Back Door Dave does not go looking for trouble. His job is to stand there, waiting for it to come to him.
"Occasionally, people are rude, that's true," he said, waiting at a rear-entrance of the D.C. Armory through which camels, elephants, donkeys, ponies and circus folks trouped toward the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey matinee inside. "But I deal out my own rude selfishly. To get it, you have to ask for it twice."
Dave Caesar, 35, is the circus bouncer. He is 74 inches high and puts a 230-pound dent in the ground every time he takes a step. His assignment is to reason together with persons confused regarding admissions policy, or otherwise in need of back-door instruction.
Back Door Dave is not, however, a violent sort and for good reason: He has 60 three-piece suits, many of them made by his mother, and no intention of getting them dirty. There are other methods.
Just then a knot of girls approached, drawn by his ensemble and the sheriff's badge on his cowboy hat (he is from Tennessee, but learned about life in Arkansas).
"We're off looking for jobs," the first girl said.
"I'm awfully sorry," said Dave. They just filled the last job this morning."
"That stuff is easy," Dave said as the teen-agers retreated. "And the punks, when they come around are easy too. Any trouble, I just call the police. My biggest problem is with gags, and with big shots."
A gag, to Back Door Dave, is a well polished ruse, and he still gets bested by them.
"One real old one is the radio gag. Guy comes up to me with a walkie-talkie and says, 'A-Okay Roger, gotcha, I'll go right in.' They try to make you think they're on some crew, but they're not.
"Or the briefcase gag: 'I'm supposed to take this briefcase directly to Mr. X.' Or the watch trick, where the guy comes running up, looks at his watch and says he's real late, got to get inside fast. I tell him, don't worry. I've got all the time in the world.
But the biggest challenge at the Back Door comes from those who think they have been invited, but haven't, he said. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, even the police.
One time in [a large midwestern city celebrated poetically for its prowess in international distribution of pork], we had so many policemen coming in free, we had to send more police in to get them to come back out," Dave said.
"In Los Angeles, we gave this labor union 200-some tickets, and all the members, showed up. But they didn't have any tickets with them, because the head of the union had given the tickets to another group for the tax deduction. Boy, everybody was mad at everybody that time."
Yet Back Door Dave says he has never thrown a punch in his 18 months of bouncership. He has been too busy learning about human nature, and the way knee joints work on various exotic animals.
"There's times when you lose control," he said. "I'm also the guy who gives backstage tours to celebrites, and I was amazed when Muhammad Ali came with his kids.It was in Los Angeles, last year. Before he was six feet into the circus, he was mobbed, and I was distressed about how little control I had over the situation. But Mr. Ali knew how to take care of himself."
Some of Dave's other guests have been Dick Cavett, Cary Grant, Imogene Coca, the entire cast of "Eight is Enough," Robert and Natalie Wagner and Wood, and Red Skelton. "Mr. Skelton was guest ringmaster for two days, and he took the clowns to breakfast and made them cry. His own father was a clown, you know," he said.
Humans pretty much are okay, he has learned. Animals, however, sometimes behave like animals.
"I wanted to be a veterinarian once . . ." he said, letting the sentence trail off. "Take the camel for instance." A camel appeared behind him looking precisely as it does on the cigarette package. "The camel has a funny joint in its foreleg, so it can kick you while standing up. It kicks in a circular motion. I have to remember that when kids are around.
"The animals are part of everybody's lives around here, and you forget they're animals. The chimp trainers, for example, have a tea party every night with their chimps. The 18-year-old chimp pours.Nevertheless, they're still chimps. A horse can kick you.Or step on your foot."
Dave says that elephants have long memories.
"Every day I fed a doughnut to Congo, who's an elephant. I thought she looked hungry. So then Gunther Gebel-Williams, the lion tamer, said to me that peanuts aren't even that good for elephants . . . So I stopped.
"Every day for a week, whenever I walked past Congo, she'd look at me real friendly. Then it dawned on her -- no more doughnuts. The next time I walked by, she put her trunk against her tusk, took a deep breath, and blew her nose all over me. What is the reason an elephant would do something like that? Pure malice. And a good memory."
Dave now gives Congo a wide berth, since he has more of his money invested in clothes than anything else these days. He pays for them himself.
"I must have 60 suits, and 60 hats and 20 pairs of boots," Dave said. "You've got to rotate your boots." His mother, a former seamstress who was apprenticed to Madame Mamie in Paris, New York and Memphis, travels with him now, and their home is a trailer. He doesn't yet rate space on the circus train.
Dave Caesar's circus ambitions are pretty modest. "I'd like to do a little more policy-making as far as the Back Door is concerned," he says. "That will come in time. I'm showing I can handle the responsibility."
In years previous, he had more than he could handle. Caesar was a promoter in the Ozarks, and he booked shows that ranged from Fats Domino to the Doors. For 10 years he owned 10 percent of Black Oak Arkansas, the rock group. "It got pretty crazy," he said. "They took their shirts off. They wore cobra-skin pants. The idea was to generate lust."
But a couple of years ago, Dave spent $47,000 in expenses for his promotion business, and didn't promote quite that much. He said he had a handshake contract with a fiddle-playing family, but after he spent $17,000 setting up a show for them, they backed out.
So he ran away to the circus at age 33, taking his mother with him.
"I don't have to apologize now," he said. "The circus is a family show. What I'd like to do, I guess, is get married. Can't find nobody, though. You think I could run an ad in the paper?"