I don’t know about stories, but I certainly have memories. When I first started at the Big Apple Circus, he was the Spot Captain. After a few months he was promoted, so I took his spot. I knew it was big shoes to fill, but I wasn’t scared because I knew he was right there to guide me.
I remember riding the bike trail in Dulles, Virginia with him. We had a show later that day so we had to turn around, but we almost made it the 20 miles to D.C. He could’ve made it, but he had to keep stopping and waiting for my slow ass. He still had the Nishiki at the time. I was honored when he sold it to me, and I’m honored to say I use it often, as it is an excellent way to get around town.
I remember when he taught me to make sock monkeys. All these tough gangster wanna-be dudes would walk into the cookhouse and see us two grown men sewing dolls and they’d be like, “What the hell are you doing?” And Tchaka would be like, “If you can sew a sock monkey, you can sew a wound.”
We had headsets that we’d communicate to each other with during the shows. Often I’d become bored and one day I decided to make nicknames for everyone. The spot op to my left was “Jameson” because he dropped a brand new bottle of Jameson and shattered it. The spot op to my right was “Iceman” because he was Russian. Our boss was “Mother” because “You don’t want to make Mother angry.” Tchaka was “Short Bus” for obvious reasons. I didn’t know what to name myself, but Tchaka said, “For the PBS documentary I’m going to buy you a pirate’s hat with a giant sequenced skull on it and call you ‘Captain Sparkles.’” The guys thought it was fucking hilarious and the name stuck.
I remember when he got his short bus. He let me ride in it from Queens to Long Island because it still had seats in it. People in other cars stared at us, so I put on one of Tchaka’s bike helmets and acted “Special.” It was cool. When we got to BAC headquarters in Walden, I’d go to the warehouse late at night to shower, and Tchaka would be in there, working on the bus. When people ask me what the circus is like, I always tell them about the guy who gutted a short bus and installed bamboo flooring, track lighting, custom-carved cabinets, computer desk, etc.
One time the Head Electrician threw us a party. Every time we’d go through a bottle of Tequila, Raul would come out, crack another bottle, and put in Tchaka’s arms. I went light on the drinking and was the only one to show up to work on time the next day. Our boss told me to go get the rest of the guys. I went to Tchaka’s room (he didn’t have the bus at the time) and knocked on the door. One of our spot op’s shirts was hanging on his dresser because the previous night Tchaka had been standing up next to the guy who was sitting, and vomited all over him! I didn’t know this, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to make a gay joke at his expense. I pointed at the shirt and said, “Oh, it was that kind of night, huh?” ”Fuck you, Jay,” he retorted. ”Hey, just because one Mexican made you sick (referring to Jose Cuervo) doesn’t mean you have to take it out on this Mexican”
Every town we went to, BAC would hire temporary workers. It’s a shame that it’s so hard for a person to get a full-time job nowadays, but one look at most of the temps that come through, and you can tell most of them don’t want to work at all, and love temporary work, because it is exactly what it is: temporary. Anyway, we had these two mammoth-sized temps. One of them starts yelling at the other: “You ain’t doing shit! You’re doing absolutely fucking nothing!” So they get into a fight and I look over and Tchaka is in the middle. Tchaka is not a small guy, but at that moment he looked like a mouse between two elephants. And Tchaka’s like, “Look, I know it’s tough, but everyone’s doing their time. Everyone’s working, then we’re all going home, okay?” And these two gigantic humans just turn and walk away. If i had half as much bravery as Tchaka has in his left testicle, I’d be one courageous nut.
Time in the circus is not like real time. A day feels like a week. A week feels like a month. A month feels like a year. I spent two and half years serving as his Spot Captain. I could do a hundred more. Though I left the circus and resigned my official title, I will always and forever be Captain Sparkles.
A co-worker played this the other day. It came from Tchaka’s music library. I think it’s very fitting.
-Jay “Captain Sparkles” Maul