Know Your Audience


In line with the seasonal message on life lessons from “Burned Biscuits” on Wednesday, 12/17/14, today’s column recalls an old story that has stayed with me since first I heard it in my early adult years. “Know Your Audience” (my name for it) is anther of those tales with no traceable author, but, like the burned biscuit story, this ne also makes its point too. This one was apparently fiction from the git-go, but it hits home with all the power of a non-fictional parable. It found my frustration button quickly, one I’ve tried to avoid getting pushed again to this extreme, but not always successfully, because the lesson here extends to one of our greatest social bugaboos – the nurturing of “great expectations” that then take on the power of blinding us from the danger that comes once the door is open for others to kill our joy in ways we either had not anticipated – or else, were blindly forgotten in our need for quick attention from an appreciative audience.


Know Your Audience

Bozo McMullin was a 35-year old flea show trainer and ticket booth operator for a nefariously crooked traveling carnival in Texas during the 1930s. Bozo’s skill with the tiny insects was legendary in his social circle. He was almost capable of training a handsome flea into replacing Clark Gable on the silver screen because of the superior acting skills he had acquired from his time with the true “flea whisperer” of his day.

Sadly, Bozo’s dishonest ability to shortchange customers caught up with him in Beeville, Texas on May 30, 1936. McMullin subsequently was arrested, indicted, tried, and convicted of felony theft and sentenced to ten years in the state prison at Huntsville, Texas.

Something happened on Bozo’s first day in the pen that fanned the fires of his self-perception as a very talented and lucky man. He found a flea in his bunk.

“I’m going to train that little fellow into becoming the most talented flea the world has ever seen,” Bozo shouted to himself in unflinching hope for tomorrow. And so he did.

For the entire ten years of his incarceration, Bozo kept his flea and the whole training process under wraps in complete secrecy. He also soon discovered that the circumstances of his imprisonment and his talent for teaching had combined to give him both the time and the higher level of motivation he needed to take his training of the flea to a much more impressive level of achievement.

By the day of his release from prison on July 4, 1946, Bozo’s flea possessed the ability to throw a tiny baseball curve over a distance of six inches. He could recite the “Gettysburg Address” verbatim. He could dance like Fred Astaire; and he could even play George Gershwin’s  “Rhapsody in Blue” on a very tine piano that Bozo had made for him in shop. His other talents were many and varied. He was nothing less than a miracle genius that would soon become Bozo McMullin’s ticket from the outhouse to the penthouse of his personal American Dream!

Once released, Bozo used a couple of bucks from his prison release stash to hail a taxi. “Take me to your nearest beer joint!” Bozo shouted.

Five minutes later, Bozo walked into the dumpy place called “Joe’s Halfway House” and placed the talented little flea on the bar.

“Hey, bartender come over here!” Joe again said in a raised voice. “I want to show you something!”

A surly 50ish looking, red-faced man with a gray-haired crew cut, a cigar chomp in his mouth, and wearing a dirty white apron, sauntered over to Bozo.

“What’s up, Bub?” the bartender asked.

“You see that flea on the bar?” Bozo responded.

The man paused until he sighted the flea. Then he quickly crushed the little fellow with his right index finger.

“You mean that one?” The bartender asked.




2 Responses to “Know Your Audience”

  1. materene Says:

    I could see that one coming, poor flea!

    Merry Christmas to you and all the people who read and post here


  2. Bobby Copus Says:

    As a young boy in the 1960’s, I remember going to a carnival and going up to one of the attractions (a trailer?). It had artist renditions on the side of mice performing great acts of skill such as aerial stunts on the flying trapeze, juggling, etc…. I was amazed and intrigued. Paid my fee to get in only to find mice in a poorly made glass box running around doing basically nothing. The artist rendition of the “wolds biggest python” turned out to be a sleeping snake in the glass cage. One of my first lessons of disappointment.

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