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What A Circus It Was

We’re were playing Yahtzee, and I was trying to roll a 3 to round out my Large Straight when the following conversation took place.

Will: “What’s that?”

Me: “A circus tent.”

Joan: “I see it. A little misshapen, but it’s obvious what you were going for.”

Will: “Why a circus tent?”

Me: “I don’t know. Just felt right.”

Will: “I’ve never been to the circus, have I?”

Joan: “I don’t think we ever took you; I can’t imagine we would have.”

Me: “I went to the circus once. (pause) I wet my pants.”

And with that, I made my third and final roll, failing to round out the Large Straight and taking a 19 for Chance. As I relinquished the dice cup to Will, he was looking at me with a wry smirk which told me he needed the rest of the story.

Now, before we get into the nuts and bolts of this thing, let’s clear a few boulders from the road. First, Joan and I have been playing Yahtzee two or three evenings a week, usually between dinner and the time we plop onto the sectional to watch TV.

When we can, we recruit Will to play with us (in the time he has before returning to school to round out his junior year), and more often than not, he’ll abide, hanging out for two or three games before moving on to bigger – and more age-appropriate – activities for a normal 20-year-old.

The other thing is this. When I play Yahtzee, I do two things to my scoresheet. First, I always write something other than my name on the “Name” line (i.e., “D-Money,” “Doogie Haznaw,” “L’il D,” etc.).

Second, I always festoon the top and edges of the scoresheet with doodles. Most of the time, they’re faces of people or animals. Sometimes, they’re objects, like beach balls, onions or, in the case of the story at hand, a circus tent.

It was this doodle that led Will to ask his question, which ultimately, led to me admitting that the one time in my life I attended a circus, I wet my pants.

Now, “Let’s get down to “brass tacks,” as my father (a primary character in this story) would say.

I was five years old, and the circus was in town; specifically, at a large field adjacent to our local airport. Back then, I likely wouldn’t have even been aware of this event if my mom hadn’t said something to the effect of, “The circus is in town.” (A woman of few words.)

And the only reason she would have said that is if we’d had tickets, which somehow, we did, likely freebies from one of Dad’s work cronies. (I honestly can't envision a universe when Don or Rose Haznaw would have purchased circus tickets.)

What was even odder was the fact that Dad was taking us (“us” being my sister, Diane and myself). I say “odder” because my dad, while a good, honest, hard-working Teamster and veteran of World War II (which has no bearing on this story), wasn’t really “into” doing things on weekends with me or any of my three siblings. For the record, I was at the time (and always have been) OK with that.

At any rate, I was told that the following Saturday, Dad was going to take us to the circus, and I was excited. (Let the record reflect that today, the last thing I would be is “excited” if someone suggested taking me to the circus; the list of reasons, which we will not cover here, stretches far and wide.)

We were a blue-collar, small-town family plodding through the early 1970s, and as such, when you were offered an opportunity to go somewhere – anywhere -- you went, with no questions asked or grievances lodged.

And so, on a 90-degree, stiflingly humid summer Saturday -- just the kind of weather one would hope for when spending an afternoon in a tent filled with cigarette smoke, mixed with the smells of peanuts, cotton candy and the excrement of every animal species known to humankind -- the three of us jumped into our maroon Oldsmobile and headed for the airport grounds.

When we arrived, the crowd was already large, and it was quite a walk from where Dad parked the car in the temporary grass-and-mud parking area to the large red-and-yellow Big Top.

I did my best to do two things: 1) keep up with Dad and Diane and 2) keep my mouth shut about how excited I was since I’m relatively sure both my circus mates had at least one other thing they’d rather be doing. But again, since we were given the tickets, we would use them, regardless of our personal feelings or preferences.

I’ll spare you the details of the event, since if you’ve been to a circus or have seen one in a movie, you know the plot. And, if you haven’t “done time” under the Big Top, let’s just say you’re not missing out on an essential life experience.

For me, it was cool because I saw big animals, jugglers, folks riding unicycles and people on trapeze. Before we sat down, Dad bought us a snack and a soda (checking all items off his mental “Circus To Do List”), and Diane and I appropriately oohed, aahed and clapped when and where appropriate.

Will: “So, at this point, it’s all good, right?

Me: “Right. I’m enjoying myself, and everything seems OK.”

About an hour in (and that’s by a five-year-old’s estimate; it could be been 10 minutes), I started to feel it. The soda had started to work its way through my system, and now, much like I would be today if someone made me attend the circus, I wanted out. I needed out.

After all, when one’s bladder isn’t nice and large and “broken in” (like the ones owned by so many of the teens and adults around me, including Dad, Diane and the seven or eight people on either side that separated our seats from the aisle), but rather, a small, fickle five-year-old model, it doesn’t take long for the action to heat up “down there.”

“Dad … uh dad …” My voice was a whisper, as I tried to get his attention. It’s no wonder he didn’t hear me.

“Um … Dad,” I said louder, this time touching his elbow. He looked away from the elephants walking in a circle along the perimeter of the center ring.

“Do you want some more soda?”

“Um … no … uh, I need to … I need to go to the … um, bathroom.”

“Hmm.” Dad looked to either side as he took a drag from his Winston, surveying the situation, and all the people we’d have to navigate to complete such a mission. As he exhaled, he told me the plan. “Tell you what, this’ll be over soon. We’ll go then.” Not much of a plan, I’ll grant you, but at five – and painfully shy – I didn’t pursue any Plan Bs with him, I just accepted his idea.

Now, I don’t care how young or old you are, but when you need to go, and your brain knows a bathroom is within reach, it’s going to start calling the shots, and quickly. And, as my brain started telling me in no uncertain terms that the solution to my problem was just through the opening in the tent’s dirty canvas flap, I created my own Plan B, which entailed fidgeting, repositioning and trying to concentrate on other things.

And it all worked … for about 10 seconds.

Then, it happened, right there on a wooden bleacher in a smelly tent on the airport grounds.

Will: “So, did you have leave early?”

Me: “No.” (My response was so flat and off handed it caught him by surprise.)

Will: “What did you do?”

I’ll tell you what I did. I sat there quietly, not saying another word because I knew I hadn’t done what Mom had suggested before we left home (if I have to explain, you haven’t been paying attention), and that fact -- along with the 12-ounce soda I asked for and received – were primary suspects in this self-inflicted crime. In other words, I knew I had brought this on myself, and so I needed to quietly pay the consequences.

So, I just sat there until the circus ended. After all, it was the circus, and I for one, had been enjoying the show (because five-year-olds like that kind of stuff). And I knew that if I brought it up, we’d have to go home.

Will: “So you sat there until the circus ended before you went to the bathroom?”

Me: “Oh no, I didn’t need to go to the bathroom after the circus. It was all good by that point in time. We just walked to the car and went home.”

Because that’s what we did in the early 1970s. I mean, what good would it have done to tell my

dad at that point? He wasn’t going to pull a dry pair of shorts out of thin air, was he? On the

way to the car, Diane noticed the stain and made mention of it.

Embarrassed, I quietly admitted to the “indiscretion,” though it seemed like overkill since the evidence was right in front of us. Dad’s response was simply to remain quiet, as he looked at me with an expression that said, “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you in there.” For me, that was enough, that look – not angry or frustrated, but apologetic – that made me feel OK. Still wet and embarrassed, but OK.

Will: “So, did your dad put something on the seat so you wouldn’t get it wet on the ride home?”

Me: “No, I just sat on the floor in the back seat.”

After all, it was the early ‘70s.

© 2021 David R. Haznaw

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