The Russian Circus


It is my purpose to not only preserve the details of how the Sharpie Marker became a piece ofAmericana, but I hope to also preserve the identity of the people who brought Sharpie into the world. With this story I hope to achieve some insight on Charlie Lofgren’s personality not by an example typical of him, but by an example that was an exception for him.


In the 1960s and 1970s the cold war was a very real thing. We lived with the tensions every day of our lives as the two world superpowers kept each other under constant surveillance, ready to pounce on each other. In the midst of this someone somewhere decided that a cultural exchange between the two countries might help relieve tensions, and a constructive thing to do was schedule a Russian Circus tour acrossAmerica. That seemed to Ginny and I to be nice way for the two countries to share a common experience.   A Circus is one place we can all go and set together with the innocence of children. So when the circus came toChicagowe bought tickets.


We bought tickets, but not very good tickets. For that reason we took our binoculars to the performance. We sat there watching the show, passing binoculars back and forth to get a better look at the performers as they did their circus acts.


While the different performers took turns doing their routines, I noticed that there was a very attractive lady performer standing along the sidelines. She was dressed in a brightly colored costume, and was obviously awaiting her turn to perform. Fortunately for me, when it was her turn, it was my turn to use the binoculars. I focused on her as she raced out into center arena, the band began a spirited arrangement, and she began dancing. It was a wonderful sight to watch. In each hand she held devices of some sort, and as she whirled and twirled to the music in her brightly colored costume, she tossed her arms and from these devices came bright, multi colored floral arrangements. They were artificial flowers, of course, and they were as easily retracted into their container and as they were ejected. There was color flashing everywhere as this beautiful young woman danced to the music.


As I focused my binoculars on this sight I saw something that no one else saw. At least no one saw it unless they also had binoculars. The snap holding the top half of her two piece costume must have unsnapped because it began to fall. It was apparent to me that she needed to either stop in the middle of her performance or finish it topless. But she did neither. With arm jesters that to the audience just seemed to fit right into the routine, she kept repositioning the costume back onto her shoulders. The band kept playing, she kept dancing, and I kept watching with my binoculars. Finally the act was finished and while the audience applauded wildly she ran to the sidelines. Only then did she reach behind her back and secure the failed snapper.   I asked Ginny if she saw what had happened, and she had not. When I told her, she doubted my story. The performer had entirely concealed the problem from her audience.


The next day about mid morning I took a break from my lab work to relax in the company cafeteria. I usually did this outside the scheduled break time when factory workers filled the room. I was entirely alone enjoying my customary coke and peanuts when Charlie Lofgren and Francis Gilbert walked through the door, equally intent on a break from the routine. Together they decided to join me. After the customary small talk I decided to tell them the story of the beautiful young Russian dancer who clung to the show business belief that the show must go on, even if the costume came off. Francis made some remark about my study of the situation with binoculars, but Charlie just set there grinning. Then he took a thoughtful drag on his cigarette and chuckled. It was obvious to Francis andmeI that he was laughing at something other than my story, so we looked at him inquisitively. He noticed that we noticed, so he took another drag on his cigarette and then as he artfully beginning rolling spent ashes from his cigarette into the ash tray he explained, “Oh, I was just remembering something”.


Charlie did a lot of things well, but he was not a story teller. Francis and I had to drag the details of his story from him piece at a time. I will try my best to reassemble here the story for you. It seems that Charlie and his family had made a trip to a beach. He and his wife were relaxing in the warm sun while their daughter decided to go water skiing. As the boat went around and around the lake pulling their daughter on her skis, she would wave when she passed by. And then after several trips around the lake they noticed that the force of the splashing water had stripped from their daughter the top half of her bathing suit. But that was only half of the problem. The other half was that with all the noise, water spray, and focus on keeping her balance, she apparently didn’t know that it was missing. Thereupon the girl’s mother jumped up and raced to the edge of the water and began waving wildly. And the girl simply waved back, demonstrating that she was unaware of her situation.


My story of the Russian dancer had reminded Charlie of this family adventure.   He had thought it quite comical watching his wife wildly waving to bring her daughter’s attention to what had happened. And their daughter, mistaking her mother’s desperation for enthusiastic support of the fun she was having, simply waving back.


Now, I didn’t ask Charlie how old his daughter was at the time, or if there had actually been that much to be concerned about. I didn’t think it appropriate to go there with the president of the company. So Francis and I just laughed with him and let it go at that. In all of the time I worked at Sanfordand knew Charlie Lofgren, this is the only time I ever knew him to mention his family life. When he was at work, he concentrated entirely on work. He had no family while he was at work. And I have to believe the opposite was true when he was at home.Sanfordremained at2740 West Washington Boulevardwhen he was with his family. I don’t know if all successful businessmen and women are that way, but Charlie certainly was.