My brother is a professional magician. He’s very good at it too. Back in the 1970’s he was Master Magician at Busch Gardens Florida. I visited him one summer.
Between engagements, as he sat with me in the arena stands watching an elephant act, something remarkable happened. In mid-performance a crew member rushed on stage, positioned a snow shovel under the animal’s tail and, as if on cue, the elephant deposited a load of dung into the waiting scoop. The fellow curtsied and disappeared with his catch. The audience roared their approval and the act went on.
I sat there baffled. “How did they know to do that?”
My brother just smiled. “Let’s go ask ‘em.”
Back stage George introduced me around. When I met the elephant performers they shared their secret. Not to be indelicate, but it seems there’s a hanging pocket of loose skin circling the outer rim of an elephant’s rectum. About ten seconds or so prior to relieving himself, the pocket firms up and juts outward. This puckering is a clear physical cue that a delivery is imminent.
Makes perfect sense. But here’s the part that slays me — during every performance there is one crew member whose entire job it is to watch the elephant’s anus. If a delivery is forthcoming, he’s there in a flash. For the rest of the day I couldn’t get my mind off the shovel bearer. What kind of job is that for a person? How do you even write the resume’ on that?
At this point let it be said I am primarily a visual thinker, as well as being ever on the lookout for a life-elevating metaphor. Sure enough, a winner showed up — “If you don’t want to get dumped on, keep your eye on the a**holes.”
I used my snappy new line on all my friends until one of them replied, “How much does your life suck if that’s your best view?” I was 23 and thought I’d been so clever. But he was right. The elephant’s anus analogy was fun in an adolescent sort of way. For about ten minutes. But it had no value beyond that of a raunchy bumper sticker.
Is it fad, fancy or simple desperation that diverts us to the darker things in life, when all the while we are up to our bow ties in blessings? Our planet is a stunner. And the people on it are a staggering spectacle of high-octane personalities more flamboyant than any African sunset. How do we not marvel in that every waking minute of our day?
I think of such miracles and balance the many stupidities and missteps of my youth against the good people and good things around me today. Any real quality I may enjoy in my life is found neither in perfection nor perdition. Somewhere in the middle of it all, suspended between the despicable and the divine, if I look for it, there is harmony.
These days I no longer dwell on the shovel. Rather I am simply happy that I can appreciate the elephant.