Behind the calliope comes a motley crowd of acrobats, jugglers, bareback riders, circus freaks, caged beasts, and clowns. The clowns are sad, or angry, or silly, and they race around doing pratfalls and squirting water at one another and hitting one another's behinds with slapsticks, while others pass out flyers advertising the circus, but they can't compete with the calliope. It's just too big and too loud and too flashy.
Meanwhile, the whores and pickpockets and three-card Monte dealers are working the crowd, grifting while the grifting is good. The whores solicit interviews for their papers or networks, and the pickpockets lift wallets while the three-card Monte dealers snag a few bucks from distracted marks, their brains so scrambled by the calliope that they don't even realize they've been taken. The ringmaster is in the crowd, too, trying his best to attract patrons to the circus, but even he is unheard over the calliope's pervasive thunder. And at the back of the parade the band slogs through horse and elephant droppings while playing patriotic tunes, but even there the calliope's jumbled racket overwhelms the instruments with its sour notes and skewed rhythms.
Some among the spectators are so taken by the calliope that they crowd around it and follow it, not even noticing that their shoes are becoming encrusted with elephant dung, and not even realizing that they are going deaf from the calliope's endless noise. They are enthralled by the sound, the lights, the flags, and they march along as though possessed. If a clown tries to hand them a flyer they sometimes punch him, and if a whore tries to solicit their opinion of the parade they are apt to grab the microphone and shout meaningless babble into it.
It is the Greatest Spectacle on Earth! The ringmaster and his shills will try to sell tickets to the Big Show under the Big Top, but who would buy one? What could the Big Show possibly offer that is more spectacular than that enormous calliope? Sure, the audience would be bound to see a few accidents involving acrobats plummeting to their deaths or animal trainers being devoured by their captive beasts— Crunch, and the Headless Jindal has a new career in the side show! Wham, Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina collide in midair and thereafter must be exhibited as the world's only bi-gendered Siamese twins! Splat, and the sawdust in the ring is splattered with Santorum! But surely the whores will tell us all about those events, with video, so we don't really need to buy a ticket to see them.
The point is that, once that calliope is gone, there's no show worth paying for. The calliope makes the free show at the parade the best show, and nothing planned and scripted and choreographed can possibly live up to the promise the calliope gives. What a marvel it is! What a splendid work of costly craft! To think that I have lived to see such a spectacular nonsuch fills me with inexplicable delight! Perhaps when the circus train crashes on its way to the next stand the calliope will survive. I'd hate to see it gone forever, though I certainly wouldn't want to have to listen to it for any great length of time— four years, for example, would be far too long. But for one year out of every four? It's irresistible!