Forget not the elephant

There are so many tensions in the world today that even the reassuring news that the circus has come to New York makes us slightly nervous. Actually, we shouldn't blame world tension. The circus always makes us nervous.

There are a lot of good things about the circus: aerialists, trick riders, clowns, and an overall glamorized sawdust magic which fills us with excitement. But we do worry about the elephants.

But the elephants, being so mighty and yet so massively tolerant with the indignities they have to put up with, make us especially apprehensive, not only about them but about ourselves. There is something terribly ominious about the fact that crowded, noisy, gas-fumed city streets have become the natural home of elephants.

Seeing elephants plodding along 34th Street doesn't make anyone laugh or shout for joy. The pachyderms scuff along, ponderously, huge, incongruous, embarrassed, and sad. Like prisoners on display. And we, in turn, get sad watching them.

What are the feelings of an elephant on 34th Street? He can't relate to it. He doesn't live anywhere in the neighborhood. He doesn't shop at Macy's. Certainly he isn't there to get a laugh. How can anyone laugh at him? New Yorkers are not even afraid of an elephant. They are just casually sad and a little irritated at the traffic jam.

A dog at the end of a leash on Madison Avenue can, on occasion, show some sign of frustrated joy with a bark, a jump, a wag of tail. But an elephant? That represents 25,000 sad, unwagging, unbarking dogs all rolled into one. At the end of his dusty, tedious march he will be prodded into standing on his head or hind legs and then get some peanuts.

Mostly, people call him Jumbo, a generalized name like others reserved for minority groups, showing small respect. Yet he is the largest four-footed animal in the world, and still he accepts the mad cacophony of 34th Street without a protest.

And speaking of protest: there are plenty of protest marchers everywhere carrying signs to save the whale. But not the elephant. Evidently the elephant is already saved. Maybe if the whale had four legs he might be ''saved'' too and would be marching along 34th Street behind the elephant.

It wasn't the law of nature that made the elephant what he is. It was us. For our part we hope that we ourselves will never come to this; that we will never know what it is like to be an elephant in New York.

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