Psychologists may try to blame America's attention deficit disorder on scapegoats such as video games, MTV and DSL modem connections, but they should probably examine the three-ringed philosophy of P.T. Barnum, James A. Bailey and those rascally Ringling brothers. These provocative promoters understood back in the late 1800s that crowds could be ridiculously fickle when the cotton candy sugar is coursing through their veins and there are up to five rings of attractions going at one time. Now 133 years later The Greatest Show on Earth still piles on the spectacles and wonders, practically daring audiences to turn away or run to the bathroom. The 133rd edition features the Turbocharged Torres Brothers with five motorcycles in "The Globe of Death," the Sky Surfers aerial act, "celestial phenomena" Bailey's Comet, Bello the clown and much more. Now if we could only get psychologists to get over the ADD fascination and figure out why clowns are so scary. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opens Wednesday and runs through August 8 at the American Airlines Center, 2500 Victory Ave. Tickets are $12 to $55. Call Ticketmaster at 214-373-8000. --Jay Webb
Meet and Potatoes
The pairing seems odd on its face: Curtis Aikens, the chef best known for his dishes featuring fresh vegetables, participating in a day-long series of cooking shows with Fort Worth's own Grady Spears, a man who has never met a cut of meat he couldn't cowboy up. (Trust me: I used to forklift his meat loaf into my piehole once a week at the old Reata location in downtown Cowtown.) When you think about it, though, this culinary odd couple makes perfect sense: You got your meat, you got your taters, you got everything in between. Aikens and Spears--sounds like a '70s cop show, don't it?--will be on hand from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. at North East Mall in Hurst as part of the Simon Super Chefs Live! tour. They'll do three cooking performances, sign autographs, hawk their cookbooks and celebrate everything from the garden and the range. And, if you fancy yourself quite the home cook, you may be picked to act as one of their sous chefs during the demonstration. If you're so lucky, we have one request: Lick your fingers seductively. Just to spice up the show. Visit www.simon.com. --Eric Celeste
Starting promptly at dusk on Friday, the sun-baked wave pool and beachfront crowd will have the opportunity to get both their tears jerked and their skin pruned at the same time. NRH2O Family Water Park, 9001 Grapevine Highway in North Richland Hills, will screen the family flick E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial the way it was meant to be seen: from a large, water-filled cement hole with lots of underdressed people and their small children. It's a classic. Call 817-427-6500 or visit www.nrh2o.com. --Mary Monigold
Before Junior goes off to college with the damn Yankees this fall, make sure that he will have something to munch besides meat lover's pizza and blue-box macaroni by sending him to How to Boil Water With Michael Napier, a remedial cooking course that teaches beginners how to roast, grill, poach, bake and use potholders--all for the low, low price of $150. The class rings into session at Sur La Table, 4527 Travis St., July 26 through July 28. Call 214-219-4404 or visit www.surlatable.com. --Mary Monigold
Full Steam Ahead
Railroad museum knows how to whistle
After eyeing our first calliope, we had the strange sensation of feeling sorry for a musical instrument. Peaking in popularity at the turn of the previous century, it is an ungainly, archaic creature, a kind of standing triangle with bulbous steam whistles arrayed around it and a measly 32 keys at its base. But when the calliopist--one Irwin Arnstein, devoted in his other hours to working with quite modern technology--depresses those keys, beautiful wafts of steam (and evocatively nostalgic music) erupt from its whistles. Powered by a big steam boiler, the calliope was popular on riverboats, where its boisterous output would draw residents down from their homes to the riverfront to watch and hear the riverboat sweep on by. It is an instrument with a pleasing and democratic history, but this weekend, when Arnstein plays the calliope during the Age of Steam Railroad Museum's Third Annual Whistle Fair at Fair Park, his sheet music will have to be laminated to deter its destruction from the steam. He will mash down on the keys to force the calliope to release its music. He will contend with an instrument that goes out of tune even after he has tuned it. And he will stuff his ears with plugs ("You can hear a calliope a mile away," Arnstein says matter-of-factly). Why does he subject himself to this? "It's an instrument of pure joy," he says. "It makes you think of the state fair and the riverboat and the past and things we don't have anymore. This really is the gentler, kinder America." Arnstein will also demonstrate the museum's collection of steam whistles, once used on operating trains. Arnstein performs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $6 for adults, $3 for children and free for members of the museum. Visit www.dallasrailwaymuseum.com or call 214-428-0101. --Claiborne Smith
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