[Originally written on this date in 2006]
Q. What do you get when you put 32 carnies together?
A. A full set off teeth. ::rim shot::
There is no such thing as medical coverage in the carnival; if something goes wrong, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself. There were people I worked with who had bad things happen to them as we traveled from place to place. The manager went to the hospital with chest pain right after we finished the second week at our first spot. Mild stroke I believe that was, and he left shortly after we had made the jump to upstate New York. The mentalist had diabetes and so he required shots of insulin but had no refrigerator in which to store them. [A space had been offered by the boss’s wife but I am not sure why he did not take it.] There were times I thought he was going to keel right over because he was pale and sweating bullets. He left at the third spot as well and we all were getting the idea that this life was not for everyone.
The bally girl who also played Miss Electra won the crown for Drama Queen. Where to begin? She wore these vinyl shoes on her first day that were high heeled disasters from Hot Topic or something. She “tripped” down the stairs and “sprained” her ankle; or as we all saw it, she skipped down the stairs and may have slipped slightly, but immediately collapsed into a crumpled pile while owing a bit pathetically. Needless to say that she had a miraculous recovery after getting attention from another performer, and at times I wondered if that was her plan all along. That is neither here nor there but just my thoughts on the matter; make of it what you will.
At one point ever one passed around a cold that I came to dub the Carny Flu which seemed to touch everyone but me. Little Miss Drama Queen milked the shit out of having it and always had worse symptoms than everyone else. She actually left at one point to re-cooperate at home, which did not go over well with the boss, and she left when were in Sinking Springs before we had even finished our time there. Her “falling off the stage” [which actually happened more than once] was nothing short of a performance, which should be expected from someone who proudly admitted they were a Ren Faire groupie.
Possibly the worst thing that happened was when one fellow I worked with was getting off stage and actually fell off, landing on the pavement below. It was frightening, particularly since I was pretty sure I saw him hit his head on the steel edge of the frame that held the stage together. Why did it happen? A malfunction of great Carny Engineering; the BWB* was implemented in making a set of steel steps ‘level’ with the stage, which was about a foot or so off the ground. The stairs were much shorter than the stage, and so a few BWB’s were placed under them yet nothing actually attached the stairs to the stage. They slipped every time someone was getting on or off stage, which was often because we did continuous shows for ten to twelve or more hours a day. Watching something like this happen, and in front of an audience no less, makes you thankful that there was not a serious injury.
Being in this new environment offered some challenges that took time to adapt to, such as having to climb up semi-steep steps to get into my sleeping quarters, which was essentially a box constructed on the back of an International truck cab. The steps were made from diamond plate and the first one up was pretty high up for someone who is five foot four inches tall. The first time I slipped and hit my right knee on edge of said steps was on the third day at Bedford, PA. When we were in Frederick [Maryland], there was this small square of asphalt missing that just happened to be in the area where we were setting up. Jerry stumbled in it and I laughed, then wound up doing the same thing later, though I fell and landed on the same knee again. Then, while hanging up the side wall in the sideshow tent later in the same day, the weak ladder shifted under me and I fell, hitting my knee on the metal leg. Thankfully I caught myself, or I would have busted my ass, but that part of my body was really starting to hate me.
This is where it gets good. The Halloween spot we did was in this beautiful park out in rural Pennsylvania. Where the tents and bunkhouse had been set up was in close proximity of a creek. It rained four days in a row one week, and we had to clear the important items out of the sideshow tent in case of flooding. And boy did it flood. Would have to wade through ankle deep water in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Yea, just like camping, only under a bigger tent. Trenches were dug around the animal tent to keep the critters inside as dry as possible. Being that we were in the woods, with trees shedding leaves and not much light, I stumbled into the trenches on many occasions, usually while high. Of course this aggravated the knee more but there was not much I could do for it aside from trying to be less clumsy. When the tent came down, it was harder to remember where the trench was, and I managed to catch myself in it during tear down and of course landed on the knee once more.
It was pretty sore for a while after that, but eventually it settled down and the remainder of my time with the carnival was spent without incident.
Perhaps I am a bit ungainly at times, though this point of the story is that all of the damage I may have caused still leaves me with pain that comes and goes whenever it wants. Still having no insurance or even enough money to go to a doctor, there is no way of knowing if there is any serious harm or not. While having a knee that likes to be sore at random moments is not that severe on the injury scale, it is indeed a testament to the fact that life on the road is not without cost. This is what pops into my head any time I see someone say they want to run away with the circus, which just makes me shake my head, laugh and wish I had the ability to grant them their request.
*BWB – Big Wooden Block; a device with multipurpose uses.