The devil bit him good. He’s most likely in the section of hell where God sends every drunk. He’s probably drinking beer with Satan right now trying to put out the fire, but that ain’t gonna work. He’s gonna burn forever…”
by ed markowski
Crescent City, California 5:46 pm PDT
After the crew broke down the freak show tents, the maze of mirrors, and the shooting gallery, packed all of it in two Atlas moving vans and shouted farewell and fuck you to the Del Norte County Fair, I boarded a Silverado Stages charter bus and took a thirteen hour thrill ride down the Pacific Coast Highway beneath a scimitar moon
with Bayou Mist Psychic Supreme, Rank Frank The Dunk Tank Drunk, The World’s Weakest Man Mr. Charles Atrophy, Cayenne Kate The Cajun Kissing Contortionist, Haiku Boy The Japanese Soldier Who Won’t Surrender Cowboy Crooner and Bally Man Deluxe Soprano Jack, and the Midway’s Foremost Master Of Deceit, Professor Hoo. What follows is an unedited interview that clarifies the weave of faces, facades, and farces that comprise the fabric of the American Traveling Carnival.
Professor Hoo, I’m tempted to ask the obvious question so I will. Who are you?
To obtain a complete picture of any tree, one must examine and have knowledge of the roots. I’ll begin by going back to the beginning. Scholars of American popular culture and scholars of the American entertainment arts claim the American Traveling Carnival was birthed at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Scholars rightfully acknowledge the influence medicine shows, minstrel shows, and the circus had on the traveling carnival. Unfortunately that’s where the scholars stop. The influence of medicine shows, minstrel shows, and the circus constitute the surface roots of the traveling carnival. To complete the picture of the tree, we must dig deeper.
The father of the modern day traveling carnival was a teacher who taught and proved that there is no such thing as a fixed self. We have a self. The self we have is no self. No self changes perpetually and through the eyes and wisdom of no self we can clearly perceive nickel self, dime self, and quarter self. The perception of quarter self allows us to advance to the perception of dollar self. At that point we can then observe and evaluate every mark in every town we play and pass through.
At his last event, the Time Honored One proved that everything we see, feel, taste, touch, hear, and think are illusions born of illusions by twirling a red flower that spawned white and blue blossoms in the eyes of twenty thousand marks of which only one saw that there was no red flower to see.
He also taught . . . That the nature of life is suffering. There is an eight lane road that leads to the cessation of suffering. That eight lane road to liberation begins and ends at the carnival entrance. The great teacher named that road The Middle Way. The ancient symbol of The Middle Way appears to be a Ferris Wheel, Carousel, or Tilt – A – Whirl depending on the angle of the sun. He Who Was And Wasn’t attained enlightenment during the fifth century BCE at a house of mirrors in Bodh Gaya India. His name isn’t and never was Sid Arthur.
Professor Hoo, what was your occupation before you made show business your career?
I was a Whisper in Pittsburgh.
What does a Whisper do?
Scream a lot. Deliver fire and brimstone declarations. Condemn men, women, and children.
And after that?
I moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
What did you do in Bethlehem?
I was a Rumor.
What kind of work does a Rumor do?
Makes topographical and psychological maps that lead to places that aren’t there. When I got tired of being a Rumor, I went to grad school and became an Aesop’s Fable.
How do you reconcile the fantasy aspects of your career with the reality of everyday life?
Every day and every night of the Summer in my home town I was face to face with clowns, clam eating cops, cop eating clams, a steady parade of wet waxed bikini queens, roller coaster screams, mermaids, fire eaters, sword swallowers, convicts, and alien con artists from Newark, New Jersey. On my twenty first birthday I was rowing through a roaring dream of salt water taffy when a boardwalk barfly discovered my sweet spot at the very moment my mermaid’s water broke. With no desire to exist in a cell of responsibility, I climbed to the top of the parachute drop and jumped. I rode Mack Trucks and trade winds to the Pacific. Six months later, I washed ashore and was re discovered on a beach ten miles south of Coo’s Bay, Oregon by the Incredible Fish Woman From Helsinki Finland, and here I am.
Everyone dreams of running off with the carnival. You actually did. How did that happen?
I grew up in an Apostolic Church near Durango, Colorado. My old man took off when I was ten. My twin sisters Eve and Yvonne were nine. When we asked Ma why he left and where he went, she shivered a little and said, ‘The devil bit him good. He’s most likely in the section of hell where God sends every drunk. He’s probably drinking beer with Satan right now trying to put out the fire, but that ain’t gonna work. He’s gonna burn forever.’ Ma’s story never added up for us because we never saw the old man drink anything stronger than Dr. Pepper, and we never smelled liquor on his breath. The mystery was solved six months later when Ma married Tom Wilson.
Wilson was the Apostolic preacher in town. He was a disciple of the all that glitters is gold scripture. With each year the gap widened between Wilson and us. Eve loved the Beatles, and Yvonne swooned for the Rolling Stones, and a Godless rodeo hipster named Jerry Clark who flipped burgers at the Cowboy Corral Drive – In. I couldn’t get enough of Frank Zappa or The Fugs.
One night we heard Wilson tell Ma, ‘If I hadn’t been feeding your hell bound brats for the past seven years, I’d have enough money to buy the kind of car that befits a man of God. A week later, Wilson told us, ‘No more Satan sermons in this house goddammit.’ Then he brought a meat mallet down on the speakers and turn table.
The next time Wilson took to the pulpit, he informed his flock of marks that the Animas River Apostolic Church would be having a fund raising carnival, ‘Because the mobility of our ministry is in dire need of an upgrade.’ After the service, Tom told Eve, Yvonne, and I, ‘It’s time for you three to experience the grace, goodness, and blessings that come along by giving unto others. You three are responsible for the games and entertainment at the fundraiser.’ Wilson dropped the Denver Yellow Pages on the kitchen table and walked away.
Fifteen minutes into our quest for grace and goodwill an ad screamed my name and slapped my face . . . The Magnificent Mary Cane And Her Wonder Chimp Wilson . . . Top Notch Entertainment Available For Fairs, Fund Raisers, Birthday Parties, and Corporate Events.
On day three of Wilson’s new car crusade Mary Cane and Wilson took the stage. The wonder chimp was wearing a white top hat, a white t – shirt that said, I’m evolving all the time, and he was waving a gold tipped swagger stick. When Wilson spotted Wilson, Wilson gyroscoped him prodding and poking him with the swagger stick until Wilson stumbled breathless through the dust of his kingdom. Wilson mounted the stage and let loose with a series of fire and brimstone screeches. Then, Wilson impersonated Jimmy Swaggert. Jimmy’s weepy drawl segued into Tammy Faye Baker’s anxiety ridden whine. Tammy Faye’s histrionic sniveling morphed into broken English. The last words Wilson spoke from Wilson’s pulpit were, ‘Maya Godda Blessa Youse All.’
After the Pope’s blessing Mary and Wilson vanished. Two months later, Wilson bought a sawdust scented 1962 Cadillac rust leper, and told Eve, Yvonne, and and I to leave. Ma left him six months later. Mary Cane is the greatest illusionist and ventriloquist that’s ever been. I don’t know who she was, who she is, or where she’s at, but I feel her power every day.
At Hidden Beach we drove into a Pacific downpour that cut the visibility down to zero. When we reached Klamath the rain came faster and harder. The driver pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned diner to wait out the rain. The downpour brought about my next questions.
What credentials are required for the position of dunk tank clown?
A bachelors degree in disdain for decent people with a concentration in vitriolic disgust, a masters in the art of spontaneous insults, and a PHD in guts and stupidity to insult muscle men, ranchers, post traumatic stressed vets, dirt farmers, bikers, and gang bangers in front of their witches and brats.
Where did you get your education?
At Uncle Scam’s Car Wash in Fresno. I graduated with honors.
What insults are most effective?
I made love with your wife in the shower this morning because the only ring you gave her was the ring that circles the pig trough you wash in . . . Cobra Girl told me your snake’s smaller than a pin worm . . . If you dunk me I’ll let you have your wife tonight . . . Your girlfriend was elected prom queen by all the guys in the men’s bathroom. She showed me her lambskin condom crown . . .
Does it bother you to insult people at such a base level ?
The insults are money magnets. The nastier the insult, the more they spend on revenge. That’s the game. That’s how it goes.
Are the Midway games rigged?
No more than the Midway games on Wall Street, but I don’t run Midway games. The thief behind me does. Ask him.
Are the Midway games rigged?
I was running a milk bottle joint at the Abbeville Fair in South Carolina. This guy walks up. He hands me a dollar. I hand him three baseballs. The way the guy threw he couldn’t have knocked down a feather with the fucking Rock Of Gibraltar. He looks me over, he says, Your game’s rigged. He says, I’m gonna take a prize. He says, I’m taking a prize, try to stop me. I tell the guy, That’s what happens when a guy throws like his baby sister. He says, I’m gonna fuck you up. The guy jumps over the counter. I’m out of options. I kicked his ass. Cops arrive. The big cop mutters assault. Cuff locks click.
Next morning I wake up in cell 22. A shrink is standing in front of my cell. She asks, Are you suicidal? I say, No, never, I’m Susie’s dip stick. She asks, Are you homicidal? I say, No, I’m heterocidal. She asks, Do you hear voices? I say, Yes I do. She asks, What do they say? I say, they say, I’d love to sleep naked with you. She asks, They want to sleep naked with you? I say, Hell no, I want to sleep naked with you. She asks, Are you patricidal? I say, No. She asks, What are you? Who are you? I say, I’m Fungicidal. Peroxidal. Bacteriasidal. And, Viracidal. I went on trial. I was found guilty of being drunk and disorderly. I’m in jail for six months. Now, that game was rigged. When I got out, my thumb pointed west. I caught on with a show that was passing through Lincoln, New Mexico. For five years I stalked Midways across the country as a freak show attraction named Vengeance The Human Virus.
Any other thoughts on crooked games? Anyone?
We were working the Calgary Stampede. This old timer told me, ‘Everything fair on the Midway is foul, everything foul on the Midway is fair, and that’s the fare every mark pays to the Gods of humiliation, and Stupidity.
Every mark on the lot over the age of eight knows they can’t win, but the money flows non stop. Look, if some rube wants to pay twenty – five bucks for two cents worth of Shanghai shit to impress his girlfriend, I’d be a fool to stop him. When the marks accuse me of operating a crooked game I tell them the San Andreas ain’t my fault.
Where does the traveling carnival fit in relation to America’s cultural heritage ?
If you take a close look at American Culture, you’ll find, corn dogs in the frozen food cases. Freaks galore from the Sunset Strip to the White House lawn. Barkers, shills, and frauds screaming on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and Chicago’s commodity markets. Long winded pitchmen peddling phony tonics in Congress and the Senate. Kiddie rides at supermarkets. The fattest women on Earth eating their way to fame and fortune on the Discovery Channel. The carnival is everywhere in American Culture. On a deeper cultural level, the traveling carnival is a mobile expression of American freedom, and American entrepreneurial ingenuity.
Five miles outside of town two yellow eyes flashed and faded at the side of the road. He said, Cougar. He said, Lynx, He said, Bobcat. From the back of the bus, a delicate voice humbled the hum and rumble of the bus. Evil comes. Evil goes. But evil never leaves. And with that preface a delicate voice held everyone spell bound.
‘I didn’t voluntarily become a citizen of Kewpieville. On May fourth 1971 my mother summoned me home one year after I was killed by a maliciously errant bullet. According to some, I was killed for no reason. According to some I was killed for the good of the nation. Others referred to me as a casualty of war. Whatever the case may be, I was reborn in a cabin on the Montreal River in central Ontario. On my fifth birthday in 1976, mother rented a booth at the Canal Days Festival in Welland, Ontario. That week, she bestowed upon me the gift of vision. In the twenty – five years that have passed since that week, whether the visions have been life affirming, or sirens of an impending demise, I have never deceived a seeker. Unlike many in our profession, I have never hid behind a mask. I have never hid inside of a costume. It’s very difficult to tell a young woman that she will never have children or to tell an old man he will die on the day of the next new moon. Lies are a cushion. Truth is a sledge hammer. Mother taught me to uphold our Gypsy heritage by always being truthful.
Who are you when you’re not Bayou Mist Psychic Supreme?
The lynx that crossed the road ten minutes ago.
Do any of you wear protective masks when you perform?
‘When the first mark scuffs the threshold of my joint, my hair turns to rayon, my flesh becomes nylon, my eyes turn to stone, and my mind turns to Teflon.’
‘If you want to survive you need survival equipment. Soldiers wear helmets. Carneys wear masks.’
‘I don’t wear a mask. I am a mask.’
Can you tell me how you developed your act and acting persona?
There were seven of us. All boys. We grew up on a cattle ranch in Winner, South Dakota. The cowboy dream was my nightmare. I was the youngest by six years. I loved my brothers. My brothers loved me, but they played rough. I was the calf they roped. I was the bronc they busted. I was the bull they tormented with darts and lassos. Our parents weren’t Roy and Dale, but they were ranchers in love with movie cameras. They shot over twenty hours of eight millimeter cowboy noir. My brother Jack duck taped me to the mailbox post. Mom and Dad got it on film. My brother Dan tied a ribbon around my neck and led me to the corral. Mom and Dad got it on film. My brother Tom made me drink from the horse trough. Mom and Dad got that on film too. As cruel as it may seem, I never saw it that way, because that’s where the idea and inspiration originated. Six brothers makes for a very crowded house. We lived in a land of open space but there wasn’t any open space in our house. When I graduated from Winner High, I wanted to travel. I wanted to break away from the hitching post everyone in that dust faded corner of nowhere was tied to. I wanted to roam. I needed to know if there was a world beyond the borders of Tripp County, South Dakota. When the carnival set up for the annual Fourth of July Festival at the 4 – H Fairgrounds, I found the talent manager and showed him what I had.
My act was the flip side of the strongest man on Earth. A teaspoon of dry cheerios, corn flakes, or fruit loops buckled my knees. Soggy rice krispies caused me to collapse. The Trix Rabbit and Captain Crunch kicked my ass blindfolded. The lucky charms leprechaun knocked me out ten seconds into the first round. Next, the oat box Quaker showed up. He said, I’m a four – hundred year old pacifist. When he extended his arm to shake my hand I fell to the floor whimpering. The Quaker looked down at me. He kicked dirt in my face. As the Quaker walked out laughing, the Keebler Elf walked in and beat the shit out of me with his hands tied behind his back. The talent manager told me, You’re a fucking genius. You got the job. I love what I do. I love my family for pushing me out of Winner a winner, and human spectacle.
On the south side of Eureka a church service was letting out. A slim finger pointed at the people gathered on the steps. Think about this . . .It’s midnight Christmas morning. You walk to the altar. An emaciated contortionist nailed to a cross looks down on you. There’s not a sanctified thought in your mind. You’re standing in line. Both eyes are dead weight. You couldn’t pull them off of the French braided brunette on the left side of the communion queue with a tugboat. You’re sitting on a dock with her. Gulls drift above the marina as your lips and hers drift toward an explosion of rapture. Then, an old man in white robes fills the scant space that remains between you and her.
He lifts a thin pale wafer skyward. He says, This is the body of Christ. He places the wafer on your tongue. It’s tasteless and odorless. Then, another old man floats before your eyes adrift in a tangle of black robes. He lifts a gold chalice. He declares, This is the blood of the lamb that washes away the sins of the world. He tips the chalice to your parted lips. A drizzle of cheap Chablis trickles down your throat. Fifteen minutes ago you threw a twenty in the offering basket, and in return you received a wafer of stale bread, and a slug of cheap wine.
The salvation churches sell is an expensive fifty – fifty mix of horse shit and bull shit. The salvation I sell costs five bucks a twist. That includes multiple kisses on the spot of your choice, and a moonlit ride through the tunnel of love if the mark plays the right cards.
I see your point, but I can also see why and how Carneys and the carnival earned its reputation. Since the topic’s been raised, let’s follow it through. Do you believe in God? What role if any does faith play in your lives?
As Godless as we may appear to be, everybody in this show believes in God. God? God’s the greatest magician Hoo’s never been. Can’t think of another showman anywhere who does the now you see it now you don’t act every second of every minute of every hour into eternity. Falling stars, snowflakes, mountains, planets, mammoths and minnows, all of yours and all of mine. You name it. God makes all things appear and disappear. We may be angels of cheap thrills and deception, but we’re all people of great faith.
The headlights found a fog faded road sign . . . Even Strangers Are Family Here! Welcome To Fortuna!! and an eider down voice filled the Silverado with a warning. Only a fool would say that. Only a fool would believe that. I have felt the presence of a stranger for the past month. The stranger is a well fed man. He’s connected to the sky. He’s wearing a white snakeskin suit. Don’t . . . The voice dissolved into silence as his voice rose bridging a ravine and the next ten miles.
I’m not the stranger but my act and journey to this roadshow is connected to the sky. After I dropped out of college I rode my thumbs across the country. A truck driver picked me up in Mineral Point Wisconsin and dropped me off in Lake City Iowa. Lake City is situated in the center of America’s great corn desert. Searching for the lake that wasn’t there I discovered The Calhoun County Fair. I checked out Calhoun County’s halter topped chick exhibit, had a few beers, and lost an arm wrestling contest to a hay hued farm boy. The winner didn’t win anything. The loser won a dream date with Faye Phlegm The Ugliest Woman In The World.
When I walked into Faye’s tent, Faye showed some thigh and rasped, ‘Honey, I’ll bet your booty that a strand of corn silk is thicker, longer, and harder than your cob. Her sweet nothing was punctuated with coughs, and throat clearings. When our date ended, I walked out of Fay’s tent. Two cops walked in.
The tall cop asks, ‘Are you Mac Blevins, birth place Baltimore, Maryland? Before Mac could answer the question the taller cop says,‘ You’re under arrest for retail fraud and impersonating an inventory account officer. The cops let Mac change his clothes and remove his make up before they took him away. Mac Blevins the man was uglier than Faye Phlegm.
Considering Mac was double ugly no one on the lot could figure out how he brought in three times more cash than the kissing booth crew. Cream Pie And The Pop Tarts charged five bucks a kiss, ten for some tongue, and twenty for a sample of their blue ribbon honey. Before the cops could stuff Mac in the squad car he shouted, ‘Look under the cushion kid and keep what you find.’ I lifted the cushion. My Zippo, Marlboros, pocket watch, eighty dollar bank roll, and two Lake City police badges, were on the white wicker.
I walked out of the Lake City jail a week later. I found my bankroll, and spent the next ten years disguised as an accountant. I got bored with accounting so I did this daredevil gig in Portland, Oregon. After I landed, the money only went so far. Back then, Evel Kneivel was the toast of the town, and I was a ghost with bloodhounds on my trail. I ran into Evel at the Stardust in Vegas. He said, ‘Man, the drinks are on me. What you did up in the sky over Salmon Land is the greatest daredevil act since Eve got Adam to eat that apple. Without the Mac Blevins Faye Phlegm act I’d be a framed shadow hanging on the walls of every post office from Boston to Seattle.
Caspar California 8:46 pm
On a day to day basis what aspect of carnival life is the most difficult to deal with?
Before I developed my multiple acts and characters I sketched marks. Two dollars a face, and my talent was etched into every one. Of the hundreds I rendered, I can’t recall one mark who was happy with the end result. Boyfriends threatened to kick my ass. People tore them up, threw them in my face, and demanded a refund. A rodeo jack ass at the Oklahoma State Fair told me, ‘After my horse kicks the shit out of your face I’m going to put a fucking bullet in your head.’ A butcher in Loveland, Colorado looked at the drawing, looked me square in the eye and said, ‘I should cut your hands off. The pious called me a sinner. The heathens growled. Somebody’s grandmother said, ‘I wouldn’t wipe my ass with this.’ A professor in College Station, Texas stomped on the drawing, spat and yelled, ‘This isn’t art.’ To this day I can’t figure out why the marks can’t figure out that a caricature artist is a caricature of an artist. Unhappy marks are my nightmare.
Bodega Bay California
All of you refer to your customers as marks. Without them, there’s no carnival. My question is, Do you have any respect for them?
Every mark on the lot is a snake, and everyone one of us is a professional snake charmer. Respect is a fucking two way street.
Before anyone lays a dime on the counter I tell them my pa’s name was Claude, my ma’s name was Maude, and one night on the porch back home in Bethlehem, Arkansas ma says, We was gonna name you God, but we seed you wasn’t had the tools to live up to that name so we did the next better thing and named you Fraud in the hope that one day you’d turn into a great faith healer. After they hear that, if they still want to play, they get what they asked for.
They play. They lose. They bitch. They threaten me. They call me names. And I tell them, Yeah it’s crooked but the fucking San Andreas ain’t my fault.
If someone’s willing to pay twenty dollars for a seventy-nine cent piece of Shanghai shit it ain’t my job to stop them.
We were doing a fair up in New Haven, Connecticut. Every one in that town’s supposed to be smart, right? Well back then I was Hedda Lopper The Headless Genius Of Vienna. An endless line of people waited in the rain and paid five bucks to witness the spectacle. What else do you need to know about marks?
The only factual thing about us is the fact that we’re frauds.
San Francisco California
The city that spawned an international revolution of sound, colors, and clowns. A global village of goodwill grooves and Grace who to this day remains a song unto herself. While the city’s hysterical legacy needs no embellishment, this magical place continues to be the most carnival friendly city on the face of the Earth. San Francisco is the proud sponsor of the fantastic, unusual, and utterly unforgettable.
Twenty – two years past his last growth spurt, his chest and biceps grew a six inch layer of iron muscle. His feet grew a full foot. His homeruns sailed on average sixty – six yards further than ever before. Over the course of the 2001 season he hit seventy – three homers all of which were tracked by NASA and classified as genuine space oddities. After the 2001 season his head grew a full three sizes. His ego grew four, rendering his GIANT CAP too small to hold it all in. He is regarded as the greatest player to have played during Major League Baseball’s Freak Show Era.
Half Moon Bay California
What’s the difference between a Priest, an Imam, a Rabbi, and a Bally Man?
Don’t know. The Bally Man’s the only one who’s not passing out dynamite to children.
What skills and credentials does one need to be a Bally Man?
When the manager asked what qualifications I had I said, Sir, my voice is a black jasmine ginger scented tongue of road salt wisdom that was given to me by a farmer’s daughter near Mankato, Minnesota whose mother played the washboard in Bobby Darin’s Band Of Bolsheviks. In addition to that Sir, I speak Prosciutto, Schnitzel, Empanada, Hummus, Yorkshire Pudding, and Borscht. I tried to learn Haggis but I puked every time the first syllable formed in my mind. In addition to those languages, I’m also fluent in Pauper, Poet, Prophet, Punk, Elvis, Link Wray, Smokey Robinson, and James Brown. Way back when Sir, I played and sang my way onto every stage at every music box in Greenwich Village.
After I dictated five hundred fortunes and whispered them into five thousand cookies I fell into a quagmire of fame I didn’t want so I changed my name changed my style and became Soprano Jack Cowboy Crooner and Professional Word Juggler. The manager hired me on the spot. A bottomless well of bullshit, and the ability to present that bullshit as truth are the two essential requirements for the position.
In time we learn every job on the lot. If someone gets sick, arrested, leaves, or is too loaded to work, someone has to do that job. Bayou Mist has been Charles Atrophy Charles Atrophy has been Haiku Boy Haiku Boy has been Cayenne Kate Cayenne Kate has been Soprano Jack Soprano Jack has been Rank Frank Rank Frank has been me and I’ve been Bayou Mist and everyone else. Everyone on this bus has been everyone else on this bus many times and for many years. For any team to be successful, everyone on that team has to be a team player.
Can you tell us how Haiku Boy came to be?
He died five days before Easter. I was seventeen. His only son. The last to carry the Bommarito family name. The Chosen One to inherit his position at the top of the family business. My sisters Angela, and Marie, and our mother told me that I would read my father’s eulogy at his funeral mass on Good Friday.
My father was loved by everyone in the neighborhood. He knew how to work a room. He knew how to play the cops He knew how and when to be a gentleman. He was charming to the strangers, business associates, the cops, politicians, and those he referred to as his Public. Every Saturday he gave each one of the five drunks who swabbed his Eldorado at Mel’s Carwash a crisp fifty dollar bill. He sponsored little league baseball teams. He tithed twenty grand a year to Saint Basil’s because he didn’t like using the offering envelopes. His public perceived him as being a kind and generous man. And to them he was . . . with good reason.
Standing on the altar I pointed at his gold trimmed ebony casket, looked into the three – hundred faces who had come to say Ciao to their beloved Carlo, and delivered my eulogy . . .
I could comfort everyone here by perpetuating the lie and illusion that somehow this dead lout was an honorable man. I could also comfort the grieving by reassuring you that your dear friend has passed through the gates of Heaven and he’s now playing dominoes with Vito The Ice Man in front of Tringali’s Bakery. But that would be a grievous lie made even more grievous because I’m standing on an altar behind the twisted body of God’s only Son. That being the case, telling the truth is my only option.
My father was a diseased, depraved, and disgusting package of trash. Why God would sketch an eyesore like Carlo Bommarito on his canvas of creation is a mystery greater than Christ’s Resurrection. Eternal bliss for this pig would be a coca refinery in a Columbian jungle, a poppy field in Laos, a meth lab in Desolation, Nebraska, or a street corner teeming with strung out hookers.
When Carlo gave money away, he was returning pennies on the thousands of dollars you, your kids, and your grandkids paid him for dope. Is there anyone in this church who believes God would smile upon this festering sore who hid behind gestures of goodwill and kindness while he peddled death to an entire city? If you do, then you’re more fucked up than this human scum bag who deserves to be buried in a fucking Bombay landfill. The first row of pews were reserved for family. Uncle Dominic spit on me. Uncle Vito flashed his hit man’s high card. Angela, Marie, and Ma were stiffer and whiter than bone china.
I ran down the center aisle through a fog of dumb struck silence. I out ran Uncle Dominic, Uncle Vito, Luigi The Locksmith, Frankie Smiles, Needle Nose Nick, and Sammy The Rat. I flagged a cab on Taylor Street. I told the driver Fong Fooks Nanking Beauty Pagoda on Canal Street. I had the outside corners of my eyes pulled out, up, and arched in an Asian slant. I hid in the alley behind Chop Susie’s Mandarin Massage Spa for two days. On the third day I walked to South Canal Street and stowed in an Illinois Central box car.
When the train stopped I woke up in Peculiar, Missouri. I came across a handbill taped to a streetlight advertising auditions for the Prairie Sun Amusement Company. Prairie Sun was doing the rides, and attractions for the Cass County fair. I don’t know where the idea came from, but it came at a time when America’s retail shelves sagged with necessities from Nippon, and prize boards on midways world wide sagged from the weight of Japanese junk.
I walked to the Sinners Cove Baptist Church. The Preacher was watering a vegetable garden behind the church. I swapped three of Carlo’s well laundered C notes for a black choir robe. The preacher and I said a prayer. We praised the lord. I cut loose with a few heart felt Hallelujahs. I asked the preacher for directions to the Cass County Fair. He closed his eyes, pointed his finger skyward, said, Amen brother our God is so good to us Praise God Brother Praise Him, the Cass County Fair Grounds are seven miles northeast of here. The name of the town is Pleasant Hill.
On my way out of Peculiar I stopped at the Dollar Tree. I bought a pair of scissors, black flip flops, a pair of Tojo specs, and an American flag. From there I went to the public library. I used a computer and found a list of Japanese insults and profanities. I borrowed the librarian’s red Sharpie. I replaced fifty stars with one very large rising sun, walked to the highway, and pointed my thumb about seven miles northeast of Peculiar.
When they called me into the audition tent my head was wrapped in the rising sun, my Fong Fooks Asian eyes rested behind the Tojo specs, my body was wrapped Zen monk style in the black choir robe. I introduced myself . . . Friends and neighbors, you must see Haiku Boy, the Japanese soldier who is still fighting World War Two. Here we have a hate driven homicidal beast who believes the year is 1943 . . . . After the spiel I had them tie me to Fat Fannie’s milk crate throne.
I started to thrash and tremble. That was followed by a series of Ninja screams, Sumo grunts and Karate shouts. Then I let loose with a maniacal barrage of seventeen syllable Japanese insults and profanities . . . . . Urusai Ama Chin Po Potaro Uzendayo Ka . . . . Kisama Tama Busu YowamushiKa Chin . . . . and seventeen syllable insults and profanities in broken English . . . . Ah So Jo Yo Ho Blo Mo Than Divine Wind Crossing Fuji Whoa. I told the manager we’ll give the marks three water balloons and a chance to retaliate from ten feet away for a buck and a half. Everyone loved it back in 1975, and the show operators and marks still love it.
In the twenty – six years that have passed since that day, there aren’t to many World War Two vets spending their Friday nights wandering the midway, so I’ve made adjustments to keep the act current relative to our war vets. Some days I read from Mao’s little red book and insult the marks in Mandarin. Some days I impersonate Ho Chi Minh. Some days I’m the dung show creep who runs North Korea. These days it’s three balloons for three bucks. On Memorial Day, Flag Day, and the Fourth, it’s three balloons for six bucks. They know it’s a show. They know it’s a low brow act fueled by slurs and racial stereotypes, but the marks form a line that stretches from sun rise to moon rise. Over the years I’ve learned that hate sells more than love, sex, and sugar combined . . . and that’s the fucking shameful reality of our world.
Morro Bay California
Who’s had the greatest influence on your entry into show business, and how did you come to meet that person?
We were in love. No doubt. But the times and circumstances of our lives made it clear that splitting up was the only dish on the menu. We kissed and cried in perfect harmony all the way to the airport. We made a vow to meet again. We said I love you in perfect harmony. Then I boarded flight 978. We took off at six sharp Texarkana time.
Three hours later I was in Detroit knocking back beers with an airport vulture named Sandy at the Broken Wing Lounge. At eight the next morning I abandoned Sandy and a fifth of Early Times in room twenty – eight at the Sound Barrier Motel. One step out of the room I realized I was a man who forsook love with forty-six dollars to his name. I bought the morning Free Press. My eyes hit the help wanteds. I came across a help wanted box that was framed with dollar signs and question marks. The ad read . . . . If a thousand dollars a week for sixteen hours of work plays your dirge Call John or Evelyn Labelle at 313 – 755 – 4746. I called at nine. I was interviewed at ten. John lent me money for a rental car. The next morning I was on the job.
John and Evelyn had owned an Arthur Murray dance studio in Chicago. John said, We got into the dance studio after our health care ministry in Santa Fe died from an acute case of gluttony and extravagance. We changed our names. We changed our faces. We changed our voices. Evelyn and I have always done business under assumed names. I’ve changed my name so many times I can’t remember what it was the last time I was slain and reborn.
We opened the dance studio four years ago. We Tangoed. We Waltzed. We Twisted. We did the Tighten Up. We stepped on the wrong toes, and learned a new dance called the Hideaway. We came across this opportunity and decided owning a cemetery was better than the alternative which would have been an early burial for Evelyn and I.
When the deal was done we renamed the cemetery Saint Jevelyn’s, then we got to work on the makeover. First and foremost we installed a rainbow fountain and waterfall at the cemetery entrance. The notion of the deceased dwelling somewhere over the rainbow is much more attractive than being buried in the domain of moles, groundhogs, and night crawlers. After all, everyone associates heaven with the sky. The sky implies boundless freedom. Being sealed in a casket, that’s sealed in a vault, that’s buried where the sun doesn’t exist is the equivalent of being sentenced to solitary confinement for eternity. That was Evelyn’s marketing genius at work, and we’ve found it gives us a definite edge over our competitors. We also installed a carousel of Angels, two swing sets, four sandboxes, and a go kart track for the older kids. With rainy days and winter days in mind we converted the groundskeepers garage into a pinball, billiards, and video game arcade. Picnic tables and hibachis unite the empty space between headstones. Charcoal and charcoal fluid are available free of charge. If our mourners prefer fast snacks there’s a food trailer in the center of the cemetery that offers hot dogs, burgers, fries, Italian sausage subs, chips, soda, soft pretzels, and soft serve ice cream. In the past year we added pony rides on the weekends. Saint Jevelyn’s is the only cemetery in North America that offers a family reunion package. The reunion package includes catering, cut rate deals on lodging, thirty dollars in free play, free shuttle service to and from the North Star Casino, and two complimentary cocktails at the Afterglow Lounge. Saint Jevelyn’s corporate philosophy, and marketing strategy is expressed in this simple sentence . . . Let Saint Jevelyn’s Put The Morning In Your Mourning.
My job was easy. Call affluent marks. Remind them that regardless of age, health, and income, death is an unpredictable rogue. Present and reinforce the wisdom of being prepared. Present the purchase of cemetery property as a real estate investment that appreciates in value over time. Offer the marks a set of last wills and testaments free of charge, and to be drawn up by one of Saint Jevelyn’s attorneys . . . In the comfort of your living room, and at your convenience. Then set up an appointment date and time.
All five of the attorneys who represented Saint Jevelyn’s were whiskey wise high pressure salesmen with pedigrees in grifting from the University Of Whitewash. For setting up the mark I was paid fifteen percent of the sale. I didn’t make a grand a week but I made more than enough to live the high life. Unfortunately the Grift Virus was running rampant, and I caught it. The phone company sent the December bill. That bill included well over three – thousand dollars in charges for calls made to a number in Texarkana, Texas. The last day I worked at Saint Jevelyn’s Saint John and Saint Evelyn told me they needed to speak to me after lunch. I ate lunch that day at a Waffle House in Mountain Home Arkansas. Two weeks later I caught on with a show. For the next three years I grifted my way across America as James Labelle The Telekinetic Pickpocket From Paradise, Michigan. To this day I believe that God put John, Evelyn, and their sales crew in my life to elevate my skills and quality of life. The student was ready, and the teachers appeared. I learned from the best.
Mission Canyon California
Where is the American Traveling Carnival going in the twenty – first century?
Five years ago I played banjo and mandolin in a bluegrass band named The New Memphis Mirage. We played colleges. We also played the Missouri / Mid South festival circuit. On the Fourth of July that year we played the Red, White, and Bluegrass Festival in Boone County Kentucky. We were booked to play at eight that night, so I had a big block of time to kill. I wandered the grounds with my mandolin. I traded a few tunes for a bag of Morel Mushrooms. I sampled three.
A half hour down the road, the festival grounds vanished. I found myself in New York City. This New York City was free of glass, concrete, and steel. I witnessed Manhattan long before the arrival of Peter Stuyvesant, and Henry Hudson. This Manhattan was adorned in oak, hickory, blue spruce, sugar maples, and white ash. The sidewalks and streets were paved with winged sumac, evening primrose, spice bush, witch hazel, and false indigo. I met glass artists, sky painters, water weavers, air dancers, candy masters and magicians. In a grove of buckeye trees I knelt and thanked my mother for having instilled in me the gift of vision. What do those visions mean? After our barbaric present, that past will be the future for our cities, our country, and our world.
So Professor Hoo, who is Carney?
Carney began as a dream in Bodh Gaya, India, Carney was conceived in a sliver of Spanish Starlight from the seed of a minstrel and the song of a maiden, Carney was born in a manger swathed and swearing in the suit of a jester, Carney was a blue velvet baby wrapped in white and blue burlap, Caney died during the plague of 1348, Carney was born again in a bottle of Doctor Devine Markenfools Mother Of Pearl Medicine, Carney was found in the fog and lost in the light, Caney came of age between the Treaty of Versailles and one summer night in Nagasaki, Carney was Ralph Alice Norton and Trixie, Carney was a beatnik who became a hippie who became a cowboy who became the president, Caney was John Coltrane, Carney was Ella, Carney was every Globetrotter in Harlem, Carney was a masquerade ball, Carney was the antidote for shattered waltzes and fractured minuets . . . . . Carney Is The Freedom To Be In The Land Of The Free.
Los Angeles California
Throw a bag of Redenbacher’s best in the microwave. Spray a plate of Tostitos down with some aerosol whiz, or dip them in a jar of hot orange glop. Wager a lay with your Ellie May that she can’t eat just one chip. When the Clydesdales come prancing across your seventy – two inch flat screen go to the fridge bring back six beers and loosen her screws. If the polar bears beat the horses to your living room sugar your sugar with some coke or a Coke. Whatever you do do it before the shows begin. No need to sweat in a hot dusty field. No need to wade through the humid stench of cow pies baking in the summer sun. No need to drop a dime let alone a dollar.
After she charms your snake in her fun house flop on the couch and ride the remote through The Gong Show, The Newlywed Game, The Dating Game, Let’s Make A Deal, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and Jerry’s Perpetual Freaks On Parade, then pay homage and thank Chuck Barris, Bob Eubanks, Monte Hall, Pee Wee Herman, Jim Lange, and Jerry Springer for bringing the carnival and all of its fun to your living room.
Pomona California 5:46 am PDT – 6:03 am PDT
We arrived at the fairgrounds at six sharp. The rides were set, the scam shacks were up and ready for business. Rank Frank checked the dunk tank temp, Soprano Jack whistled Ghost Riders In The Sky, then segued into El Paso, Miss Bayou looked locked in a mist of depression, Cayenne Kate gave Charles Atrophy a kiss that would’ve broken Superman in two. Haiku Boy asked if he could inflict some Thai insults on me. At three minutes after six a ride jockey burst through the door of his trailer. He ran up and down the midway yelling. Everyone listened. No one believed what they heard. No one believed what he said because every crooked game, every side show freak, and every magic act on every midway worldwide was more believable than men flying jumbo jets into skyscrapers.”
Ed Markowski lives and writes in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Many, many more of Ed’s fine stories can be found in the Vault of Smoke