far from home, alone, living in an apartment with no furniture, and still without many friends after several months. I knew things would get better, but in the mean time, I said, it was important to go out and do things, new things, things that would engage my mind while time did its business...
The advertisement said that the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow would begin at 8, but the doors would open at 7, and people in costumes would get in for half price.
I showed up at 7, in my usual costume, and saw a Viking, a dog with floppy ears made of worn out athletic socks, a pizza delivery man, and a person wearing a troll-doll head mask.
I would have got a great seat, but when I got to the front of the line, they told me I had to go get a ticket at another place first, so I lost my place.
As they entered, each person was giving a little barf bag, for practical use or as a souvenir.
Instead of a theater, the show was held in a ballroom, so everyone sat on the floor, up close to the stage.
The lights were dim, and that made it hard to read the newspaper while I waited. And when 8 o'clock came around and the show didn't start, I did a little studying for my exam the next day. In case John Burns runs across this note, I was indeed memorizing Gronwall's inequality!
By the time the show began, there were over 1,000 people in the ballroom. The local events person got up on the stage and said the show wouldn't start until everyone slid closer to the stage, and, in his words, "eliminated these air pockets". This seemed a novel attitude for a person charged with public safety.
Everyone stood up, walked forward; no one seemed to think about the fact that you can stand a lot closer than you can sit. When the crowd began to sit, one by one, people found that their places had disappeared, as if by magic.
Then another guy came out and said there had to be three feet of space between the stage and the front row of people, so could we all "slide back" three feet?
Well, everyone tried, but as you can imagine, it's a little difficult to slide through the person behind you, so the front moved maybe 6 inches back, and the back didn't move at all. I suppose some lucky people in the crowd suddenly had gotten 6 inches thinner. It's a nice thought in an age when miracles are so rare.
At last the lights began to get quite dim, and there was hope the show would begin.
A strange looking guy in tux and tails and tophat, whose name we later learned was "Slug", came shuffling out onto the stage, with demonic eyes and a robotic gait.
He sat down at the keyboards, and began playing tunes that you might suppose the Phantom of the Opera used to cheer himself up. The announcer asked us to applaud the "Sheik of Freak for the Circus of the Scars", and out came Jim Rose himself, a scruffy blonde guy with a goatee, a bare chest and a leather vest.
Jim said he wanted to let us get an idea of what the show was going to be like right away, so the nervous people could escape with as little damage as possible. He pulled out a screwdriver, and said "I'm going to balance this on my nose."
Then he tossed his head back, gave a great show of trying to get his balance, and let the screwdriver blade slide into his nose, as the audience groaned.
After pulling the screwdriver out, he placed a six inch spike in front of his nose, held the microphone up to it, and began to hit it with a hammer until it disappeared completely up his nose.
"Woops, I meant to leave the head showing," he said, "but that's OK, I've got some needle-nosed pliers I can use to fish around for it!"
Once the nail was extracted again, he said, "Well, I hope that gives you some idea of the high quality entertainment you're going to see tonight, if you choose to stay! And now, Act One."
As Slug played weird eastern music, Jim Rose introduced the Torture King.
"This man has been eating fire for years, ladies and gentlemen. And the sad result of this diet is that now everything he eats tastes like white bread."
The Torture King had a couple of flaming torches which he would place in his mouth and extinguish.
Then Jim asked someone with an unlit cigarette to come on stage.
The Torture King put a torch in his mouth, took it out, and still had flame coming from his mouth.
"Now light your damn cigarette before he burns up!" yelled Jim.
The guy lit the cigarette from the flame coming from the Torture King's mouth.
"Oh my God!" yelled Jim Rose, "I forgot this is a nonsmoking building!", and he grabbed the cigarette from the guy and stubbed it out on his own tongue.
"Next we will have the gasoline gargle, ladies and gentlemen. This trick hardly ever goes wrong, but I do think it's a good time for you to note the location of the nearest emergency exit."
Torture King took a chug of gasoline, held up one of his torches, and blew a huge ball of fire past it.
"I think Torture King deserves a light snack, now," said Jim, and pulled out a light bulb.
He had someone from the audience smash the light bulb, and then feed pieces of it to Torture King. Then he held the microphone up to Torture King's mouth, so we could all hear the glass crack and shatter as it was chewed.
"Show 'em your empty mouth, Torture King! And don't you people try this at home! Go to a neighbor's house and do it!"
Then it was time for "Matt the Tube", a tall, blonde, perfectly normal looking guy.
Jim had an assistant, "Bee-Bee the Circus Queen", who must have weighed all of 110 pounds, and wore black harem pants and a black halter. While the Tube put a brace in his mouth from which a chain hung, Jim whipped up the crowd.
"Matt the Tube has developed the strength of his teeth to an incredible degree. Watch while he uses them to lift Bee-Bee the Circus Queen up in the air, this human pig, this 300 pound sack of dead weight."
After he lifted her up, he swung her from side to side. Then he bit two nails, and bent them 90 degrees.
Then Jim said, "Now ladies and gentlemen, in these days we know it's important to be safe when doing anything, including circus stunts. So Matt is now going to show us the proper use of a condom."
Matt unrolled a black condom, and said "Jim, before I use a condom, I like to make sure it's lubricated. And this one is a little dry for my taste. So I'm going to lubricate it first."
Saying this, he stuck the end up his nose, and then reached into his mouth and pulled it out. This was truly disgusting.
"Wow, it's covered with nose debris!" screamed Jim.
But Matt said, "You know, Jim, I still see some dry patches on it."
So he stuck it on his finger, stuck that into his mouth, and BLEW. The condom started coming out of his nose, and it was inflated.
"Now that's nice and lubricated," he said, and he stuck both hands in the condom, pulled it over his head, and inflated it to twice his head size by blowing through his nose, until it blew up.
"What a dick head!" said Jim.
Then Bee-Bee the Circus Queen brought out a racoon trap, and Matt stuck his hand into it, and let it snap shut on him. Then Matt put his finger on a table, and banged on it with a can of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beef Ravioli. The can made a sickening thud, and was badly dented.
Finally, Bee-Bee brought out a hot water bag.
"Matt is going to need all his concentration on this one, ladies and gentlemen. He's going to try to blow this hot water bottle up to the size of a pig. The internal pressure that is generated is enormous. Watch as the veins in his forehead pop up. If he loses control for even a second, the air will rush out of the hot water bag and into his lungs and he will explode before your very eyes."
Matt blew the bag full. And then he blew harder and it started to give. And harder, and it started to become round. And the bag got bigger and bigger until it was as big as his chest, and then suddenly it simply blew apart.
"Thank you, Matt the Tube. He'll be back in Act Two for some more amazing stunts!"
Jim then had three volunteers come from the audience and step on him while he was lying on a bed of nails.
Then he turned his back to the audience, and asked Bee-Bee, the Circus Queen, to throw darts at him.
She threw a dart and it went right into his arm and stuck.
"At least TRY to aim!" yelled Jim.
The next two went straight into his back and stuck out straight.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, as featured in the March 1992 edition of HUSTLER magazine, the amazing Mr Lifto!"
Out came a 25 year old guy in a jacket, a red satin dress, black pantyhose, and huge loop earrings.
"The amazing Mr Lifto will lift these two flatirons by hanging them from his earrings. These are real flatirons, folks, as you might begin to realize from the way his ears are stretching towards the ground!"
Then Mr Lifto took off his jacket.
"Now where's he going to put his jacket, folks? He's got a hanger for it, thank goodness, but where's he going to hang that?. You know, he just hates to see wrinkles in his clothes. How about putting the hanger through his nose?"
Well, I guess there was a hole in his nose, because Mr Lifto stuck the hanger through his nose, and placed his jacket on it.
"And because you people are so damn hard to convince, Mr Lifto will now SWING the jacket around in the air, using only his nose to hold on to it."
This was quite convincing enough for me. But I got worried when Bee-Bee dragged out a suitcase.
"Here's how Mr Lifto can carry an extra suitcase when his hands are full," said Jim.
Mr Lifto connected a chain to the suitcase. The other end of the chain had a hook. He put the hook through a hole in his tongue.
"And what do you say we ask him to swing the suitcase around, too, folks?" yelled Jim, as the suitcase started to loop back and forth.
Then a concrete block was brought out, and Mr Lifto took off his dress, to reveal a ring through each nipple.
He put a chain through the concrete block, and attached both ends to the nipple rings.
When he lifted it off the ground, his nipples headed south a good four inches.
After this trick, since Mr Lifto was only wearing black pantyhose, you could pretty much see A) his anatomy and B) the ring that went right through his anatomy.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Lifto's final stunt. To actually see this stunt, you will have to turn to page 49 of HUSTLER magazine. Because this is a family show, we will have to hold up a sheet so you can only see Mr Lifto's amazing profile. It would certainly be too crude to say that Mr Lifto is about to put a hook through his dick, wouldn't it?"
Mr Lifto (behind the sheet) took off the panty hose, but they shined a good strong light.
The two flat irons were hung from a cord, and when he lifted them, his dick just jerked down something awful.
The guys in the audience were groaning, though a couple ran to the side of the stage to try to see behind the sheet.
As Mr Lifto left the stage (wrapped in the sheet), Jim Rose swallowed four razor blades and some thread, massaged his Adam's apple, and brought them back up, threaded together.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we'll need to take a fifteen minute break now before we begin act two," he said.
When Jim Rose came up to begin Act Two, he announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're thankful for your dollars."
And so saying, he placed a dollar on his forehead, and stapled it there.
"And now we will bring out the Torture King again. We must prove to you that he is impervious to pain. Bring in the needles!"
The Torture King, who had a long pony tail, and a sad sack look, came out in a robe.
"Torture King, show them how you laugh at pain. Put a needle through your arm."
The Torture King pushed a six inch needle into the skin of his arm, under for about an inch, and back out again.
"Now we're concerned that the Torture King might want to scream at some point, so we're going to have him put a needle through his voice box!" said Jim.
The Torture King took another long needle and stuck it through his throat. This was surprisingly hard to look at.
"Now," said Jim, "how about that eye socket?"
It was hard to see exactly what was going on, but the Torture King fiddled with his eye, and when he looked up again, there was the head of a pin, just the head, sticking out of the corner of his eye.
"Now the meat skewer through the arm, Torture King! Remember that shish-ka-bob you had for dinner?"
This time, the Torture King took a bigger, longer needle, and stuck it into his arm, but then let it make a tent under his skin. He moved it around, making the tent turn and stretch.
"Punch it through, Torture King!", yelled Jim, and Torture King pushed the skewer on through.
Then he had the Torture King push another needle into his cheek. The Torture King opened his mouth, and as he wiggled the end of the needle, the sharp end gradually worked its way forward to project out his mouth. The Torture King let go of the needle, and just wiggled it playfully with his tongue.
"He's just toying with you folks. Make him send it on through the other side!"
So after a fair amount of yelling and encouragement, Torture King pushed the needle out the other side.
After pulling out all the needles, Jim made the Torture King walk up a ladder of razors, first dropping a cucumber onto each step, and letting it get sliced.
The highlight occurred when Bee-Bee the Circus Queen wheeled out a small generator.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we're going to electrocute this freak! And to prove it, we're going to make him hold a fluorescent light bulb in his hand."
The lights went down, and Torture King touched the generator with a metal rod, while holding the light bulb with the other.
Mad scientist sparks flew from the generator, and an eerie light came from the bulb.
"Now ladies and gentlemen, you're a pretty liberal audience. But we've been to other places where they're a little more uptight than you guys. Our trip to Salt Lake City comes to mind. And while we were there, they accused us of using Satan's power to do this stunts. Well, folks, we don't use Satan. No, we're a good god-fearing circus troupe. And to prove it, we're going to turn Torture King into the Electric Jesus!"
So they gave Torture King two fluorescent light bulbs to hold in a cross form, and they put a circular fluorescent light bulb on his head, and they turned out the lights again.
"OK!", screamed Jim, "Give Jesus the Juice!", and the darkness was dispelled by the ghostly figure of the Torture King, smiling at last. Ecce homo!
"Maybe you all could sleep better with a night light like that!" said Jim, "Now thank the Torture King, and beg for his blessing!"
"Next on our list is Buggery. That's right folks, Beatlemania, right before your eyes! I'm talking about the Human Terrarium. You know Slug as our musical accompanist, but he has certain other abilities as well."
At this point Slug took off his top hat, to reveal a head shaved of hair except for a mohawk.
Slug left his post at the keyboard, which was taken over by Mr Lifto, who was dressed again (that is, in his red satin dress and black pantyhose).
Jim asked a very reluctant woman to come up on the stage. He handed her a jar of worms and told her to feed Slug. Using as little of two fingers as she dared, she was able to catch a worm and dangle it in front of Slug, who eagerly slurped it up like a piece of spaghetti.
The second one that she gave him he ate more slowly, so that it wiggled outside his mouth for a while. Then the third one fell on the floor, but he instantly picked it up.
"Oh, that's gross, eating off the floor!" said Jim.
Then it was the turn for crickets, and then maggots.
"Be sure to chew them carefully, Slug, or they'll eat their way back out!"
Slug then stuck his tongue out, and everyone could see worm parts, cricket legs, and maggot goo dripping all over his mouth.
Jim gave him a glass of water to wash it all down.
Then he brought out a sword for Slug to swallow.
"The Guinness Book of World Records will no longer accept sword swallowing results, because of two deaths that occurred in 1988. This sword is as long as the swords that caused those deaths," said Jim.
Slug put his head back, and swallowed the sword.
When he took it out again, Jim looked at the end, which was now discolored, and said "Looks like bug parts to me, folks!"
And then he handed Slug a second sword.
"This sword is an inch longer than the swords that caused those deaths!"
Once Slug had swallowed the sword, he made a bow for applause, with the sword still sticking out of his mouth, and his head flung back comically.
Finally, Slug lifted a small weight which he held by cups inserted into his eyes.
Jim then put on a strait jacket, and got out of it.
And then he asked us to welcome back the Duke of Puke, Matt the Tube.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Matt is now lubricating a seven foot rubber hose, the same kind used to force feed hunger strikers. Now he's got the hose up his nose, and down into his stomach. Notice this large container attached to the hose. That's where the liquefied food usually goes."
"But we're not going to use liquefied food. No, we're going to use beer. Matt loves to get drunk, but he hates the taste of beer. So let's help him out here."
So saying, Jim poured a 40 ounce bottle of beer into the container.
Then he added ketchup and mustard.
"Think that's disgusting folks? Then let's make sure his stomach doesn't turn!" and he poured some Maalox in as well.
Then he took a big rubber plunger and placed it on the top of the container.
"Ready to fill him up?" he asked, and he began to plunge.
The fluid (there was a lot) disappeared very quickly through the tube.
"There," said Jim, "the fastest drink you've ever seen. Now that was Miller Lite, you know. Tastes great, but is it really less filling? I don't know, folks. And when I don't know, I want to find out. Let's find out!"
And so Jim started pulling on the plunger, and the container began filling up again. But the returning liquid was not bright yellow, or even golden. No, now the liquid was definitely a turgid frothy brown.
"You notice the color change, eh? That's because the beer has mixed up with the stomach bile! Wow, looks like we got more out than we put in!"
Now, Mr Lifto came out with a tray. There were glasses on the tray. I thought, Oh no, please, Matt the Tube is not going to do what I think he's going to do.
Instead, Jim took a glass, filled it up, and said "Would anyone like a glass of this delicious, second hand, Bile Beer?"
I couldn't believe it, but six guys from different parts of the audience rushed to the front, and each was given a glass containing the contents of Matt's stomach.
Jim was a little concerned about one guy, and made him show ID that he was really over 21.
On a cue from Jim, they all toasted Matt, and drank up the beer.
At this point, it was not possible for the circus to proceed much longer, but Jim had to let us down gently.
Jim broke some glass, and put it on the floor. He had a woman come up from the audience. He was about to lay his head onto the glass, but sprang back.
"My God, there's a piece of paper in this glass! And you know how those paper cuts can hurt!"
Once he removed the paper, he laid his head back down, and the woman stood on his head.
There was a microphone by his head, which transmitted the excruciating sound of glass grinding and breaking beneath his head as the woman shifted her weight.
Then Jim stood up with shards of glass still sticking to his head, thanked us for our attention, and said they'd be back next year, and that they had a television special scheduled for February.
"And even if you're satisfied having seen us once," he said, "come back anyway, bring a friend, and watch them watching us!"
I left the show completely satisfied. As time went by, I did find friends, and things to do, finished my time in exile only to move to new exiles, to be left behind by my friends, to return to a home where nothing ever happens, but I never forgot the awesome moment of seeing Jim Rose and his Circus Side Show.
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