Ode to a Friend

[Originally written on this date, 2010]

This was something I wanted to post a couple of weeks ago, but to be honest, it has been hard for me to find the right words.  Not so much because I do not have them, but more so due to the fact that I do not know what to say.  For the past couple of years, right before Memorial Day Weekend kicks off the unofficial beginning of Summer, while others are gearing up for warm weather and that first trip to the Jersey Shore, my mind goes into a tailspin.  Having stage experience comes in handy when you need to put on that plastic smile so that others have no idea how much you are really hurting inside.

The details of how Jon and I first met are secondary to the six years that we were really close friends.  His life began in the carnival, and he certainly had a natural talent for being a hustler. When we hung out in NYC, there were many times he would show me what he could do, and I was completely awestruck.  He had the ability to say the right words and distract people while skilled hands lifted wallets, watches, jewelry and other assorted items, without ever being caught.  This allowed us to dine in the finest establishments, and acquire as much alcohol or narcotics as we wanted.

It became very clear to me at some point that Jon was a junkie, but for whatever reason this never bothered me.  After all, every time we were together, he took care of me and made sure I was fed or had some pocket money in case I needed anything.  He never lied to me, stole from me or otherwise tried to fuck me over, so the extensive drug use was just a part of who he was.  In all honesty, our friendship meant more to him than anything in the world, so he definitely wanted to clean up his act.

Jon’s greatest addiction was also his most dangerous one.  He constantly craved that natural rush of adrenaline which can only come from doing something that could possible risk one’s life.  Being a Carny, he could perform quite a few of the more common sideshow acts such as the Human Blockhead or Bed of Nails.  He is the only person I knew at the time who willingly wanted to be a Geek.  For those who are unfamiliar with the act, he would tear the heads off live chickens.  Most found it to be quite disturbing, but I am not ashamed to admit that I was utterly fascinated.

However, it was the thrill of speed that gave him a high that no drug ever could.  Jon loved to drag race in his 1972 Chevy Nova and easily earned a reputation for being a champion.  That was not enough, however, and it led him to build a Wall of Death in a private location set deep in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey, where audience members had to receive a personal invite in order to witness this amazing feat.  On rare occasions he would have a minor crash, which in turn earned him the title of Death Defying Daredevil.

On a beautiful Autumn evening [October ’04], a large crowd had gathered beneath the big top of towering pine trees and eagerly awaited Jon’s midnite run on the Wall of Death.  There was a dense roar that filled the atmosphere when Jon appeared with his custom motorcycle, a huge grin plastered on his face as he greeted the crowd.  During his performance, the unexpected happened. It might have been a loose board or nail that knocked him off balance, or perhaps the vast amount of coke he snorted beforehand.  All I remember is watching him fly head first over the handlebars of his bike, which was traveling at a speed of about 90MPH.  His body crashed so hard that some people cried out and had to look away.  Each second that passed as a medic rushed to his side felt like an eternity.

The scene was fairly grim, and for a moment, we all thought Jon was dead.  Technically speaking, his heart did stop for about three minutes.  He was born with a congenital heart defect, and I am fairly certain that the drugs did not help.  This was also not the first time he ‘died’, but that did not make me feel any better as I peered down at his crumpled body.  While Jon was able to get up and walk away from this accident, it left him with permanent injury and caused him to retire from performing.

He was never the same after the incident, and there would be several months that we did not see each other.  My life was going in a different direction, so we drifted apart and it effected him in ways I would not know until we reconnected again.  March 10, 2006 was the last time I saw Jon alive.  It is a moment that I will never forget, as he finally put into words the feelings he had for me the entire time we were friends.  Even though I sort of knew this all along, it was still a lot for me to take in, and we wound up going our separate ways.

Two months later, I recieved the news that Jon was dead.  There are many unanswered questions that I have, mainly why someone hated him so much they decided to take his life.  It was no secret that some people were not so receptive to Outlaw Cirkus’ brand of entertainment, and they were not afraid to do whatever it took to prevent us from earning a living.  There had been a devastating fire that claimed several members of the Outlaw Cirkus in 2003, but it did not stop us from being ourselves and making an attempt to wake people up.

The day I had to say good-bye to the ashes of my friend was rough to say the least.  It was also the last time I would walk on the Jersey Shore.

Last year I said pretty much everything I ever wanted to about Jon and the way he effected my life.  There are still a number of stories about our adventures together that remain untold, and maybe some day I will put them in a book or blog or something.

The whole point in sharing any of this information, aside from the fact that I feel this is the best way I can continue honoring his memory, is that I find myself to be a Carny who does not fit in with the rest of society.  Those that I once called my Family are gone.  Those I once admired and respected have shown their true faces.  Those that lived the lifestyle did so until their final breath.

If Jon taught me anything, it is that one does not give up, no matter how difficult the obstacle in front of you may seem.  However, I must confess that once again I feel empty without him – and honestly, I do not know if I will ever get over losing a friend, a partner and one of the greatest periods of my life where I got to be myself and was adored for it.

I am the last of a dying breed.



Born October 13, 1977 in southern New Jersey, deep in the Pine Barrens that might as well have been the middle of nowhere, at an early age Jon had the ability to charm men and women with the gift of gab while simultaneously lifting a watch or piece of jewelry from the unsuspecting rubes.  It has been said that during a violent thunderstorm late one evening, Jon was hunting down the family dog when he was struck by a bolt of lightning.  By all accounts the young man should have been dead, but there was not one scratch upon him, and the phenomenon mystified both scientists and doctors for miles.  This would become the beginning of Jon’s infamous claim of possessing the ability to cheat death.

Jon pursued the goal of becoming heavily tattooed as a teenager and easily made friends with like-minded individuals as he traveled across the country and performed various acts on the street.  He picked up a few musicians along the way and together they formed Juvenile Delinquents, for which he provided lead vocals and ferocious upright bass.  The style of music they played was a blend of rockabilly, punk, blues and country, which gave the band a truly unique sound.  Adopting the stage name Reverend Saint Jon, he would often times entertain the crowd with the impression of a preacher, and persuaded audience members to purchase various ‘miracle cures’.  He was the type of man who could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves on a hot Summer day.

Having literally been born into the role of a Carny [his father was a roustie and his mother was a burlesque star], Jon decided to carry on his family’s tradition and helped form Outlaw Cirkus in 1991, fulfilling several roles within the underground troupe.  Though they were stationed deep in the woods of southern New Jersey, they often brought their variety entertainment to towns big and small, carrying a variety of messages withing their performances.  Several years later, after member of Outlaw Cirkus lost their lives in 2003,  Curiosities From the Wilds of Weird New Jersey was formed and sideshow performances completely replaced Jon’s musical ones, as that was his true passion in life.  Jon was most well-known for his presentation of an authentic Geek, and was perhaps the only modern man to perform the act.  In the Autumn of 2000, Jon decided to test fate further by building a Wall of Death, and offered limited engagements which instantly sold out tickets to the exclusive event.  The need for speed caused him to take numerous risks which resulted in minor crashes from time to time.  However, Jon always remained unscathed, which earned him the appropriate title of Death Defying Daredevil.

Jon retired from all levels of performing in 2004 due to a serious injury received during one of his performances on the Wall of Death.  Throughout his life, Jon had constantly battled with congenital heart disease alongside a number of addictions and personal demons.  In 2006, his heart finally gave out – five months before his 29th birthday.

Jon is remembered as a friend, brother, mentor, partner-in-crime and the greatest Carny I ever knew.


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