I began working with Circus Amok in the late 1990s, volunteering whenever I could; setting up, passing out programs. Soon after I began appearing at every show, carrying, loading, fixing, making duck quack sound effects as needed.
Circus Amok eventually became the center of my entire queer weirdo community. I’d moved to New York City (a little, but totally unconsciously) to find a life filled with artists, doers and activists—and the electricity of those things overlapping.
A Circus Amok season—like the energy of each performance—is sometimes an overwhelming blur. We move our bodies and our props from very literally one end of the city to another, thirteen-hour days punctuated only by permit surprises, twisted ankles, embracing audiences, applause.
When I remember the details, I can only sometimes tell you if it was 2006 or 2012—but I can fix the images in my mind and then tell you that we were in Marcus Garvey Park, or Coney Island, Tompkins Square or Bedford Playground. In this way, my sense of home in this city has been extended. In fact, when I try to picture myself having not intersected with Amok so many years ago, there is no version of me that I can, or want to imagine.
I love the moment the show begins, the alertness, the tension as we countdown to go. I believe that the momentum that the performance creates is a physical, tangible thing. It washes out over the crowds, in waves of anger and joy, across the the concrete and bits of grass on which we’ve set up our made-just-for-you spectacle.
The show always opens with stilts, for practical and aesthetic reasons: The stilts take a longish time to put on and take off, and you need something big and explosive to start an outdoor show that will grab the attention of the audience. Then the show moves into a manufactured mayhem—the band plays jerking, crashing, sounds and everyone in the ring begins to flail about, as if some uncertain doom is imminent. I run a microphone out to Jennifer for her welcome speech, and we’ve taken to kissing each other at the moment of the hand off. It’s one of my favorite rituals, both personally, and for what it does theatrically. A tiny pause, a beat of love in the midst of the chaos.
Circus Amok has made me a better writer, a better artist. It has given me a welcoming, challenging space to push my imagination, to conceive possibilities, to work collaboratively. Every season, Circus Amok asks me to become a more genuine version of myself—it allows for that, and it also demands it. I appreciate the irony that in order to do this we first adorn ourselves with wigs and makeup, fabulous feathers and sumptuous sequins. We arm our acrobats with cardboard ice cream cones. We stuff clowns inside of giant papier mache elephants. We present exaggerated, towering, cartoonish versions of our beloved, complicated New York.
I love the after, too—the striking, the packing, the smeared make up. During the season I sleep soundly. Every morning I wake with my pillow covered in glitter.
There are two more weekends, showtimes and locations are here.
Daniel is laying in the grass outside a hospital where his mother is inside asleep, dying of cancer. In the falling light of evening, he re-imagines and re-plays a meeting with an ex-lover, Jackson, who carves carousel horses for a living in, of all places, Memphis, Tennessee. Issue 2.4 is straight up short fiction. Crying in spades, plus Rollagraph’d merry-go-round ink.
About.com asked me some questions about fiction writing, finding the right form for your ideas, a little bit about Crying Frodo, and if I had any advice for other people writing fiction.
A lot has been happening. Last night I was at dinner in Williamsburg with my bff, who is in the middle of filing for divorce. She and I became friends because we sat next to each other in chemistry class in 1994-1995, passing notes back and forth about all the cute boys and how over all the rest of it we were. Our school had white dry erase boards, and our teacher–bald and charismatic–never used an eraser, he used his fingers. Wiping out chemical equations, moving atoms from one side to another, and then rubbing his face and head. At the end of the day he’d be covered in blobby smudges of blue and green. I never understood why we had to learn those things, oxygen and hydrogen and sodium and how each attracts or doesn’t attract the other. At the time I remember thinking ‘I will never need this in my life, ever.’ Because by that age you are basically already who you are, and you know what you will and won’t ever need. I realize why they teach those things–because you cast the widest net in order to catch the most students. So, I am eating the za’atar blackened chicken and we are talking about how horrible her ex-husband has been acting and we are drinking room temperature martinis because the restaurant is so very hot. A summer storm begins, and it is pouring down the awning outside and at the edge of the fabric it looks like tiny silver beads, and I am thinking: I do not know how I would have made it through chemistry class, and the last 16 years, without her.
After, I walk to the G Train at Metropolitan, and on the platform is a busker playing banjo, using his empty suitcase as both a stool and base drum. Across, on the opposite platform, is a guy playing the fiddle, and in fact, the two of them are playing together. I’m not drunk (what’s two drinks?) but I’m a little buzzy, and it was one of those nights, when New York feels magic, the night before today, the 4th of July, when everyone’s weekend starts at the same time, and it feels like everyone is having lukewarm martinis and is happy to ride the subway at least for the air conditioning. They sound pretty incredible, these two, playing together, filling the whole station. It works. The uptown-going and the downtown-going are given the opportunity to watch each other, to make sense of the music coming from both directions. Everyone is suddenly engaged in a new way.
A guy, tall and black and wearing a white v-neck t-shirt, sits down next to me on the bench, we are both moving to the music, just enough to feel it. “Where is that sound from?” he asks me, not waiting for an answer. “Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana? Creole or Cajun or Bluegrass some kinda shit like that, right?” “Yes,” I tell him, “but by way of Brooklyn and Steve Reich or…something.” It sounds like they’re playing bluegrass from space, but, well, less terrible than that. The guy nods his head, “Yeah, I guess it doesn’t matter where anything comes from, does it?” The train arrives and we say goodbye and have a good night.
This is a good thing for me to hear right now. In April, my parents put their house, the one I grew up in, on the market. Last week they moved into their new house in Florida, where they are closer to my brother, and his two sons, their grandchildren. My folks lived on Murray Hills Drive for 31 years. I spent 14 years in that house before moving to New York. I write those numbers, thinking how can there be such a difference? A few years from now, I will have lived in New York longer than I ever lived in Tennessee. It is a line that I am still not ready to cross.
Everyone has been asking me about their move, about how I feel about it. Particularly they are asking about the 4th of July. My parents, for each of those 31 years, hosted a 4th of July potluck brunch for the entire neighborhood, somewhere between 100 and 200 people. The mayor might speak, the fire department sends a shiny red truck for the kids to climb on. ( In the early years there were 20 boxes of a dozen Krispy Kremes, perfectly warmed by the Tennessee morning.) My mother gives prizes for the best patriotic costumes. This year there won’t be a party. But there I am, writing about the 4th and what happens, still in the present tense. And now it is the 4th of July morning, and I am not gathering picnic tables from all the nearest neighbors backyards, or running to the Bi-Lo for four gallons of each red, yellow and orange punch, or trying to oversleep while the brass band goes through the briefest of rehearsals. I am, instead, in Brooklyn, at my desk with my 16 year-old cat leaning against the laptop, writing this post. The party was small-town, it was original, with a touch of weird–unique, maybe, is a better word. And what I loved most about it was sharing it with my friends from New York. If I am missing one thing the most, it is that.
I’m visiting the whole family in Florida the first week of August. Part of me feels like it is too far away, like I cannot wait the whole month to see the spaces and the neighborhood that my parents are now a part of. I am not sure how long it will take me to understand Florida the way I understood Tennessee–at the cellular level, inside the smallest most elemental part of me. The sharpness of the plants there. The low, flat light. My guess is: never.
Maybe it doesn’t matter where something comes from. I write this, even though I know it isn’t true.
Sherry decides that she might have a Duane Reade Club Card, after all. She thinks it is probably hiding in the bottom of the junk drawer, like all worthless things in their house. She begins searching amid the rolls of every kind of tape, the browning 33-cent stamps, the fat pink erasers, never used. She does not find the Club Card, but she does find an envelope from her first New York City roommate, Clare, an aspiring model, mailed to her years after Clare had moved back to Minneapolis. Inside are four photographs. The first is of Scott, the redhead from Vermont, Sherry can’t remember his last name. Norwood or Norman, maybe. He’d put on Clare’s prop wedding dress from a photo shoot and he could play the oboe, so why not, everyone had plenty of tequila and this was always where the nights went. The second photo is of Scott with a mandolin, which he could kind of play, his fingers nimble and thin, and he played Woody Guthrie tunes, wearing what he said was his brother’s hand-me-down Joy Division shirt. The third photograph is of Sherry, herself, laughing her shirt undone, her breast white and shining, reflecting the flash of the disposable camera. In this picture you can see the tequila, the apartment looks full of adventure. The rooms were more than Sherry can remember. The last photograph, the one that has been chewed and licked by Clare’s now-passed-away cat, is of Jason and Sherry in bed together, arms across each other in some delicate way. The wedding dress is on the floor by the piano, which, being an upright, Sherry and Clare pushed down Manhattan Avenue in the rain one day, covered in a tarp, boxes of their belongings stacked on top. Each bump in the sidewalk was a barrage of notes, not a clump of them, but all of them, nothing like music, just noise.
It is three hours into the day of registering that I realize: Sharon only cares about the presents. We are standing at the Pottery Barn with one of those guns–that’s what they call it, a gun–and she is asking me if I like this, or that, not especially wanting to hear my feelings about the screen-printed wicker placemats ($49) and the Chinese Crystal Easy Peasy Vase ($169.) She is clicking the gun over and over. Bang: Mulberry leaf teapot with service for eight. Bang: olive spoon and server set. Bang: Brocade copper ‘Starshine’ pattern organza dust ruffle, size Queen.
“Do you think your parents are going to give us the bed?”
“You mean the queen size four poster that will be in desperate need of that dust ruffle you just selected?”
“Bobby,” she says, “Don’t be an asshole.”
“I cannot promise that they will do any one thing over another.”
“Of course you can’t,” Sharon says, her eyes turning to slits. She spins and walks away, disappearing into rows of window treatments and window accessories. I cannot see her, but I can hear her clicking the gun over and over. There was a time when she cared about me.
“Bobby, get over here.”
“What?” I say.
“Which color do you like for the finials, grape or aubergine?”
I look at each. Maybe it’s the light but I cannot tell the difference. “Whichever you want,” I tell her.
Sharon smiles. She raises the gun, pointing it at me. Bang.