Sunday, April 4, 2010

So you want to be a gladiator!

Here's what you'll need: something to whack people with. A stick, maybe. Some big muscles. Some oil. You see 'em in the movies, all oiled up. Takes a lot of oil. Olive oil, because they're Romans, right? Well, mostly captured enemies, but it's still Rome. So they get themselves all oiled up, then someone shoves them out into the circus.

Hooray! It's the circus! Here's the program:

First up, music. An overture. Johannes Philippus Sousus. On those big Roman trumpets that curve round like serpents. And a lyre. You can't hear the lyre outdoors in the middle of all the trumpets with the crowd blabbering away, munching on popcorn and guzzling beer. But it's in the contract with the union. There has to be a lyre. You think maybe he's lip synching, anyway.

Next, lions.

It's not a circus without lions. They keep the lions downstairs in the maze of passageways. Whole place reeks of lion piss, and there's no way to get the stuff out of the rocks.

So they open up the doors to let out the lions, but it's hot, bright, and noisy, and the lions are more interested in sleeping. They do that—you can read about it on the panel at the zoo. Lions sleep something like 20 hours a day. Get up and eat someone, then go back to sleep. So the lions are all sleeping in a big pile at the back of the room, and they have to send an old guy with a stick to poke them. It's a reasonably prestigious job, lion poker. The trick is to run inside, poke them once or twice, then hightail it out of there while the lions are still rubbing their eyes and making those morning smacking noises with their mouths.

Properly poked, the lions come galloping out of the door. Run around the ring a few times, eat a couple of Christians, then go back inside for a nap.

Next, some clowns. Nobody likes the clowns. "And now," says the announcer, "the hilarious clowns!" He has to say that, or nobody would know they were funny. A chariot pulls up, pulled by a sad looking donkey who stops in the middle of the arena, sits down, and yawns. The chariot door opens, and a river of clowns pours out. You've got your Emmett-Kelley-style hobo clowns, your Bozo-style clowns with blue eye shadow, your cigar-smoking housewife clowns in drag, and a jailbird clown in a black and white striped suit.

They run around doing clown shtick. One tries to pick up his hat while kicking it just out of reach every time. One hits another on the head with a big mallet. Two clowns in a goat costume butt a third clown in the butt. There's polite applause, then some more lions are released to eat the clowns. You've probably already heard the stupid joke that says lions won't eat clowns because they taste funny. But in this case, given the general lack of funniness, the lions are only too glad to eat them, leaving only a couple of pairs of oversized shoes.

There's a standing ovation. The lions take a bow, then go back inside for another nap.

Next, it's Gladiators, Round One: bare-handed rassling. They're all oiled up with olive oil—first pressing, extra-virgin. So the oiled gladiators come out and do some rassling. Mostly there's a lot of slipping around. One wrestler rolls in the sand and comes up looking as if he's been dipped in breadcrumbs. A lion wanders out long enough to eat him, then go back inside.

The rassling goes on for a while until the gladiators are all rassled out, then they go back inside for a costume change, and it's Intermission.

The audience stands up. Stretches. Buys some bread, traditional accompaniment of circuses. The kids get souvenirs—those popguns. Little gladiator helmets. Tridents. Then they spend all their time poking each other. Parents threaten on the way home. "If you don't stop poking your brother with that trident, I'm stopping this chariot right here. Don't make me feed you to the lions."

Next time it's Gladiators, Round Two: the cutlery.

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