[Originally written on this date in 2005]
Two weeks until departure and I am practicing my pitch daily, getting the inflections just right as I address an invisible audience.
Three days after returning from the Shore, I am outside waiting for that Cadillac again as I check to make sure no part of my ensemble is out of place. When it pulls up I am already smiling, a warm greeting extended as soon as I got in. We shared idle chit-chat and a smoke on the way to Newark, riding into the City via the PATH where we encounter a downpour upon arrival. Thankfully it did not last very long, and though we were damp by the time we got to Unimax, it could have been worse. At the counter I was able to talk myself into getting a discount, the best deal being the two pairs of 4g stainless steel crescents for a little under four bucks a piece. Overall, I wound up spending about $30 which was far under my budget.
Austin treated us to lunch, which included having several people stare at us while we enjoyed the food, conversation and each other’s company. He asked me whether I thought it was due to him being 15 years older than me or having grey hair and visible tattoos. It seems they failed to realize those teens you see flashing their ink eventually grow up to have wrinkles and false teeth, so apparently seeing someone over 20 with as many tattoos as he had was quite a fascinating sight. Would also like to mention here that he was dressed in his showman’s best, so that might have attracted some attention as well.
Upon returning to Newark, we headed up to Starlight where I would be getting a few holes put in me. Though I have been through the whole dermal punching procedure a couple of times, that did not make me any less nervous. The pain is not as bad as people may think from looking at those bloody photos on BME. The punch itself hurts, of course, but it is far from excruciating. In fact, the taper is what really gets to me pain-wise, but after that there is only a bit of stinging to remind me that anything took place. Having Austin there for support helped immensely, as did being able to crush…er…hold his hand during intense moments.
For some reason, the right ear decided it wanted to bleed but that was quickly cleaned up and brought under control. Since I had just purchased jewelry, the price of the piercings I wanted was brought down. The time had come to reclaim the holes in my upper lip, and I had him use the previous hole on the right side as the guide. Getting pierced through scar tissue was pretty unpleasant, hurting more than the initial piercing, but once that needle was through and the jewelry had been set inside, I could enjoy the end result forever.
Then it was onward to the Medowlands, where every year the parking lot is taken over by our people, the hard-working carnies who provide amusement and entertainment for all who flock to the blinking and buzzing midway. It was also a lesson on what I would be experiencing on a daily basis, so taking in everything from that perspective made me appreciate the event even more. We walked through the gate just in time to sit in the audience and watch a hypnotist act, which was hilarious since people are pulled up on stage and made to do ridiculous things. Austin grumbled about how he could have done a better job drunk with one hand tied behind his back.
Next it was off to Ward Hall’s World of Wonders where the Great Gozleone was up on the bally stage alongside the world’s oldest fire-eating midget. There are not many live shows that follow the 10-in-1 format these days, so anyone who does their part to preserve sideshow deserves recognition and respect. However, we were greatly disappointed by the dispirited attitude displayed by a couple of the performers, as it really off-set the mood and was not getting the crowd interested in the acts. Austin stood with arms folded while his eyes were fixed on the stage, visibly biting his lip. There was a lot he wanted to say yet he remained stoic during the routines, shaking his head slightly every now and then while those around us seemed confused.
Though I expected him to launch into a justified critique, Austin took my hand and asked me what we going to do next. We walked around the midway and stopped at almost every single-o, which included the World’s Smallest Woman, the live unicorn cow and my most favorite, the Snake Girl. For some reason I really dig the grind they play for that one, as well as the banner displayed outside. It never ceases to amuse me that, despite the fact there is a sign which clearly states what’s inside is an illusion, people still pay a dollar to complain about how “fake” it is. This occurred moments after we entered the tent, and it was then he had finally reached a breaking point.
“No shit, son,” Austin said abruptly, “but the carnies got your dollar anyway and there are no refunds – ‘specially when ya can’t read what’s right in front of ya!”
We left those people more than stunned, and on the way out the man at the ticket box smiled, tipping his hat slightly. Austin relaxed enough for us to explore the tent near the back, which was very much like the one that I used to see at the Flemmington Fair. Though not allowed to take any photographs inside, I still enjoyed all of the educational displays and things preserved in jars. There was a melancholy expression that crossed his face, and what had begun as an amazing afternoon suddenly made me question whether this had been good idea.
Deciding to quiet our growling stomachs before heading over to the circus, we sat with slices and sodas at a secluded bench.
“Are you alright?” I asked him, ignoring the food momentarily to place a concerned hand on his.
“It was too much,” he gently replied, unable to look at me. “At first it was fun, then I started to think about everyone and the way things used to be. These fucking pește don’t know, and to hell with ’em for giving up their money just to complain.” He sighed hard and finally lifted his gaze; there was sadness mixed with anger where I had once seen happiness. “Sorry, Angel – I know you meant well and here I am shitting all over the place.”
“Did you know that man outside the snake girl tent?”
Finally there was a bit of laughter as we tested the pizza. “No kiddo, but you will come to understand that sort of thing when you are out there on the road. It is very different from clubs and parties and all that; you work to live and live to work. Just being here brings me memories of traveling before we made Outlaw Cirkus, and I tell you what, those were the best damn days of my life if I ever had to choose ’em. That never leaves you, Angel.”
Our meal was finished in silence but I had taken everything he said into consideration on account he was absolutely right. Though I had a glimpse of carnival life though him and Jon, it was nothing compared to being out there and actually doing the things they talked about. All those kids who desperately wished to run away with the circus would crumble if they knew how rigorous the schedules were, the amount of physical demand certain roles required and the real risk that comes with this sort of life. My desire to be a part of it is not fueled by fantasies, but rather by the encouragement of two men who have been there, done that and had stories for days about it.
Following lunch, Austin had slipped into one of the donnikers and came out in a much better mood, though I dared not to question what had brought about the change. Instead I took in the warmth of his hand and the positive vibes that surrounded us as music swelled and the clowns came out. The circus was smaller than last year but we were near the front rows anyway, necks craned upwards as we watched the aerial routines. At one point he was holding my hand and had that same crying-with-happiness look on his face that I did.
In the parking lot, we sat on the trunk of the Cadillac and smoked a spliff while treated to a fireworks display.
“This might be the last time we see each other for a while, and I don’t want to end things on a sour note,” he said while bringing me closer.
“Where are you off to?”
“Well, first I need to visit Aaron and send him your regards; remind him to write you back when he can before you are swallowed into the wild.” He paused to smile and it was so genuine I almost cried. “Then I am going to Showtown for a while, partly for business and partly for personal reasons. My heart aches and will only find relief there, but I promise you now that one day we will all be together again.”
That was the end of the discussion, and the ride back was filled with music while I continued to process the entire day, slightly distracted by making a checklist for the aftercare routine I would need to complete prior to bed. Change was happening faster than I had been prepared for, but there was no time for nostalgia and wondering what could have been when I had to make sure my car was capable of driving between each spot. What Austin had said at the fair was starting to sink in and I was so focused on my thoughts that I failed to notice we had been sitting at the end of the street for a good five minutes or so. Then I became distracted by an intimate moment I wanted to cherish for longer than it felt as though it lasted and I was watching him drive off, the bitter sting of tears creeping down my cheeks.