Pat Zrolka, Associate Professor of Mathematics


Elephants in the Gym



For several years, the circus came to the Clarkston Campus, and later, the location changed to the Decatur Campus.  The circus was free and was sponsored by the Day Foundation.  The circus was a small affair and seemed to be run largely by one extended family.  The big trucks would arrive and set up out at the edge of the parking lot.  A strong hint of elephant on the air would always let us know when they had arrived. 


All of us with small children loved this circus.  It was handy, it was free, it didn't last too long, and it took place in the gym so we were always up close and personal with the acts.  One year I took my Brownie Scout troop to the gym at Clarkston to see the circus. 


First of all, when we saw the elephant outside, we wondered how he would get inside.  Plant Services removed the double doors and the center post.  As we watched, the trainer led the elephant to the door.  The elephant moved forward as far as he could go and then slowly bent one front leg and then the other.  Down on his front legs, he could maneuver under the door.  Then he slowly lowered his back end and raised his front end.  He was through.  We thought that would be the most interested thing the elephant did, but, oh, were we wrong.


Once the elephant entered the gym, he was led by his trainer across the floor to just in front of our place on the bleachers.  We could hear the soft sound of his feet on the black rubber covering all over the gym floor.  He was so close.  We could see his long, curled eyelashes. 


And then it happened--the amazing event the Brownies remember after all these years.  The elephant turned around, facing away from us.  Slowly he raised his skinny tail.  Then that puckered up place under the tail began to change slowly as we all watched.  It began to widen into a big circle like the lens of a giant camera opening.  It was huge and here came a huge boulder of elephant doo, as big as a basketball.  We could see it coming and it slowly reached the opening and began to fall to the gym floor.   Everything was happening in slow motion.  From out of nowhere, a man raced over carrying a garbage can and took his position behind the elephant.  With the can raised above his head, the man prepared to catch the boulders of elephant doo. One after another, we would watch them move to the opening and fall into the trashcan.  Finally, the elephant finished and the man left the gym with the trashcan.  The elephant moved into the ring to perform his other tricks.


As we watched the rest of the show not a Brownie moved.  No one said a word.  No one wiggled or commented.  They just watched the spectacle and so did I.  "Wow," said the Brownies.  "Wow," said the scout leader.  That elephant was amazing.