Rumors, Time and Drunken Dramas

Time with the carnival doesn’t pass like time in regular life, but more like it does in rehab or other institutional settings. Everything is accelerated, the good times, the dramas, the chill moments and other shenanigans. Missing an hour can feel like missing an entire day. A simple walk to the store can be fraught with possibility. In the course of 24 hours you can fall in love and have your heartbroken. Alliances, friendships, romances are ever-shifting as time itself ebbs and flows to an irregular rhythm. Though our days are governed by a routine – packing up the bunks on Mondays, set-up on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Thursday trips to the laundry mat and Wal-Mart, Friday, Saturday and Sunday running the rides, then tearing down Sunday night – it’s being in constant proximity to the same people, living, working, hanging together, everyday that gives these relationships an immediate and intense intimacy.

This also is owed in part to the fact that this carnival has bunkhouses, private living quarters for its crew. Most carnivals, from those I’ve spoken with who’ve worked for other shows, aren’t as generous. Jimmy, who’s worked for a few other shows, says that Carnies typically sleep in generator trailers, stock and ride trucks, in the semi cabs or under the trucks. There is no space for belongings, no walls for privacy, no bathrooms for showering. On this show, there’s plenty of room for the amenities we’re accustomed to, like microwaves, electricity and refrigerators. They even have little closets in which to hang our clothes. But one thing all shows have in common is the impossibility of hiding one’s dirty laundry and the consequent gossip.

Here, the rumors grow from whispers that just might contain a whiff of truth, but most times do not. It’s amazing how so much can happen and yet be missed or distorted among 15 to 20 people. Yesterday, for example, I learned that I’m on the list of possible daddies of the baby Sam might or might not be having. Whether Sam is or isn’t pregnant is open to speculation, but whether she’s carrying my progeny is silly since we don’t know each other in that way and never will. But people talk and rumors, like tumors, grow, sometimes with grave malignancy. Add to this the profound drunkenness that fuels the petty jealousies among the haters, the misconstruction of ordinary behaviors and the hazy memories of what was and wasn’t said, and the time becomes as fragmented as broken glass. No matter hard you try putting back together the pieces, you can never fully shake the sense of being tarnished.

On Monday, Harley lost it. Literally, lost it.

We arrived in Bangor, near LaCrosse, where the girls met with festival committee and the Bangor mayor. It’s a new location for the show. Before anything, we needed to set up the bunkhouses, which required the drivers to back them up over a small, but very steep hill. Complicating things further is the ground here, which, being near a river, is very soft. Harley, who is neither listened to by his daughters or wife, saw an easier, probably more practical way to get the bunks on location. But did anyone listen? Nope.

And this pissed Harley off. Royally. He began screaming at Ann and then Liz screamed at him. “Don’t talk to her like that!”

His face red with rage, he circled the bunks, calling his wife a cunt and a twit. He threatend to choke Alison. Then Claire had to insert herself in the mess. Claire and Harley argue constantly. And just when you think it’s impossible for his rage to climb any higher his head basically exploded. He hurled every invective his heated brain could spit. All of this in front of the mayor. Even long after the girls returned to Spooner to pick up the rides, Harley was still ranting and raving, threatening to shut down the show. Instead, he packed up the red Ford with his things and high-tailed it out of Bangor and hasn’t been seen since.

Harley once told me the only reason his wife doesn’t divorce him is because he owns the generators. “You want me to tell you a story?” he liked to tell me. “Well, it’s going to be a horror story, one that’ll give you nightmares.”

I feel bad for Harley. It must be incredibly difficult to watch the carnival he built wrested away, his opinions and wisdom shrugged off as though he were green help.

Because it rained on Sunday, we finished tearing down Monday morning, then loaded up our bunks and made the three-hour drive from Spooner to Bangor. Our camp this week is flanked by a shooting range and a very busy pair of railroad tracks, which makes for some noisy living. The mosquitoes here are brutal. Before stepping from our bunks each morning, we lather up with skeeter dope, but in the heat, the most intense it’s been all summer, we just sweat it off and reapply as necessary. Drinking also lessens the burden of these bugs, which we’ve had to contend with all summer, being that we spend the better part of our lives outdoors. Sarah and I are the two here that don’t drink much. Two, maybe three beers and we’re good. It’s nice having someone around sober enough to watch the other Carnies frolick about in a drunken stupor.

Monday, being a day off, sort of, everyone made haste to the store for their 30-packs of Keystone Ice and in no time were drunk to gills. When Sarah and I returned from the store, Jimmy, 36, was stumbling about the grounds in nothing but shorts. Carl and Hotwheels were trying to get him to go to bed, but he refused. Instead, he kept trying to enter the presidential suite, where Mark and Carl live, but was refused entry. He hadn’t done anything, but could hardly stand. At one point, Carl, who earlier had the cops called on him for riding his bicycle drunk, had to raise his fists after Jimmy, normally a very demure and kind man, became a little too aggressive and began throwing chairs into the woods and knocking over bikes.

You could see in his eyes that he wasn’t going to remember a thing.

Sarah and I watched this unfold, the epic ordeal to get Jimmy to bed. But it wasn’t happening. Then Sam, who was also wasted, came and sat by us, and tucked a watermelon beneath her shirt. “Look guys,” she said. “I’m having faggots.”

This shouldn’t have been so funny, but it was. Sam gets up and, holding up the melon with one hand and gulping from a beer in the other, paraded about the camp yelling, “Look everyone! I’m having a faggot! I’m going to name him ‘faggot!'”

This went one for a solid 15 minutes. Eventually, Jimmy plopped in a lawnchair near us and Sam, barely able to walk herself, says, “Look Jimmy, I’m having faggots! You want to help me birth my faggots?”

Jimmy tried standing but couldn’t.

“Here Jimmy,” says Sam, handing him her beer, “I don’t think you’re drunk enough. I’m going to have faggots.”

And as Jimmy drank the beer, Sam crouched down and gave pretend birth to a watermelon. When Black Nate showed up, she hands it to him. “Look at my faggot!”

“You know,” he says, “You’re supposed to eat that.”

“Nooooo,” she replied, sad faced, “I just birthed it. No one’s going to eat my faggot.”

Meanwhile, Carl, 43, was trying to coax Jimmy into bed. “You’re my brother and I love you,” he said, sitting with him face-to-face. “But you need to go to bed.”

It was endearing the way Carl, who becomes very sentimental when drunk, tried reasoning with Jimmy. “I have a box of Twinkies. I’ll give them to you if you go to bed.”

“I already have Twinkies,” Jimmy replied, clearly running out of steam anyhow.

“How about Suz-Q’s?”

“I don’t have Suzy-Q’s.”

“Okay then,” Carl said, excited to have made some progress. “Go to sleep and in the morning you’ll have a box of Suzy-Q’s.”

The next day, Jimmy, as he retrieved our lawn chairs from the woods, said he didn’t remember a thing. I don’t know if Carl ever gave him the Suzy-Q’s.

Of all the Carnies, I think Hawaii is my favorite. I’ll never meet another person like him. Being from Hawaii, he has a funny accent. He also has an infectious smile and generous sense of humor. He’s one of the dedicated drunks. Last Saturday, Corina had to send him back to bed because he hadn’t slept all night. And when this season ends, he’ll be homeless. His mother his dead. Not sure where his father is, but he has a brother in Hawaii, who is married and successful. “My brother told me once, ‘David, you’re going to regret these choices you’re making one day,'” he told me. “Just like Corina. Last year she goes, ‘David, why do you do this to yourself?’ ‘Ah, I dunno, Corina.'”

Last night, Hawaii was dispensing sex education to Hotwheels, who was bragging about all of “the hot bitches I get.” Hawaii asked if he used condoms. Hotwheels said that he didn’t, which led to a long, drunken discussion on STDs and pregnancy. But Hotwheels was worried about neither. Regarding STDs, he only sleeps with clean girls. Regarding fatherhood, Hotwheels says he simply pulls out.

We all suspect he’s still a virgin, but Hawaii shot down his explanations anyhow. “NO! You won’t pull out. You know why?” he yelled. “Because it feels good. Then nine months later there’s a baby Mack running around.”

Today was Hotwheels’ last day. Though we don’t like working with him, we will sort of miss his bullshit. Hawaii told him, “I have faith in you, boy. It’s all I have for you.”

1 Comment

  1. Iris says:

    The first paragraph is gold. 

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