Today, We Circused

The circus came to town, so the town went to the circus.

The Zoppe Family Circus stops by Redwood City every year, and even though we no longer live very close by, we’ve still gone every year for the last few years.

It’s a fun little single-tent affair, an old family circus full of acrobats and clowns. “We’re not French dancers calling ourselves a circus,” is a familiar line from the pre-show.

Our host.
Our host, explaining the history of the show.

The show begins with a welcome from the matriarch of the Zoppe family, who invites us to revisit the past. The the performers gather in the ring to symbolically take their props from a battered trunk.

The performers pull props from the old family trunk.
The performers pull props from the old family trunk.

Nino the clown does some clowning between acts to get the crowd into the show. Occasionally, he will go into the crowd, which is both a lot of fun and a way to distract the audience from the people in the ring who are transitioning equipment and getting ready to perform.

Nino the Clown.
Nino the Clown.

Today I joined the circus. Nino selected members of the audience to come help him. A group of (mostly) large men lined up while he mimed examining us for strength or flab.

It looks like a police lineup.
It looks like a police lineup.

Then, we grabbed a large rope on the ground and held it taught in a tug-of-war pose while Nino balanced on top of it.

My first circus act.
My first circus act.

Nino had lots of interactions with the crowd, and with his “boss”, the severe and somber white-faced clown.

The white-faced clown. The Boss (Nino's nemesis).
The white-faced clown. The Boss (Nino’s nemesis).

There were jugglers, and trained dogs, an act involving the Boss standing astride two giant horses while they ran around the ring, a woman leaping and twirling from the back of another horse, and acrobatics of all kinds.

We all wanted to do this on the teeter-totters.
We all wanted to do this on the teeter-totters.
There were many children performing.
Because it’s a family circus, there were even a few children performing.
The music cut out during the juggling act, so the audience clapped along to keep time.
Just look at that dog’s face. Just look at it.
A picture of some acrobats. And somebody’s hands.

The Zoppe Family Circus is a traveling circus. They go all over the U.S., coming back to the Bay Area every year. When we were in Arizona over New Year’s last year, they were there as well, so we saw them on New Year’s Eve. We really love this circus. As it turns out, the circus loves us too! Well, it loves Erin.

You see, one of the acrobats, Carlo, was one of Erin’s teachers at circus camp over the summer a couple of years ago. We had no idea, until Erin started talking to him. We thought nothing of Erin talking to an acrobat. This is what she does: treats performers like she’s known them for years. Well, in this case that turns out to be pure truth. Of course she knows an acrobat at the circus. Of course. This child lives a magical life full of Disney princesses who parade her around the park, and circus performers who teach her how to spin plates and do clowning routines.

Erin and her circus camp instructor, Carlo.
Erin and her circus camp instructor, Carlo.
Adrian and Carlo.
Carlo showing Adrian how to spin plates.

As the show ended, the performers ceremoniously returned their props to the trunk, then lined up to thank the crowd for coming.

One last bow.
One last bow.

Because it’s such a small space, with a manageable crowd, the performers exited the tent and then greeted everyone on the way out, talking to any kids who wanted to say hi, or anyone else, for that matter. One elderly lady, who was celebrating her birthday, asked her daughter to get Nino to take a birthday picture with her. It was adorable.

And Erin got one more circus hug. We’re sure it won’t be her last. Watching her eyes brighten up as the acrobats flipped through the air, I’m not sure we won’t be lining up to take pictures with her at the circus in a few years.

Erin and Nino.
Erin and Nino.

I Should Have Just Given Her Some Money to See What Would Happen

Erin has been participating in summer camps for most of the summer. Emily drops her off in the morning, then I pick her up in the afternoon and take her with me to get Adrian from his year-round preschool. I picked her up yesterday and told her we had to stop at the grocery store. We have once-monthly snack duty at the preschool, and our turn was coming up. Fine. A plan! Erin loves plans.

Erin was sitting directly behind the driver’s seat. It being a fine, hot day, she was trying to open one of the water bottles we keep in the car for the kids. They have those push tops that reseal, meaning no spills. Think of a gym water bottle, but with Tinker Bell on it. That’s the one.

For some reason, the top would not pop up for her on this day. She pulled. She strained. She fought bravely. And then, just on the verge of defeat, victory! Of a sort.

I had no idea any of this legendary struggle was occurring in the back seat until I was suddenly deluged with water that had previously resided in a pink Tinker Bell gym bottle. “Erin?! What the….?”

“Sorry, Dad.”

“It’s okay, honey. I know it was an accident. But why were you trying to pull the lid off in the first place?”

“I wasn’t. The top wouldn’t open, and, uh, I guess I don’t know my own strength.”



“Are you wet.”


“Will they still let you in the grocery store if you’re all wet?”

“Well, it depends, honey. If you are soaking, dripping wet and you are going to drip all over the floor, then no. They wouldn’t want you to make the floor dangerous for people who are walking around.”

“I have a great idea, Daddy! If you’re too wet, you can give me the money and I will go in and get the snack for you and then you don’t have to get the floor all wet!”

As with so many of Erin’s plans, this one was two parts considerateness mixed with one part self-servingness. “I’m sure I’ll be fine, Erin.”

Minutes later, we pulled up to the grocery store, and Erin had one more question for me.

“Daddy, is there somebody outside the grocery store who can maybe watch over people who are soaking wet?”

Plans. This kid always has plans.

The Night I Got to Second Base With Joss Whedon

I met Joss Whedon at San Diego Comic-Con.

I didn’t expect to meet anybody, much less this anybody. As it turned out, I spent a lot of time in San Diego with “just be cool, man” running through my head as I encountered person after person I didn’t expect to meet. Circumstance and personal connections conspired to bring these encounters about, and I’m still reeling from it all. These are the flights of fancy we have when we go to Comic-Con. Sometimes they are something more. Thus, on Friday night, I met Joss Whedon.

I was invited to a party at Zachary Levi’s Nerd HQ on Friday night. I mean, I wasn’t invited; I was the guest of someone who was invited. Of course I wasn’t invited. But I was there. I spent the night dancing in shoes that were not made to be so used, on legs and feet that were not trained to be so abused, and I didn’t feel a thing. “Just be cool, man. Just be cool.” My mantra kept me distracted.


This is the only picture I took at the Nerd HQ party on Friday. “Pics or it never happened,” yes, I know. However, I was not about to be that guy. No matter how much I wanted so very much to be exactly that guy.

I was standing by a small side table off the dance floor checking my phone (Why? What was so important on my phone right then? Get back to the dance floor, dummy!) when Joss Whedon walked past me on his way back to the crowd of dancers. “Just be cool, man. JUST BE COOL. JUST BE COOOOOOOOL!!!!” I tried to push the geek way deep down inside. 

A little bit of it came back up. “Hi Joss,” I tossed to him as he walked by. Then I turned my head away, like that was it. Because that’s what a cool person would do. Right? But he stopped and looked at me with a slightly puzzled expression on his face, like he was trying to remember who I was. “Oh, no, it’s okay,” I apologized, “you don’t know me. I’m Shawn. I just wanted to thank you for making things that I love.”

I shook his hand as I made my introduction, and he smiled (maybe) and said “Thank you” (maybe), and then we ended the moment and went our separate ways. I actually don’t remember very clearly at all what he did or said. Isn’t that strange? All I can remember is that my thoughts were racing, and I just wanted to stay cool. He could have said “Oh, Shawn, I love your tweets!” and I wouldn’t remember it. I’m pretty sure he didn’t say that, but he could have.

Later, I danced near Joss for a good part of the evening; not by design, but because I was dancing with a friend who planted herself over there with people she knew. I doubt I would have had the nerve on my own. And because of that geographical accident, when Joss squeezed by someone to leave the floor for a minute, he squeezed by me.

And as Joss Whedon squeezed by me on the dance floor at Nerd HQ, he mimed playing with my boobs for a second. And then he was gone. If the evening hadn’t involved sweaty dancing for four hours, I would have vowed to never wash my chest again. Instead, I totally took a shower later.

Now, some of you might be wondering “But Shawn, that’s a story about Joss Whedon getting to second base with you, not you getting to second base with him,” and you’d be absolutely right. It was later in the evening, when I was feeling emboldened by my now close, personal friendship with my new best friend Joss Whedon, that I returned the favour. I mimed playing with his boobs, then I turned my head away like that was it.

Because that’s what a cool person would do. Right?