For me the circus is a wafting-odor fest of urine-soaked cedar chips and unbathed children, god-awful elephant howls and overacting emcees, all made sinister by the hope that maybe the leotarded crotches swinging gaily overhead will meet their demise somewhere to the left of the flimsy safety net. I never liked the circus.
Holly Fraser doesn't like the circus, either. She's another People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals diva -- a peculiar breed of activist, who just so happen to be beautiful and probably have agents -- hot on the case of the folks at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. Holly travels the country over, naked, painted up like a tiger and locked in a cage. Last Monday she hit Church Street long enough to get her forlorn photo in the front of this paper. And, needless to say, long enough to talk to me. I love her, I have to say, because she's pretty.
"What the hell are you doing, Holly?"
"Basically, we're trying to raise awareness for the animals," she undresses. "They're deprived of everything that's natural for them. For instance, caring for their young or even foraging for food. The tigers are kept in cages about 4 feet by 5 feet in size, so really, they can't stand up and turn around, and they're kept in there for 22 hours a day!"
"And, um, the elephants?" I'm imagining a PETA meeting wherein an idea for big-boned girls painting themselves gray and donning linked ankle bracelets is being floated. Oh, to dream.
"The elephants are kept in shackles for 95 percent of their lives," she skinnies. "So, we just encourage people to go to our website, www.circuses.com, and look at the video footage of the elephant trainer beating the elephant, and look at the list of citations against this particular circus, and consider circuses like Cirque du Soleil that don't use animals."
"Does Ringling respond?"
"They might send a person that's not even with them, just a press person, to hand out their literature, but generally speaking I think that they know that at most of our demonstrations, most of the people are on our side. There hasn't been a lot of retaliation from them lately."
"Let's talk about you, Holly. On what page in one's 'list of lifelong things to do' does sitting naked and painted in a cage fall? I mean, you're not even Cher!"
"Yeah, I mean, I'm personally a shy person, so it's definitely something I would never, ever do if it wasn't for something I believe in, which is this cause, for animals not having to be with this," she lies. "The thing that has been so remarkable for me is that it really does give you a sense of what the animals go through, because I sit there with people gawking at me, or laughing or staring, or whatever they're doing, and I do think of the animals and the fact that the same thing is happening to them."
"Like, their paint is melting and they're going to be free in an hour just before the cops can come?"
"I mean they're behind bars and people are looking at them, or just having some kind of entertainment at their expense," she diffuses. "It's not worth it. We get them in, show them some literature and the video of the actual trainers saying 'Hurt him, hit him, make him scream!'"
Ooooh now you're talking. "You guys are a little heavy on the sexual symbolism, aren't you. What with dominatrixes protesting leather and Belinda Carlisle taking her clothes off for fur? Any fear of not being taken seriously?"
"I know myself, I'm very devoted, so I'm gonna do whatever it takes," she cheerleads. "And we know that we live in a tabloid era."
You got that right.
"So we've circulated this footage that we show of a trainer teaching his other employees how to hurt them, bite them ... I'm sorry, hurt them and make them scream with a really heavy stick with a really sharp point on the end," she bites me. "Unfortunately, that doesn't always get broadcasted, and people don't get that message. The other thing is, it does make people think about what they're getting they're pleasure out of."
"Like a naked girl in a public place?"
"Some people really get upset that there's a woman being so-called exploited in this cage, but it really opens a lot of peoples eyes to the animals."
And your breasts. "Ever get too cold?"
"Chicago was freezing. I was actually sick, and I was really, really, really cold," she really reallys. "I was shaking and shaking."
"So no place for a body suit?"
"It's just paint. It's just body paint!" she smears. "First we paint on orange, and then we paint the black stripes over it and that's it!"
"But that's illegal, you know."
"We try to cover certain areas," she nipple tapes, then thongs. "But for the most part we are completely naked. I mean, it's a small price to pay. If we get arrested, we get arrested!
She starts to drift: "I mean, it all comes from Roman times and gladiators. You know, if you read -- and I've read extensively -- about how the circus came to be, the fact that we still do them is unbelievable."
OK. You win because you're pretty. Pass the body paint. I want to be pretty, too!