Last night was the annual "Elephant Walk" in Manhattan. The event is a signal that the Ringling Brothers Circus is in town. The circus is an expensive spectacle far less impressive than the sight of a dozen or so elephants marching out of the Midtown Tunnel, and across 34th Street in the middle of the night. (This event was immortalized in the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I wonder how many people saw that scene and thought, like everything else in the film, it was another staged invention of Michel Gondry's limitless imagination, instead of the happy accident it actually was.) I attended a couple years ago, and had the great pleasure of watching the happy elephants eat the peanuts I threw at their feet. Later, a few blocks away, several bundled-up New Yorkers had the great pleasure of watching the happy elephants poop out those very same nuts. Circle of Life. Or something.
On the way to the elephants’ point of entry, we caught a candid moment with the circus’ main attraction, a curiously under-painted and blonde-haired clown named Bello. He was a few blocks away, without makeup, (I guess, though one can hardly tell the difference when he’s in full face paint. His delicately rosied cheeks make him look like someone who came in from the cold. Fun!) and he had just hopped out of a white SUV to ask a traffic cop for driving directions. I must confess I found it sort of ironic to see such a large car containing only a single clown. I guess in his profession, that’s considered diva behavior. ("Girlfriend, I saw Bello step out of a car BY HISSELF! Yuh-huh, I’m telling you! One clown in that big-ass car. And we gotta drive our asses around, 15 to a Volkswagon. Aint’ that a bitch?" – this is a simulated overheard monologue, as performed by Chauncy, the star clown attraction of The Universoul Circus.)
On the elephant route, the crowd’s spirit was hopeful, if a bit impatient. Among the people with cell phone cameras raised was a single animal rights protestor gamely trying to unfurl a dog-eared protest sign that had clearly been rolled up with rubber bands for the last year. The sign was difficult to read, as its edges kept trying to make out with each other, and the protestor soon abandoned her post, perhaps to throw some red paint on someone’s gyro.
At one point, a group of people with nice haircuts and carefully selected vintage clothing scanned the crowd, turned down the corners of their mouths, and looked at each other with expressions that suggested something like, "dudes, I know a club downtown where the elephants are way cooler. Alix just texted me tonight’s password. Let’s jet." Then they all slinked away as mysteriously as they arrived.
Around 12:45am – over an hour past their scheduled arrival – the elephants high-tailed it up the block, preceded by their publicists. Bello was precariously perched atop the lead elephant – show-off – and waved to the crowd while someone behind me yelled, "is that the dude from the Slim Jim commercials?" As the procession passed, too quickly and passively for my complete enjoyment, I noticed the rear-most elephant had a tattoo of a star on its left flank. "That’s so cute," I thought. "A college freshman girl elephant." Getting a second glance, I noticed this elephant had a second tattoo – the Chinese character for "strength" – on her ankle.
[Addendum: My friend, Stephanie Dongleberry, who always writes better jokes than me, added this: "the last elephant from the parade has a spread on Suicide Girls this week."]