As the only two Mormons on the Blue Unit in 1971, Tim Holst and I made a pact with each other that we would faithfully attend morning services each Sunday, no matter where we were or how tired we felt.
And we felt mighty tired after three shows on a Saturday; we never seemed to get to bed before one or two in the morning. And Sunday was usually move out night, when we had to pack everything up so it could be put on the train for the next town. Holst also helped roll up the two miles of green rubber matting for an extra $25.00 per week. He built up some good muscles that way, which is why we nicknamed him ‘Bear’.
LDS Services generally started at seven in the morning on Sunday. So the routine was either I would be banging at Bear’s door at 6am or he would be banging on my door at 6am, so we could get shaved, find some breakfast, and either call the local Mormon chapel to see if we could get a ride, or call a taxi to take us to services.
I remember in Baltimore, Maryland, we couldn’t raise anyone at the local chapel and we were too broke to afford a taxi. I was all for giving up and going back to bed, but Bear insisted we board a local bus and see if it took us near the chapel. The surly bus driver was of no help, so we sat, the only two on the bus, scanning each side of the street for the familiar LDS chapel outline. Miraculously, we DID pass right by the chapel, and got off the bus just in time to attend Sacrament Meeting. Afterwards I asked Bear if he had had a ‘revelation’ about taking the bus. He thought a moment and then replied that no, not a revelation, but rather just a feeling that the chapel would be on a major bus line and if we just took the bus we stood a fair chance of finding it. He was always that way – pragmatic and unemotional; he thought that if he could figure out a sensible plan, it stood a fair chance of working. That’s why he never felt completely comfortable in clown alley. The majority of clowns, like me, didn’t believe in a structured, sane universe; we felt in our bones that total chaos was only a stone’s throw away, and acted accordingly. I guess that’s why Bear went up the corporate ladder so easily at Ringling. He had a serene sense of the basic rightness of things, while I stayed a clown, which is the only thing I ever wanted, because I believed that there was very little to plan for beyond the next pie in the face.
Once we got to church it was no problem getting a ride back to the show in time to get made up for come in. There was always an LDS family delighted to drive us right up to the back door of the arena, where Charlie Baumann would inevitably be waiting for us. How he hungered to see us late, so he could fine us! He did not approve of clowns going to church, and I suspect he had already guessed that Bear had his sights on Charlie’s job as Performance Director. We got the better of him each week, and he would glance at his watch, then glare at us balefully while intoning: “Okay, funnymen, be funny.”
The only time we came close to being late was up in Montreal, Canada. We were there late in the fall. Too late, as it turned out. That icy Sunday morning Bear and I managed to get a ride to church from a local member who only spoke French. Services were in French. I started to get worried while the service was going on, because huge snowflakes were coming down thick and fast outside the chapel window. By the time our new French-Canadian friend was ready to take us to the arena there was a full-blown blizzard going on. Being a true Quebecois, this did not bother our driver. He got us back to the building in time for the matinee.
But no one else was at the arena! The show bus, and all private transportation at the circus train, was snowed in. But the Quebecois audience showed up on time for the matinee, which meant that Bear and I had to slap on our makeup and do an hour-long come in, playing for time until some of the other clowns and cast could dig out and get to the arena. We must have done Bigger and Bigger, and the Broom Jump, about twenty times. Plus I got to try out my musical saw for the first time.
The show finally got started about an hour late.
By hook or by crook Tim Holst and I managed to make it to church every Sunday that season. It’s a record I still look back on with pride, and amazement.
The very last day of that season, as the clowns were shaking hands with each other after the last show, Swede Johnson sidled up to me with a wad of bills in his hand. With a lopsided grin the old reprobate explained to me that at the beginning of that season the word had gone out that two First of Mays (Holst and I) had decided to go to church every Sunday, without fail. No one believed we’d do it, except Swede. So he started a betting pool, with odds three to one against us, and began taking in money. We had been watched with keen interest every Sunday that season, to see if we would slack off.
Since we never did, Swede had collected a handsome bundle of mazuma. In gratitude, Swede had already offered Tim Holst a slice of the winnings, but Bear had imperiously told him to take his filthy lucre and begone; he had not struggled all season just to satisfy some lurid betting instinct. So Swede next came to me, offering me a sheaf of greenbacks as a way to say thanks for the killing he had made off of our piety.
I glared at Swede; did he think I would stoop to taking his tainted cash, which looked to be about a hundred bucks?
You bet I would!