The Show Must Go On"It's come down to this," I muttered to myself, gently prying toddler fingers off the giant false raisins sewn to my chest. The kids swarmed around my ratty gingerbread man costume like a horde of tiny zombies, grabbing everything in sight. They had to get out of my way before Mean Mister Fox found me and I sprinted for my life. I didn't give a flying fuck about the costume, but I'd trampled some midget-digits up in Towson and still heard the shrieks in my dreams.
"I'm 22 years old with a Bachelor's degree in art, and I feed myself by dressing up in a Gingerbread Boy costume and escaping from a large, sweaty woman wearing fake fur ears and a long fox tail."
The kids' gleeful shrieks gave me away to Mean Mister Fox the same way they had at the one o'clock show in Baltimore, the ten o'clock in Georgetown, and the way they would at the six-thirty in Mechanicsville. She huffed her way over to me, and I took off. No matter how impressionable a kid is, they know that the Gingerbread Boy is always faster than Mean Mister Fox, and that meant a good running start for me. I'd cleared most of the little guys out of the way and bolted for the crumbling plywood set.
Most of the little guys were out of the way, but one was not. He lunged at the last second, just in time for my knee to connect squarely with his soft little skull, sending him spinning like a puppet into a heap of his friends. If the impact hurt my knee, which toted 220 pounds of dude around all day, it must have given that little guy a freaking learning disability.
As a professional children's entertainer, I knew that the show must go on. No matter how loud the audience, how huge the emergency, the kids were usually just fine in my book. I just had to get from one line to the next, keep moving towards my partner's cues so she could say her lines, giving me the chance to say mine, and we would march briskly through the play and into the relative comfort of the drafty tour van in the parking lot. The play was meant to take an hour. Some days the costumes were off and the grimy props back in the basket in forty-five minutes.
That's what professionals do. They look at a dirty, nasty, soul-sucking job and go into it with a stiff upper lip, completing the task with ruthless efficiency. I performed that play like I dug ditches that winter: badly, but with a frantic energy.
The kid's initial shock gave way to enormous keening moans. In another context, the sound could be the relaxing moans of distant whales...but this just meant that the kid was warming up.
I told myself that the show had to go on, and I must be professional at all costs. The only thing that scared me more than seeing an angry teacher was seeing that screaming, injured child, looking him in the eyes while I failed to calm him down. "The show must go on, the show must go on, the show must go on," I chanted to myself as I rocked back and forth.
I waited and waited for my next cue. The moans faded to receding snuffles, meaning that some qualified adult had picked up the child whose brainpan I had dented and spirited him away. My cues came. Things were normal again.
We whistled through the play together, Mister Fox and I, a tandem Japanese bullet train of children's theater. Punch lines faded into setups which blurred into the singalong number that closed the show. We were taking our bows before the throbbing in my knee subsided. During the curtain call I saw my victim in the front row, clutching a blanket and gaping up at me, wide-eyed, his mouth the off-center hole in what looked like a glazed doughnut. Tears and mucus commingled, neglected bullet casings in a murder scene that had long been cleared away.
"Are you okay? I am so so sorry," I said, lamely. I offered him a hug. He didn't take it. The teacher smiled at me, saying "he's fine, he's going to be fine. They always have a big reaction at this age. Don't you know that?"
"I'm so sorry, ma'am," I burbled, stammering and stumbling. "It's okay, I promise," she said. "You had to keep going, and he was fine anyway...I understand, and it's not a big deal."
I tried to apologize to him more and shake his little hand, which he reluctantly gave me. As soon as I grasped it, he turned and crawled away to join some friends that were hugging Mean Mister Fox.
That's the thing about being a professional -- sometimes you have to move your personal feelings out of the way to get the job done right.