Under The Big Top: Chapter Two

It’s twenty-five years from now. All of the spray-mount has been scrubbed their fingers and the puns have been bleached from their brains and they have FINALLY stopped waking up in a cold sweat every ten weeks. You know what that means: it’s time for the freshly-jaded, once bright-eyed individuals who attended the Creative Circus to make the schlep to Moe’s and Joe’s for their quarter quell.

With a nod to nostalgia, an alumnus, known as the Boy With the Hip Tattoo, is shimmying indelicately into his old slim-fit, cuffed jeans. He relishes how tight they are; how they hug his unsweetened vanilla almond-coconut milk blend thighs (veganish since he started Bumble-ing with a free-lance Designer). Valiantly, he ziiiiiippppps the zipper and makes a mental note to pepper his copy with “z” words more often.

His inability to button just means that he’s going to be completely free tonight. It’s conceptual. It’s a metaphor. He writes down “Live unbuttoned” on a pale brown, two-week-old Chipotle turtle shell container.

At the bar, the Boy With the Hip Tattoo gestures a lot. It served him well as a presenter but now, in this dimly lit VaHi bar, he is paying the price for exuberantly telling a story about how an AD once cut him, back-alley style, near the vending machine, with a dull Exacto.

“There I was, rocking a solid Johnny’s buzz and just trying to score the last Honey Bun when she came out of nowhere, demanding my headlines,” he says raising his arms in faux-defense.

And just like that the beautiful, glorious, misshapen sphere peaks out from beneath the space between his shirt and his pants, causing his classmates squint. Is it some kind of poorly rendered kickball? Some sort of rough, reddish vector that rose like a blood moon over the faded blue waist of his curiously unbuttoned jeans?

“I’m sure it looked way better digital,” one of his friends offered a polite but weak justification.

“Probably an ink quality issue.”

“Hate to say this, but really poor craft.”

“Surely, they could have fixed that in post,” whispered another.

And through all of their postulating and PBR drinking, the Boy With the Hip Tattoo’s tattoo ceased to become a mystery.

A classmate, who had aged with the same grace as forgotten Sprouts Sushi in the communal school fridge, piped up with the answer: it was a Circus ball that adorned the space between the Boy With the Hip Tattoo’s token male creative pooch and his once lithe hips. And there it was would remain, forever unbounced, meant only to be seen in glimpses like their teacher’s approval.

Here they now were, merely poorly pen-tooled versions of their former selves, all with the same satisfied smiles. After years of semi-frantic, semi-frequent GroupMe theorizing, they had closure. They could finally go on living their draining lives in peace.

Suddenly, an aged teacher of theirs emerged from deep within one of the booths.

A respectful quiet fell over the bar, as the teacher strode calmly over to the Boy With the Hip Tattoo. Emotionlessly, he peered at the exposed Circus ball. In the dim light, he appeared to shrug non-committally but no one was certain.

They all waited, perched on the edge of their fragile egos, for his assessment.

After what felt like an eternity, the teacher cleared his throat to announce the verdict:

“It’s decent.”