The Hammer

I have never been to a circus, ever. (Does a television taping of Bozo the Clown when I was about six count? I think not.) What's more, I have never wanted to see one. But nowadays I think I probably ought to catch one before I take a swing on that Great Trapeze in the Sky. Cirque de Soliel recommends itself - but that's hardly a traditional circus, is it? That's tarted up and Frenchified. I mean one with unfunny clowns and a woman in tights standing on a galloping horse.

The closest I have ever gotten to a circus was a grocery store parking lot carnival, in my case the local Ralph's on the corner of Buena Vista and Victory in Burbank. It was Spring, 1965, and I was turning nine. It was the kind of attraction run by dodgy looking guys with tattoos and adult-looking teenagers with rolled-up sleeves and cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. I rode the Ferris Wheel - I recall being interested in seeing all the air conditioning equipment atop Ralph's roof - and walked though a supremely unfrightening House of Horrors. I remember looking at the various lit devil masks and gags and thinking how I'd improve on them. The attraction that caused the most interest among we kids, however, was The Hammer.

It was a ride that looked dangerous: One was locked into a noisy, rickety steel cabin and flung around first in arcs, then upside down. The kid lore was that you couldn't ride it without vomiting profusely. Looking back on it as an adult I wondered why, if this were the case, that the thing didn't smell to high heaven and kids didn't emerge besoiled. But nine year-olds don't always think deductively. Subject to multiple dares, I finally rode the Hammer, and much like Peggy Lee in her song Is That All There Is?, musing upon disappointment with a circus, I too, wondered, is that all there is to the Hammer?




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