R.D. Ronstad writes mainly humor pieces and poetry. His work can be found at Defenestration, The Big Jewel, Points in Case, CommuterLit, Every Day Fiction and many other online sites. A native Chicagoan, he currently lives in Phoenix, Az.
Lost on Purpose, I Join the Circus
I got lost on purpose. My parents had too many rules: No leaving the house without permission. No running or jumping in the house. No lying on the sofa. No sitting in Dad's favorite chair. No sitting in front of the TV. No pestering guests. No pestering the cat. Eat whatever's put in front of you. And absolutely no barking at passersby. Is that any way to treat a 35-year old? Okay, I'm only five, but you get my point. I'm a full-grown adult Doberman and they treated me like a child. So finally, I had to leave. Which I did the first time I saw a door left slightly open.
But the very next day I encountered a major obstacle. Having spent the night sleeping behind a dumpster in a local park, I struck out into the neighborhood and discovered a wanted poster with my picture on it on every corner lamp post. I immediately ran through my options for avoiding capture. I could disguise myself, but wearing a fake mustache or beard or donning sunglasses would only draw attention to me. I could live among the shadows and back alleys, but I didn't want to spend months dealing with the seedy characters I feared I'd run into, human or animal. I could live in the sewers with the alligators, but one day I'd no doubt end up as alligator lunch. And so, I joined the circus.
Recently, while riding in the car with my Dad (not my real Dad, of course--I'm adopted), I'd seen a poster advertising the circus. It was being held in a stadium downtown, within a dog's walking distance from my (former) house. I'd seen a dog act or two on TV. Any pooch with half a dog-brain could easily replicate all the tricks I saw those dogs perform, and I've got a superior dog brain, as the rest of my story attests. So I knew I'd have no trouble finding employment there.
The first person I ran into upon entering the stadium was a portly, middle-aged man in coveralls scooping up what I presumed to be elephant dung. Otherwise the stadium looked abandoned--nothing but row upon row of empty seats rising up on two levels, and two trapezes hanging from the center of the ceiling, facing each other about thirty feet apart, each fastened to a rope on one end so that their flybars hung there on a slant. And the scooper's golf cart, holding a bunch of tools. (I learned later the circus kept all the animals in trailers or tied down in the open air in a section of the parking lot, to which the elephants had apparently just departed.) I placed myself in front of the man and looked directly into his eyes. He looked down at me with a quizzical expression, no doubt perplexed as to where I came from. As he started to open his mouth I jumped into the golf cart before he could say anything, started it, and took off. I'd studied a dog driving a car on YouTube a few times while my parents were out of the house, and had often paid attention to my Dad's driving when in the car with him. I figured I could handle a golf cart, and I turned out to be right. I didn't even need a coach alongside me like the YouTube dog did.
I made a circuit around the stadium, needing only to make left turns, which I signaled with my left paw, and on the way back I saw the scooper guy recording me.
Once I stopped the cart next to him, I jumped out and immediately began executing a litany of dog tricks, some of which I'd seen on TV, and some of which I made up on the spur of the moment. I walked and hopped on my hind legs, first on the ground, then up and down the stadium stairs. I walked on my front legs. I jumped up and bounced off the man's left hip and did a backward flip. I cantered like a horse. I jumped through the golf cart, over the seat, one side to the other. I laid flat on the ground and covered my eyes with my paws. I leapt straight up in the air as high as I could and spun around, like a figure skater doing a loop or a basketball player doing a 360 dunk. And having finished, I offered the worker, still recording me, my paw in a shake hands gesture, and when he reached out I pulled my paw back at just the right moment, leaving him grasping air. Immediately he said, "Follow me," and led me through a tunnel and down a concourse to what turned out to be the ringmaster's office. "Boss, you gotta see this," he said, starting the video and handing him the phone. The ringmaster studied the recording intently and in silence. Once finished, he put the phone on his desk, looked me in the eye, and offered me a job.
I say "offered me a job" because that's exactly what he did, as a matter of amusement for himself and his underling. So it shocked him when I walked over to him, nudged his right leg repeatedly with my snout until he finally got the message and stood up, jumped into his chair, began typing on his computer keyboard, and "I accept" appeared on the screen along with the following demand: "A performer's salary, not just room and board." His mouth hung open as he looked, first at the workman standing silently before him, then at me, then again at the monitor, and finally bent down and typed in: "Done."
I went to work that night, and my act proved an immediate winner. Within a week of my first appearance box office receipts had gone up ten percent, and only my appearances could account for the increase. It amazed people not only that I could drive, or that I could perform my tricks with a flair beyond the capability of most dogs, but also that I did all this on my own without the prompting of a trainer.
I soon grew restless and started looking to expand my horizons. One day I spotted the human cannonball, who everybody called HC, washing his cannon on the stadium's grass, and approached him to gain his attention. He looked down at me pleadingly looking up at him and said, "What? You want to try this?" I barked once, meaning "yes"--it had been spread around the circus that one bark from me meant "yes" and two meant "no." After all, I could hardly walk around with a notebook computer or tablet hanging from my neck, and my paws were too big for typing on phones. So one or two barks would have to do for communication in most cases.
Soon enough I found myself at the bottom of the cannon barrel with a makeshift foam helmet attached to my skull, waiting for the launch. I didn't have nerves then, but once I got shot out I lost it at the top of my arc and shit myself. Still, once I landed in the net I immediately raced back to HC eager for a second chance, which he granted me. This time I gritted my teeth and maintained my composure throughout my flight. The third time I had nerves of steel.
And so I became part of HC's act. At first there was talk of me evacuating real or, assuming I couldn't crap at will (which I couldn't), even fake poop halfway through my flight because, the ringmaster assured me, human audiences love that kind of shit. But I adamantly refused. So then they suggested I wear a pendant with an "S" on it hanging from my collar and a red cape like Krypto the Superdog and stretch my legs forward and back to give the impression of flying. To this I readily agreed. They fashioned a real helmet that fit my head snugly and the first canine cannonball was born.
Then, as time passed, I wormed my way (not literally, if that's what you were thinking) into the clown car act (agreeing this time to come out of the car last and then lift a rear leg to simulate peeing on a tire, while all the other clowns looked on, bent slightly over and holding their hands vertically over their mouths in a gesture of fake prudishness), the teeterboard act, the trampoline act, the jump rope act, and even the sideshow magic act featuring The Great Banes, whose girl assistant I replaced when she married the knife thrower and became his assistant. When not performing I even regularly walked among the crowd selling red noses, trusting people to deposit their payment into panniers I had strapped to my back. They loved it.
Things went that way swimmingly for several years. I became a "featured" performer, my picture appearing in all the show's advertising. I grew wealthy, since I received regular raises, a nice stipend for each non-dog act I appeared in, and a cut of all merchandise sold--stuffed animals, t-shirts, mugs, etc--bearing my likeness. I was, as you can telI, a master negotiator.
But then, as it often does in success stories like mine, tragedy struck.
Before getting into that though, I need to explain a bit about how my finances worked. On my request, The Great Banes used his considerable talents (a little distraction here, a switch of applications there) to secure me a savings account and a debit card under the name Connor Tyke. He also set me up with direct deposit so all my payments from the circus would go into my account automatically. The rest of my banking I could do online or by mail.
My savings grew steadily, since the circus took care of all my necessities and I rarely spent money on non-necessities. In fact, if I remember correctly, my total purchases over the years (made online of course) consisted of an Alienware 7 gaming laptop from Best Buy, about a dozen computer games (Skyrim, Kane's Wrath, Call of Duty, etc.) from Steam, and a toddler-size full zip glacier-blue hoodie from L. L. Bean that fit me perfectly. My savings grew until I had just over $300,000 in my account.
And that was when a clown named Jonathan (stage name "Slappy") introduced me to Wild Casino Online, and I had visions of doubling my money (which Slappy assured me he had done) in no time. But, to my utter surprise, the opposite happened. After some small initial success, I began repeatedly losing money and then desperately trying to recoup my losses through more and more gambling, only to end up accruing even greater losses. Within a couple of months my savings had dwindled to $50,000. That's when I bottomed out and realized I was a smart dog but not a lucky dog. I swore off gambling forever, a vow I kept throughout my remaining time (about seven months) with the circus. My savings again steadily increased.
Then a second setback struck, and wreaked havoc with a lot of circus lives, including mine. Circus management received notice the IRS would begin an audit of the circus's entire operation. It had been initiated on a tip from an "anonymous" source, though everyone suspected Roberto the foot-juggler was the squealer. He'd had his right foot stepped on by an elephant and was subsequently released without compensation because, management said, he had no business being anywhere near the elephants in the first place.
In the course of the audit Internal Revenue discovered a number of bookkeeping "irregularities," including years of regular, substantial payments to a mysterious Mr. Connor Tyke, who remains unidentified still by the IRS. They put a lien on the circus's entire holdings, as well as the bank account of Mr. Tyke. The circus collapsed. I found myself again penniless and on the streets.
When we parted Banes told me he planned to return to his old gig--busking--and invited me to join him. I declined, feeling that perhaps fate had sent me a message telling me it was time to return home with my tail literally between my legs.
But as I approached my old house I saw my father walking some mutt (okay, maybe not actually a mutt) that apparently served as my replacement. I nevertheless continued on a few steps, reasoning that my father maybe had missed me greatly and would have room in his home and heart for two dogs. But then I froze in my tracks, considering the scene. After years of almost complete freedom, did I really want to be regularly leashed and told where and when to poop or pee? I turned around. I needed to find Banes.
I soon found Banes and began working with him. It's not a bad life, really. I like Banes, who leaves me mostly to myself. I've accrued a serviceable bankroll, all cash. Barking at passersby is now part of my job. But busking seems dull compared to my circus life. I've found myself missing it, and the spotlight, so dearly lately I feel like I'm actually falling into a serious depression. And so...
"I'm sorry but I'll have to stop you there, Mr. Tyke. I'm afraid our time is up. I will see you again in two weeks not one since, as I explained at the outset, I will be on vacation next week. We can pick up with your dream where we left off at that time."
"Oh...it wasn't a dream. Though I admit it must sound like one to anybody who wasn't there. But everything I described really happened."
"Hmmm. I thought when we began you said it was a dream."
"No. You must have misunderstood. What I said was 'the dream is over.'"
"Well then, I must say you've surprised me. The events as you describe them contain some pretty heady stuff for a dog to accomplish."
"Well, I think being a psychiatrist is pretty heady."
"Why Mr. Tyke, was that a joke?"
"Good. Anyway, I'll see you in two weeks and, as I said before, we'll go on from here. Till then, take good care of yourself."
"I will Dr. Affenpinscher. Enjoy your time with Mrs. Affenpinscher and the pups."
"Thank you Mr. Tyke."