Dear Jon

Today is your birthday and I can see you at thirty-five, a well-aged gentleman with a lifetime of stories etched on your skin, from the wrinkles on your slightly tanned faced to the tattoos that cover most of your body.  The silver streaks in your hair have expanded and dirty blonde has faded drastically to a sandy grey, yet the locks are still styled with precision and glisten with pommeade.  By now you have learned how to make whiskey an enjoyable beverage instead of fuel for spontaneous decisions, and there are no lingering thoughts of indulging in drugs.  You are thankful those urges no longer consume you and have a moment of appreciation for a life that should have ended on more than one occasion.  There are images which pass through your mind, memories of risking your life to feed that horrible adrenaline addiction, basking in the thunderous applause when you successfully escaped from the perceived leathal clutches of death.

On this prestigious day, you are dressed in a suit you have worn many times, but for some reason it fits better than it ever has.  There are probably even blood stains set deep in the fabric where no one can see, a fact that makes you chuckle as you slip on silver rings and adjust the collar of your jacket.  It is a lovely Autumn afternoon with clear blue skies and a slight chill which rustles through changing leaves on the trees that pass by as you cruise along the highway in your Chevy Nova.  After several years of driving a ’49 Mercury, you finally have the car that spawned your nickname back.  The restoration made it look as though she came straight off the showroom floor, so it was definitely worth the wait.  The smile broadens – you are filled with excitement, anticipation and a slight bit of nervousness.

It has been eight long years since we were last together to celebrate your birthday but I can still remember how much we enjoyed each other’s company.  We met up in the early afternoon, rode the train to take a stroll along the banks of the Hudson River, and then walked into a party that surprised both of us.  The expression on your face was absolutely priceless, especially when you learned who had set up the whole thing.  Of course I had no idea about any of it, though you cast a few suspicious gazes my way before an explanation was offered.  We partied on the beach and made our way to the woods where you were going to ride the Wall of Death.  At twenty-seven, you had been performing the stunt for a little over a decade and proved the level of your skill as a Death Defying Daredevil.  While you were buried in a helmet, Augustine said that he was quite proud of you and that he missed us being a Family.

A few weeks later you had an accident that would drastically change both of our lives.  If you could have done anything different, I wish you had trusted me enough to talk about what you were going through instead of drowning yourself in drugs and alcohol.  When you finally admitted that you had been injured and did not have the motivation to continue performing, I could detect how emotionally hurt you were.  As always, you encouraged me to keep Outlaw Cirkus going and said that perhaps in the future you might change your mind.  The struggle you endured was one that I had no understanding of because you spent your whole life doing one thing, and I could not imagine what it was like to have that taken away.  You assured me that you just needed time to heal, but things got much worse for you and we drifted so far apart that you once expressed you were afraid of losing me completely.  It should be obvious by all of the words I have dedicated to you that I am as loyal a friend now as I was in those days.

The last time I saw Augustine there was still something in his eyes that said he had many more years of adventure left in him.  We spoke about you a lot, trading stories about our favorite moments with you and laughing ourselves into tears.  He lingers with me as you do, though it is more difficult for me to imagine what he could look like now, as I never knew how old he was.  Things like that are arbitrary though, because I would give anything to have closure, to have proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was still out there.   Hope keeps him alive, as the thought of truly being the last of our Family is a hard fact to swallow and leaves me feeling isolated despite having good people around me.

For the first year after we laid your ashes to rest in the Atlantic Ocean, I had dreams that you were still alive, waiting for the right moment to make your return.  Each year that followed brought more realization you were gone and never coming back, which just re-opened the wounds which had formed the day I received the fateful news.  Once I swore that I saw you, but I had also spent two days celebrating my birthday and New Year’s Eve with much consumption of mind-altering substances, was lacking sleep and trying to combat the nausea because I did not want to vomit on public transportation.  Your appearance in my dreams is less frequent, but any time I see you there I wonder if you are trying to send me a message.  Maybe I am making too much of all this, but just because you are gone does not mean I will stop being your dedicated friend.  That is something I vowed to be until the end, and seeing as I am still here, I find it cathartic to write about you on your birthday.

This is my gift to you, and though it is highly personal, I do not mind sharing it with whomever wishes to read it, as they will know how truly amazing you were and that I loved you so very much.  If I could see you today as the man I described at the opening of this letter, I would be overwhelmed by happiness and find comfort in our embrace – the Hollywood Moment we were often caught up in when we saw each other after being apart for a while.  Being taller than I, you found it endearing to literally sweep me off my feet as you planted a kiss firmly on my lips.  Those familiar scents of licorice and leather would rattle old memories awake and I would find myself taken back by you, wondering how I had managed to have someone so awesome in my life.  It was a feeling we shared and part of what made our bond so strong, something that incited jealousy in others because they felt as though they could not compete with our relationship, though goodness knows why they even wanted to.  Everything that happened after the embrace was magical, even if we were just walking along the beach or sitting in a diner.  The time I spent with you was incredibly valuable and remains as some of my most cherished experiences.

Reaching thirty was a milestone you doubted that you would achieve, and for a while I hated that you were right.  At the beginning of the year I found it hard to believe that I had outlived you – just seeing those words gives me the creeps because in my mind you are not dead.  On the contrary, much like the fictionalized lives of numerous celebrities, you have been sequestered on a desert island getting your shit together and planning your glorious return.  Today you are Jonathan Aaron Ivylee Lovelace, the man that has cheated death and lived to tell the tale, the man with the appetite of a carnivorous animal, the man that feels no pain despite torturing his body.  You are a living legend yet humbled by age as you want to spend the remainder of your years doing something that you did not have a chance to when you were young.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life as someone who can fully embrace and explore everything it has to offer – you are honored and appreciated by those who knew you best, that smile never leaving your face.

While it may be harmless to have a fantasy, I also realize that I have to accept the fact it will never be anything more.  Though you certainly have never been forgotten, there is a place where you once were which remains empty.  Perhaps that is the way it is meant to be and on occasions when I am lost in my emotions, I have so many things that remind me of you it feels as though you are still here.  As always I love you and want you to know that you will remain in my heart forever.

In Your Head

Recently I was reunited with a slew of items I had left in someone’s basement upon moving out over a year and a half ago.  Long story short, I have been spending some time reading old journals, because I always like to see how much my life has changed and find a sense of pride in how well my writing has evolved over the years.  Among the entries that are faded due to being written in pencil and doodles that fill up most of the margins, there are works of prose that have been inspired by or dedicated to my late friend Jon, with a few that were written from his perspective long after his death.  These words haunt me on occasion, as they are things he had either said to me or jotted down on random pieces of paper when the mood to do so struck him.  While the memories can cause a variety of emotions to fill me when reading these works, I find myself compelled to share them in the hopes that someone out there will enjoy them as much as I do.

+++

Heroin-kissed veins cleansed of sin
Shots of whiskey to silence voices within
Lines of cocaine to numb the pain
In the end, shit’s always the same
Can’t run or hide from my fears
But I can close my eyes and disappear

Shot after shot; line after line
Needle in my arm, time after time
Throw me a bottle, ‘cos I’m going full throttle
Drinking down whiskey and tears

Another sleepless night, body feeling cold
Demons come to taunt me; it’s getting old
Lonely soul in the desert, looking up at the stars
Thousands of miles on the road to bury the scars

Racing down a one-way track with the devil
Light a joint and put the pedal to the metal
Nitro-burning rat rod heating up the asphalt
There is no coming back if I get caught

“It is clear that now is not your time
But one of these days, you will be mine”

High-octane engine waiting to stall
Paranoid that one day I would fall
A victim of this blackened, broken heart
My life was meant for ruin from the start

Heroin-kissed veins cleansed of sin
Shots of whiskey to silence voices within
Lines of cocaine to numb the pain
In the end, shit’s always the same
Can’t run or hide from my fears
But I can close my eyes and disappear

Shot after shot; line after line
Needle in my arm, time after time
Throw me a bottle, ‘cos I’m going full throttle
Drowning myself in whiskey and tears

+++

West coast sunset painted on a postcard
Faded colors and tattered corners
Too many miles away from this tired body
But right at my fingertips when I sleep
Thousands of grains of sand under my head
Powdered mirror twisting my reflection
Atlantic Ocean roaring in the distance
Tonight I am flying among the stars
Far above the cold boardwalk
Into the valley of sun and tan skin
Palm trees and sparkling blue waves
Don’t want a California girl
Fake friends that are dead and gone
Never needed their empty shells
My weary soul aches for rest
Another round of lines to numb the pain
Reaching for that picture perfect sunset
Bury it deep in the dry sand once more
Alongside hopes and dreams of my youth
Take that long hard road instead
Lonely miles that build up sorrow
What if I don’t make it past tomorrow?

+++

A cocktail of mud and blood
dripping down his tattooed face
A young man in the fight of his life
where failure meant disgrace

A rebel consumed by the blues
who struggled to walk the line
and became lost deep in love
A legend ahead of his time

Flashback Friday

Anyone that knows me on an intimate level or has taken the time to read the archives, is aware that the month of May carries a significant meaning for me in many ways.  Going back to my childhood, it is the honored time when the carnival would appear in the parking lot of the Catholic school I attended.  Apparently it was part of the celebration that occurred annually to celebrate Mary, for whom the school was named.  For me it was the first time I had ever seen a carnival and so I was quite intrigued by these people who had suddenly showed up.  Their trailers lined the field we used for gym and various other outside activities.  Like magic these brightly painted rides and booths appear – the eighth graders are talking about who they are going to take as a date.

May is a time of celebration, as it signifies my initiation into Outlaw Cirkus, the details of which I have never shared with anyone.  While I thought about including it in the First of May article, it remains a very personal experience I do not feel would be understood by outsiders.  Generally I have no qualms about sharing things from my past in a public forum because they happened years ago and just a collection of stories that I like to read from time to time.  Besides, there is nothing I really have to be ashamed of and so whatever people take away or think after reading anything I post here is no skin off my back.  However, I do still bear the scars of that day, and since I had my fill of answering inquisitive questions only to be met with ignorance, the events are not something I freely speak of.

When it comes to the subject of Jon Lovelace, however, I am more than blunt with my words.  Though most of the memories that are attached to May are happy, there is always going to be one that is tainted with tragedy.  Perhaps that sounds more somber than it is meant, as the death of a loved one is certainly not something I want to remember, yet it is difficult to forget.  Jon was much the same way, an incredibly amazing friend I was fortunate to have, who made quite the impression that very first time we met.  In fact, a few weeks after the encounter, I was struck with inspiration and scrapped together a rough poem of sorts.

This bit of writing has traveled with me through all of the times I have moved,  folded, read and re-folded so much that it is worn and faded.  It seems appropriate to immortalize the words here, though admittedly there is not much structure that would really make them an identifiable poem format, and the rhyme scheme is a bit lame.  This was written when I was 18, edited for spelling, and remains as the account of a shy girl who encountered a young man on the streets of New York City in the middle of the night in late December.

Riding the asphalt ocean like a bat out of hell
driving a black Chevy stolen from the devil
living by his own rules; a rebel with a cause
he rolled into the city on a chilly Winter night
throaty pipes roaring down the main drag
blatant disregard for all of the local laws

Hair was bleached by the hot desert sun
blue jeans speckled with red sand
dusty leather jacket clung to his back
he wiped the dirt off his boots with a rag
heels and toes fitted with shiny metal plates
His steel blue eyes connected with mine for a moment
That’s when I knew he was the one

Casual attitude paired with a killer smile
watched him casually walk inside the squat
his aftershave lingering in the air
decided that I would also go in for a while

My presence occupied a corner
girls flocked to him like hungry wolves
not ashamed to display flirtations
tried to entertain as Human Blockhead
but was only met with anger

Went back outside, sitting he curb to brood
a group tumbles out of the squat
fists flying in a drunken fury
the mystery man caught in the middle
shouting words that were crude

Returned my attention to the ground
then I see his shoes in front of me
tattooed hand offered with kindness
wanted to say thanks but couldn’t make a sound

He licked a thumb to wipe something off my face
politely asked me if he could learn my name
Nervously I replied with an unsteady voice
he laughed and said to call him Lovelace

He leaned over and caught me by surprise
our lips met in an awkward kiss
After a few minutes he pulled away
a smile sparkled in those intense eyes

He climbed into his Chevy and drove out of site
but I would always remember our kiss on that Winter night

First of May

Traditionally speaking, May first is linked to several festivals that have been celebrated in  Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and the United States.  It is recognized as International Workers’ Day, which commemorates the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, and is an important official holiday in countries like China, Cuba, North Korea and the former Soviet Union.  Saint Joseph is considered the patron saint of workers and craftsmen [among others], and so the Catholic church dedicated May first to him in 1955.  May Day was celebrated illegally in Russia until 1917, and the following year it was protested by the Mensheviks, though it has been officially called “The Day of Spring and Labour” since 1992, and remains a major holiday.  In an attempt to dissuade citizens from being inspired by the populist tones of May Day, President Eisenhower proclaimed the date to be Law Day U.S.A. in 1958.  Carny Lingo dictates that  the term “first of May” refers to a novice worker who has entered their first season with a particular outfit, and since shows typically open on this date, one can usually find help for hire.  The date was also when many shows would leave their Winter quarters and signified the beginning of the traveling season.

On a personal level, May first carries an enormous amount of significance, as it marks the begining of my apprenticeship with Outlaw Cirkus in 2000, which was several months after I had met the infamous Reverend Saint Jon in NYC.  Learning the skills of variety arts was not something that came easy, particularly since most members were self-taught and had dedicated numerous years of trial and error to hone their talents.  It was their main source of making an income, which was split between maintaining vehicles, equipment and merchandise, and taking care of the troupe itself.  They freely exchanged knowledge but it came with a price and was earned through hard work because respect was given to those who proved they deserved it.  My time was spent repairing props and costumes, sitting in on practice to absorb everything I could and being a main part of the street team where promotion was done via word of mouth and invitation-only fliers that were distributed to a select audience.  Often I felt overwhelmed by the immense feeling of accomplishment I felt when lying in bed and reviewing my day – it was hard to believe at moments but the aches and bruises were very real reminders of the effort I was putting forth.

When Summer came to an end, I was fairly convinced that being a part of Outlaw Cirkus would mean the world to me.  An experience I had at Coney Island where I was randomly selected from the audience to participate in the Bed of Nails routine was what brought the idea that I could be a sideshow performer into my head.  In fact, I frequently found myself driving the 18 miles from New Jersey to visit the amusement area and its resident 10-in-1 sideshow, which subsequently lead to acquiring reading material on its history, and in general I was constantly seeking out information about sideshow.  My passion swelled and certainly did not go unnoticed, though most of the people I was acquainted with at the time had no idea how involved I was becoming with Outlaw Cirkus.  While it was something I certainly held pride for, I also really enjoyed it being a secret I shared with the one person I felt understood my desire to perform.

As my friendship with Jon became an ingrained part of my life, the other members of Outlaw Cirkus were slowly warming up to me and each had their own way of teaching me various things.  Winter was spent creating a new show for the following year, which included all new costumes, merchandise and programs, in addition to fresh elements that were incorporated into each act.  By the time Spring arrived, the troupe had a solid hour and half performance which carried the theme that imagination was an important tool, and that everyone could accomplish anything they set their minds to.  Of course the message was shrouded with brilliantly colored costumes and upbeat music that made most people unaware of the undertones in the lectures Jon delivered.

When May first came around again, I was officially considered to be a member of Outlaw Cirkus though everyone had pretty much already accepted me into their community.  Suffering the loss of this Family has always been a permanent reminder that I have to keep moving forward in establishing the name as a brand that people can be familiar with.  A non-profit fighting for recognition in its efforts to preserve American variety arts [circus, sideshow, burlesque, etc.] with education though live performances, lectures, workshops and a general exchange of ideas.  This is something I have dedicated the past twelve years of my life to because it brings me great happiness, which I find difficult to put into written word.

Reflecting on all of the experiences I have had, whether good or bad, I can honestly say that these are some of my most valued memories and I would not trade them for anything in the world.  Losing people who were incredibly important to me has left scars that are both physical and proverbial, yet I stand as proof that the spirit of Outlaw Cirkus lives on and will continue to do so as long as I am here.  There is no doubt that Jon would be proud of me, and that is something I keep in mind every time I perform or find myself with the opportunity to speak about the troupe.  Occasionally I still get that overwhelming feeling, because I see myself as a fairly ordinary person with an alternative lifestyle who is passionate about their interests and actively speaks about them.  Having people come up to me after a performance and receiving compliments is one of the reasons I enjoy what I do and I always value the opportunity.

Today I found myself in Margate, New Jersey with my future father-in-law and husband, as we had to visit City Hall in order to pick up our marriage license.  The weather in Philly has been rather dreary lately, so being out in the sunshine was quite refreshing.  We had lunch at some corner bar with a view of the ocean and I stuffed my face with  bacon-wrapped shrimp, as one simply does not come to the Shore without dining on seafood.  As always, it is the small things in life which may seem insignificant that fill me with the greatest happiness.  Mostly because I am content though constantly evolving, rooted in the past but pursuing the future, and greatly enjoying each day to its fullest with confidence in who I am.  There are things I may desire, but at the moment I cannot think of anything I could want, and I truly appreciate this more than I ever have.

Photo credit: 1 – weheartit.com, 2 – tumblr.com

Flashback Friday

For nearly two years now, I have used this space to archive blog entries that I have written which generally focus on my experience as a sideshow performer, as well as the various adventures I shared with my best friend Jon and other assorted articles that carry reoccurring themes.  One of those is body modification, which has been a large part of my life since discovering BME and being exposed to individuals who had tattoos, piercings, dyed hair and an overall alternative aesthetic.  At one point I made an attempt to collect a variety of editorials and articles into a magazine, but funding and lack of interest prevented the idea from becoming a tangible thing, despite the fact that I had completed an entire issue by myself.  The purpose in mentioning this is that there are writings scattered around which I feel should be saved here along with everything else, to serve as a testament to my thoughts, opinions and feelings about certain topics, as they do not tend to change very often.  The following article was originally written [and posted on another blog] on July 22, 2009, though the sentiments expressed are still very much valid.

Would You Shave Off Your Eyebrows in the Name of Fashion?

According to the author of this articleCourtney Dunlop, bleaching or waxing the eyebrows is becoming a new trend, the result of which is “a very bizarre, androgynous alien creature completely void of expression.”

This look was featured on the Fall 2009 runways of Balenciaga and Prada, where beauty and fashion editors were apparently shocked that the top models had been convinced to bleach their brows.  As Dunlop put it, “then came Brazillian bombshell Adriana Lima as a brow-free Marilyn Manson-lookalike for the latest Givenchy campaign.”  The August issue of Italian Vouge features model Kristen McMenamy, who also sports the browless look, and has apparently been doing so on and off since the late 90’s.

“A great question was posed in this article from the Daily Mail about whether or not the non-conformist trend will trickle down to the masses, like punk did in the 1970s.

I’m sure a few lovers of the avant-garde will give it a go, but I don’t see how anyone else in their right mind would want to embrace the look,” Dunlop says.

The Daily Mail article explains “how eyebrows are linked to sex appeal and pretty much every expression a human face can make, which is why people look so alien when brows are taken away.”

First and foremost, I would like to address the high school grade insults that I felt were not needed.  Certainly there is going to be a shock when someone decides to remove their eyebrows, and of course I can agree that the result is somewhat alien-like.  However, I feel that the look suits some people, as they have other elements to their over all appearance where the lack of brows fit in.  Marilyn Manson is also definitely not the innovator of shaved eyebrows.  Anyone remember when David Bowie rocked the whole Ziggy Stardust persona?  In that sense, I can totally see the alien connection, but he just happened to be playing that type of character so it worked.

The first time I even touched my eyebrows with a pair of tweezers was possibly in eighth grade.  Being a student of a Catholic school, we were not allowed to wear makeup or what they deemed ‘unacceptable’ hair accessories [they did not like my single braid with plastic beads], but for some reason I felt compulsion to pluck a few hairs from my brows.  That eventually led to more preening, to get them a bit thinner since I felt they sat too close to my eyes.

Then the razor came out and my eyebrows were entirely gone by the time I was a junior in high school.  If memory serves me correct, I did it for Halloween to wear these stick-on rhinestone jewels that were meant for the eyes, but I felt they looked better as replacement brows.  After that, there was much face doodling of different shapes, designs and colors. Makeup was definitely another art form to me then [as much as it is now], so I enjoyed experimenting with different things and making the administration uncomfortable.

Drawn on brows with eyeliner.

With much practice and patience, the shape eventually became one I felt fit my face and did my best to replicate this when applying makeup.   For special events or nights out at the club, I would get a bit more artistic and pretty much do whatever I felt like.  Obviously there were many reactions by the public, with plenty of laughs and rude comments slung my way.  However, there were also people who gave compliments, the best one being when asked if my eyebrows were actually tattooed on.  To me, that just meant I was doing such a good job that people could not tell if it was makeup or permanent ink. It took some time for me to get used to seeing my reflection in the mirror, but as the months went on, it no longer seemed like something out of the ordinary, and shaving them off became routine.

Subtle makeup and no brows.

My thoughts have turned to having permanent eyebrows on more than one occasion, which is something that I have been considering for about five or six years now.  The first idea was to have cosmetic tattooing, so that the shape I wanted would always be there to serve as a guide, and then I could adjust color and shape as I desired.  A few years later, I met a couple of people who had what I like to call ‘tribal dots’, which are pretty much what they sound like: bold black circles that serve as a substitute for the usual hairy eyebrows.  Again I feel that this suits some people and not others, but of course all body modification is a personal choice and everyone should do what makes them happy.

If curiosity leads one to wonder as to why I have not taken the plunge yet, I have an honest answer.  Tattooing my face is something that I take very seriously.  While I have facial piercings, they are usually kept at a small gauge out of personal preference and can either be removed or switched out with clear jewelry to make them more ‘invisible’ if desired .  Tattoos on the face, however, are very prominent and something I will have to see for the rest of my life, so I want to be absolutely sure it is something I can commit to.  My large ear lobes, neck tattoo and hand tattoo are most likely the things that get attention from the general public, and I cannot tell you how many times I hear whispers about how big the lobes are and other assorted nonsense.  People act as though I am somehow completely unaware of the things I have done to my body and thus feel the need to point them out – oddly enough, it is never to my face, but they sure talk loud enough for me to hear them.  Certainly having facial tattoos will invite much more unwanted commentary and wide-mouthed stares, which I have been preparing myself for with the makeup dots.

Trademark 'face dots' made with makeup.

Memory fails as to the first time I ever applied these on my face and looked in the mirror, wondering if they were something I wanted to see there on a daily basis.  They started out small, more as accents to the blended colors of whatever makeup I was wearing that day, and then evolved into more defined shapes as seen in the image on the left.  For the most part, the ‘top dots’ match whatever my hair color happens to be, while the ‘bottom dots’ either coordinate with the eyeshadow or color of whatever outfit I am wearing.  Once again, I have had many people ask me if they are tattoos, and I have managed to even fool some of my friends into thinking the same thing.  When I find an artist I can trust, save up enough money and am in a position where I am comfortable enough in my sideshow career where I do not have to worry whether having my face tattooed would be a problem, I will certainly have these dots permanently inked into my skin.  Which, honestly, will make me very happy since it would drastically cut down on the time I spend creating them with makeup.

Going back to Dunlop’s article, I would like to say with much pride that I am in fact someone of sound mind who readily embraces being eyebrowless.  There are plenty of women out there, mainly in subcultures, who either tweeze their brows or shave them off completely and draw them on in a variety of ways.  As far as I know, this practice is not some widespread lunacy, but rather a conscious choice made to please personal aesthetics.  If people do not like it, they can simply direct their attention elsewhere and leave us expressionless aliens to be happy in our lack of brows.

Thirteen

 There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die. – Hunter S. Thompson

Aaron Lovelace was born the bastard son of Shane McLoughlin and “Ivy Lovelace” somewhere in the depths of South Jersey on October 13. 1977.  The exact location is unknown, as the pair were traveling with a carnival and welcomed their new bundle of joy during a jump to Baltimore.  Shane was an Irish immigrant who found work as a roustabout with various small circuses when he was around twelve, while Ivy is noted as being a burlesque performer, but little is recorded about her due to her sudden death following Aaron’s birth.  He stayed close to his father and learned everything that he could while the two continued to work for whatever outfit they found.  [His name changed to Jon due to the difficult of pronouncing Aaron in Carny Speak, while the surname was dropped in favor of his mother’s stage name, which he also took as part of his middle name.]   When he was thirteen years old, Aaron witnessed the murder of his father, a crime that was never punished and an event that shaped a young mind into something dark and mysterious.  The best assumption that can be made, considering he spoke rarely of the misfortune, is that someone felt they had been cheated at a game of chance and chose to vent their anger on Shane.

Aaron slipped into alcohol use and took up a life of dealing drugs in New York City.  His ability for fast-talking helped him earn well, and in return he was kept from being homeless or dumped into the foster care system.  When he wasn’t dealing he found himself picking pockets or hustling cards because it helped him use up  spare time.  On the anniversary of his father’s death, Aaron took to traveling with no destination in mind, using his street skills and what he learned from interactions with sideshow performers and magicians to entertain local crowds.  After one particular show, two teenage boys approached him and expressed their appreciation for what he was doing.  They offered him a place to crash for the evening, and by the next day, the primitive plans for Outlaw Cirkus had been outlined.  Aaron was fourteen and still coping with the loss of his father, but the invention of a troupe that would offer live variety acts on an intimate level demanded his full attention.   By the end of 1991, Outlaw Cirkus landed in South Jersey, consisting of Jon as the ringmaster, The Flying O’Reilly’s – trapeze and aerial arts – and Squeaky the Clown, oldest of the trio and a seasoned hobo with train hopping experience.

Throughout the Winter of ’91-’92, they built props, stitched costumes and rehearsed endlessly, hoping their efforts would gain them more than just spare change.  They also wanted to hand out pamphlets to people during the performances, encouraging them to consider a life free of corporations and a defective government.  Believing in the DIY spirit of American Circus, everything they had was gained by their own hard work, and slowly they gathered attention.  Outlaw Cirkus had a brief tour in 1992 beginning May first and ending in August after the three added Psychopyromaniacs, Bolshevik Burlesque and the Fish Bottom Orchestra to their line up.  Now they could offer fire arts, dancing girls along with comedic skits that often pitched commentary on current events and a rag-tag bunch of misfits with instruments such as a washboard, spoons, washtub bass, cigar box guitar and saw violin.  Eventually the vaudeville acts branched off on their own as Hanky Panky and Black Jack, thus forming the final version of Outlaw Cirkus, which began touring the southern states in November 1992.

There were certainly a number of things that were happening in Aaron’s life, and perhaps the pressure of performing along with reaching out to the community to teach them about American Circus history finally got to him.  Whatever the reason, he developed a coke habit and had a serious addiction by the time he was fifteen.  The drug never effected his stage life but it put a strain on his heart, which was afflicted with coarctation of the Aorta and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – conditions that had been with him since birth.  Neither one really flared up until Jon was eighteen, but the experience was shocking enough to convince him to slow down with drugs and alcohol for a while.

Outlaw Cirkus continued on with their mission of preserving variety entertainment as a certifiable culture and means of self-sufficient living, where one is employed by and works for oneself as well as within a unit to achieve a common goal.  They were more than friends within a small nomadic community; they were a Family who trusted one another and would fight for each other no matter what.  My introduction to these fabulous individuals came in March of 2000, but I was distracted with other things at the time and did not see the opportunity that I had.  After spending some one-on-one time with Jon and developing a friendship, I began to pursue the idea of being a sideshow performer.  The so-called initiation into Outlaw Cirkus occurred on May 1. 2001 and required a rite of passage that included a leap of faith into a pile of broken glass that was on fire.  There were a few roles I filled, such as helping with set up, mending costumes and promotions.  Our performances were mainly in the Pine Barrens or basements and backyards of South Jersey, with some members splintering off to do other events under the Nickel Empire banner such as Hillbilly Hoedown and the Miss Anti-Beauty Pageant.

By now I honestly have shared much more information about Aaron than I ever did when he was alive, and I feel accomplished in doing so because in a way it immortalizes someone who did not think he was worth remembering.  To say that he was a humble man would dispute the fact that he relished being in the spotlight and took pride in the ability to fool people with his skills.  However, at the end of the day, Aaron never acted like he was better than anyone and took compliments to heart.  He constantly gave back to the community by donating money to various charities, particularly those that funded the arts in schools, but did so anonymously.

As much as Aaron enjoyed being a public figure, it was something literally that put his life at risk.  He believed that things he did when he was a teenager running the streets in NYC were going to come back and bite him in the ass, or that someone who had been wronged by Shane would seek revenge in him, and so he was always looking over his shoulder expecting a beating or perhaps even worse.  This coupled with his drug and alcohol abuse is what fueled his paranoia and the distance that he created between us.  No matter how close we got on a physical or emotional level, Aaron was afraid that his haunting past would affect me and our future together.  However, we still remained friends and it seemed the bond that we shared grew stronger each year we celebrated having known each other.

When tragedy struck Outlaw Cirkus in 2003, Aaron and I suffered the loss together and in our own ways.  With the majority of the troupe deceased, we reformed into a smaller show and continued to perform, but it always felt as though something was lacking.  Bad luck came our way again October 2004 when Jon was severely injured following a crash on the Wall of Death.  It seemed that after everything the Death Defying Daredevil had been through, this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  Aaron retired from all aspects of show business, officially putting an end to Outalw Cirkus and Nickel Empire.  His motivation was lost and so he  sought escape in drugs, which had caused him to visit the hospital on more than one occasion, not to mention being clinically dead more than should be humanly possible.

What I have left of a beloved friend are assorted memories and a few tattoos that are  a permanent reminder in some respect Aaron will always be with me.  Just about every emotion one can possibly conceive has passed through me during the five years I have honored the life and death of the greatest Carny I ever knew.  Of course his story is not some grandiose Hollywood portrayal of what life in the circus or carnival is really like.  There are some really ugly facts that I have brought to surface because at this point I have no desire to hide anything.  This has been proven by sharing details maybe no one really needs to know, but rather serve their purpose in paying tribute to someone who meant the world to me and helped shaped me into who I am.

Today would have been Aaron’s 34th birthday, and earlier this year I was hit with the realization that I was going to out live him like a daydreaming quarterback by an alert defensive lineman.  The idea has yet to completely settle in, but the thoughts are stirring again now that I am aware of my own impending birthday.  At times I wonder how I got to the position I am in, and then I come to this space to read my own archives in amazement that I have had so many wonderful adventures.  Nothing will ever compare to what I had with Aaron and Outlaw Cirkus, but I am always working hard on continuing the legacy as best as possible.  It is certainly not easy, especially when one feels as though people are not interested in my long history as a sideshow performer, or when you put forth the effort to bring live shows back to their DIY roots and no one comes.  What is left to motivate when all past inspiration has been exhausted?

There are moments where I feel as though I am standing in Aaron’s shoes, viewing the world as a cynical Carny who doesn’t trust anyone and generally dislikes people.  The individuals one does identify with are held dear and yet at a distance to keep them from seeing the real face, because others abused the privilege in the past and it’s not something you are willing to just hand out.  Isolation is preferred to keep focused on the Self, writing, painting and creating whenever possible.  Socializing is an event, for which one dresses accordingly to present status and representation of culture since everything else is a stupid hipster trend that needs to die in a fire.  Music rules my world, nostalgic tunes of past eras bringing a soothing happiness and transporting the mind to somewhere else.  It’s easy to forget about what’s happening outside when not paying attention to news and social mediums.  Hours pass like minutes and whole days are lost to being caught up in imagination and productivity.  This is what one must do in order to prevent succumbing to negative thoughts, especially when comparing yourself to your dead friend.  However, getting lost in that downward spiral is not a place I even consider finding myself.

The great thing about inheriting Outlaw Cirkus was that its founding members had solid plans of what they envisioned for its future.  Being at the helm of such an organization is no easy  task, but I take the position seriously because it is on a path of becoming something real.  Jon used to say: “We are a home to the homeless and a friend to the friendless.  We embrace the misfits and miscreants, derelicts and deviants .  We are a Family and fight together for a common purpose because we are enabling our rights to have our voices heard.  We do this with hope of igniting a revolution against the media zombification of society and to encourage the evolution of creativity.”  This is a heavy load to carry alone, but as I have stated since I first began performing, I do what I do because I love it and it’s my life.  Nothing makes me beam with more pride or ache from happiness and I can honestly say that I don’t know a lot of people who can match this claim, so I consider myself to be quite fortunate.

Crossing ‘the Line’

[Originally written 9.24.03]

Much thought has gone into this decision, inspired by reading several experiences of people who have already gone that extra mile.

What I am speaking of is facial tattoos. It is public skin and no matter what, for the rest of your existence, one of the first things people see when they look at you will be the ink on your face.

The idea came to me months ago, but I wanted to sleep on it for a while, just to make absolutely sure that this is something I would be comfortable doing.  After all, it’s not like I can go back and decide that I don’t want tattoos on my face.

The first step to take is having my eyebrows tattooed, which I have wanted to do since May.  It would be a nice b-day gift [tho that’s not for a few months yet], and it would be my very first facial tattoo, thus crossing that invisible line of “acceptable” modifications.

In my heart, I really believe that I am ready for this.  It’s only a small step in regards to the rest of the ink I have planned for my head, neck and face, but it is a giant leap compared to everything else I currently have.  In retrospect, it will be the second “extreme” mod I have gotten [having my fore arms piecred was the first], and it is something that will make me very happy.

True, I will miss drawing the eyebrows on in different ways, but once they are tattooed I will never have to put them on again.  This will come in handy if I just want to throw on some foundation, eyeliner and mascara to go out.  Overall, I see this as something I will be happy with for the rest of my life.  However, I want to be absolutely sure and find an artist who has enough talent not to make it look like I drew on some angry ‘brows with a sharpie.  Until then, I’ll just keep using make-up and dreaming of what could be.