Kitschy Variety: Vintage Goth Pinup Capsule Collection

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Designed by Laura Byrnes and Micheline Pitt, the Vintage Goth Pinup Capsule Collection available through Pinup Girl Clothing is a creative collaboration between two women who always come out with figure flattering garments, and this is certainly no exception.  Comprised of several different pieces, many of which are separates that can be worn with any of your favorite PUG wares, bold black and white stripes along with spiderweb print give classic silhouettes a modern edginess.  In fact, I am fairly certain I have reviewed both the Jenny Skirt and Lauren Top in past Carny Style articles – something tells me it was related to the harlequin print items that came out this past spring.  However, the bold graphics and contrasting, monochromatic color scheme of this collection could not be passed up as an opportunity to come up with an amazing outfit.  After all, stripes and spiders are two things that certainly fall within the realm of circus inspiration.

Though it may shimmer like gossamer, the Lauren Top in Black with White Spiderwebs carries the strength of stretch cotton sateen that is form-fitting and curve-conscious.  Now that the weather is growing colder, long sleeves are on trend, but the adjustable cuffs and coordinating color allow you  to have options when styling as opposed to accents that are static.  Black and white silk sateen will make you scream when you set sights on this don’t-say-the-name-three-times inspired Jenny Skirt, where voluminous vertical stripes are gathered at a nipped-in waist and spill down past the knees.  One would be hard pressed to resist giving this a whirl, as watching the fabric twirl would gather quite the entranced crowd.  To accentuate the waist even further to really capture that ‘hourglass’ shape often associated with pinups, use a wide elastic belt; I selected the Red Rose one for the satin ribbon and lace framed cameo set in the center.  Inside the oval frame is an illustration that gives the accessory its name, which also brings another color into the styling palette for other things to play off of.  The elaborate details of these black Spiderweb Tights come together and form an intricate design that is also abstract and doesn’t come across as too costumey.  Having the addition of red in the belt means being able to pair this look with Pinup Couture’s new line of shoes, brought to you by the same fine folks that are behind the infamous Bordello collection.  Red patent vinyl trimmed in black is just the beginning of why the Smitten Pump will bring a sense of balance.  The retro curve of the shoe leads into a round toe topped with a pleated bow, and though the heel is only four inches high, it makes the shoe ideal as an affordable basic you will love having in your wardrobe.

Instead of going for a high shine vinyl, I thought the matte red of Pinup Couture’s Bow Handbag would suit this outfit better, as it doesn’t give off the overwhelming glow that can occasionally accompany red.  The trapezoid-shaped body has been slightly rounded and edged in glossy black vinyl, which can also be found trimming the handle and in the form of a bow on the front.  While there are a few other hats that can also be worn with this look, the forthcoming Swirl Dish Hat was too decadent to resist, what with the alternating rings of white and black ribbon tucked under a cascade of netting and all.  Since it’s not available just yet, I did not hesitate to sign up for the wait list, as I suspect this will be a widely popular item and I would be bummed to miss an opportunity to acquire it for myself.  An unlikely suggestion as far as jewelry goes, but remember that mixing quality pieces with those that are of a more kitschy nature is what these guides are all about.  Personally I would wear the Pentagram Earrings by Killstar through my stainless steel tunnels, but however you choose to adorn your ears, doing it with black hoops that have pentagrams inside will certainly make a statement.  The only accessory to feature an arachnid is the Black Widow Cameo Necklace, where the red and black resin cameo is surrounded by a filigree frame and hangs nicely when the 1 3/8″ chain is draped across the neck.  This outfit is about a polished presentation, and too many ‘matching’ items can make it messy, though any of the items recommended here can be swapped for ones in the Spidora guide.  Skipping bracelets on account the cuffs of the top speak enough on their own, the final pieces of jewelry happen to be another trend this season, as Phalanx Rings appear on fingers from the runway to the red carpet.  More commonly known as ‘middle of the finger’ or ‘knuckle rings’, the stacks of white and black diamonds can be alternated to pick up the pattern of the skirt for a unique touch.

The cosmetics selected to coincide with the completed outfit are meant to reflect its minimalist aesthetics, and it is suggested that one goes through their usual moisturizing routine and priming the face prior to applying any of the following products.  Advertised as having “everything you need for the perfect neutral eye”, the Naked Basics Palette by Urban Decay contains six versatile shadows that can be used to contour, line and highlight to create the right amount of definition for any occasion.  Build a foundation using Venus, a soft off-white demi matte, by patting it along your brow bone and then blending it both directions; up towards the brow and down to the lid.  Then take Walk Of Shame, a very light nude matte, and pat that all across the lid, blending it up into the other shadow.  Finally, sweep the warm and dusty brown tones of Faint into the crease with an angled brush, making sure to soften the edges along the outer-V.  Now that you have a nice base, cut into it with Illamasqua’s Precision Gel Liner which will allows you to effortlessly draw your cat-eye wither you prefer demure or dramatic.  After coating lashes in your favorite mascara, tack on a set of Sugarpill Charlotte Lashes, their spider web shaped edges sure to make your eyes appear larger.

Versatile enough for any skin tone, Naked Flushed by Urban Decay makes an excellent companion to their similarly named eye shadow palette with a luxe bronzer, blush and highlighter in one compact.  The soft satiny bronze should be used to contour cheeks, chin, forehead and any other areas you want to minimize; dust cheeks with the rosey blush and top with the shimmering pink champagne highlight, which can also be applied to places you want to illuminate.  With the rest of the face set to neutral, the lips are the star of this show and deserve to be heart-stopping.  Take the emollient enriched Cruella, a Velvet Matte Pencil by NARS, and use it to line the lips, the creamy formula depositing rich pigment that will stay put no matter what.  Follow with Vesuvio, a full bodied red Pure Matte Lipstick that adds another layer of hydrating protection despite the matte finish.  The last touch will the Super Charged charcoal and rainbow multi-glitter splendor of Formula X, a textured polish that encrusts nails in sparkling glamour that rivals the world’s most expensive jewels.

Cruise Night at the Circus Drive-In

The first time I discovered the Circus Drive-In was during one of my many road trips to the southern shores of New Jersey to hang out with my then best friend, who apparently still makes appearances in my stories seven years after his death.  Anyway, I was cruising down Route 35 when I spotted the unmistakable red and white stripes, a giant grinning clown holding up the letters that spell out the name of this unique food joint.  Then I saw all of the cars in the parking lot and knew I had to spend a few minutes checking them out.  For whatever reason, it never occurred to me that this was an annual event and so I appreciated the experience for what it was in that moment.

Several years later, I find myself relaying this story to my husband with excitement as I mention how we have to take a trip to visit the Circus Drive-In, so that he could see the circus clad eatery for himself.  While searching for car cruises, I discovered that they had one a month from May through August and we had planned to attend back in July, but the weather had been unpleasant and we decided against it.  The date had originally been set for the 13th, and just as we were getting ready to leave, my husband called to ensure it was still happening since there had been harsh storms earlier in the day.  It seemed the event had been rescheduled once again for the following Tuesday, though we agreed no matter what we were going to take the drive to at least eat there and snap some photos.

circus-drive-inAs it turns out, the evening was quite beautiful with clear skies and comfortable temperatures, the sun descending towards the horizon as we crossed the parking lot and made our way inside the restaurant.  Opened in 1954, the Circus Drive-In is family a family owned business in Wall, New Jersey that provides nostalgic car hop-service and a dining experience which puts you under the big top in a literal sense.  The structure is circular and as mentioned above, covered in a canopy of stripes that are topped with metal cut-outs of clowns and a huge sign that says “CIRCUS”.  Seating outside can either be in your own vehicle or at picnic tables which also happen to be in wooden frame grove that is draped in more red and white stripes.  Continuing this theme to the inside, there are tables covered in checkered cloths and wooden benches in lieu of booths that follow the curve of the building, while tall high-backed stools are lined up at the tiled counter and more tables are fitted with retro style chairs to accomodate diners as needed.

The service was as good as it could be with nearly every space inside and out occupied by hungry people, but I do appreciate when they are polite.  Should note here that even before we sat down there was a gentleman who complimented my outfit, which was nice considering he sat with four friends who made their staring very obvious.  Despite being aware of my appearance I still carry myself with confidence since dressing up is not an every day thing and I like to make the effort for certain occasions as has been a tradition for longer than I care to recount.  There were stares I received in the parking lot, and I am pretty sure the people who sat next to us were constantly glancing in our direction, which I may have loudly mentioned to my husband to successfully get them to stop.  It should not have to come to such a point, as neither of us generally care what people wear or look like – there are better ways to spend our time and much more interesting things that I want to burn in my memory than what some stranger had on their body.

Unfortunately the food did not impress either of us – it was tasty and all, but my husband is a cook who has worked in enough high end restaurants to know the difference between fresh and frozen.  The quality failed to justified the price, though it was really more about the experience than anything else.  We were also there for the cars, which had been coming in to fill the parking lot while we ate, giving everyone a good show and something to talk about to take their mind off waiting for their orders.

What a show it was, where sleek muscle cars sat next to hot rods, polished chrome and smooth paint jobs gleaming in the slowly dwindling sunlight.  Do I have the ability to point out makes and models by sight, rattling off numbers about horsepower and torque and all that other stuff?  No, but that does not detract from appreciating their aesthetics and the fact they exist in such great condition when others have been claimed by age and rust.  It is difficult to pick a favorite, though the cherry red Nova brought smile to my face, the 50’s Impala was a prime example of how beautiful the lines of car can be, and plenty of vehicles had tags or stickers indicating their owners belonged to local car clubs.  Even though there were plenty of other people milling around, I managed to get a decent amount of photos, which I feel were naturally enhanced by the setting sun.  The first car that had caught my eye when we were making our way up to the parking lot had a swan on the hood, and later on I learned it was a Packard, which is far more luxurious in person than crammed onto a screen, as it makes an appearance in a few episodes of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

In all we spent about two hours there and headed back just as dusk approached, the moon full and glowing slightly orange-red.  Stopped at a custard stand for desert, though I only had a few bites of the mango water ice and stored the rest in the freezer for later.  While it may have taken a while for the opportunity to visit the Circus Drive-In to arrive, I also feel it was well worth the wait and could not have asked for a better evening.

Kitschy Variety: Luscious Dress

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The prototypical baby doll goes through a grown up transformation and becomes the Luscious Dress by Pinup Couture, a high quality stretch cotton knit tinted a sensational pink that practically screams retro chic.   An embellished draws attention to the flattering wrap style bust, where charming black ric rac trim add a bit of contrast and coordinates with the embroidered swans and atomic starbursts on the shoulders.  Gathers in the skirt spill from the fitted waist into a sophisticated length that is not too long and not too short.  While the dress comes in a few other colors – each of which have a different design – I chose the swans as they represent artistry and grace, two key elements that are often required in Circus culture when presenting a successful performance.  In the classic children’s tale of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ it is a token of inner beauty, and for those who consider it to be their totem animal, the swan signifies you are empathic towards others.  Prepare for them to be drawn to you, especially wearing Betsey Johnson’s Makenna, snappy black suede slingback wedges that have  adjustable heel straps and peep toes that will leave an indelible impression.  Candidly express your love of impeccable vintage vogue by toting along the Floozy Purse by Sourpuss, where creamy pink vinyl is decorated in black polka dots, a black vinyl bow sitting beneath the kiss lock closure and black piping that makes it look like a piece of pop art.  Extend the theme to your legs by covering them in a pair of Reverse Polka Dot Tights, which are opaque tights with sheer spots from hip to toe.

When styling hair, I would suggest sweeping it up in a sophisticated bun or twisting it from the nape up to the crown and allowing tendrils to fall on the side of the head, elongating the neck to resemble that of a swan.  Then place a Cocktail Hat on top – this particular one is coated in hand-stitched sequins, a goose feather flower adorning the front and extending into dramatic fronds that curl into the air.  Perplexing accessories that lend themselves to formulating a story often make the difference between a look that is a cataloge copy and one which reflects couture characteristics.  Teaming up Cameo Key Earrings from Too Fast and an Oval Keyhole Necklace from Classic Hardware prompts the imagination to wonder which key opens the lock and what sort of treasure lies behind it.  Drawing inspiration from water drops, the Anzie Starburst Bracelet is a dazzling array of white saphires, clear topaz and pear shaped mother-of-pearl gemstones in unique silver settings.  Finalize the ensemble with a Swan Princess Ring, a magnificent piece of jewelry that captures the elegance of a swan in stunning silver and glittering diamonds, the detailed head and spread out wing setting the bar for a statement ring.

Although the nods to Circus may not be as obvious as previous style guides, it is important to remember that stripes, primary colors and other attributes which are often associated with ‘circus fashion’ do not always need to be present.  Here the not-so-subtle addition of polka dots retains a certain level of playfulness that is reiterated through the distinctive placement of pink and black, while tribute is paid to vintage tastes and piece can be utilized in other outfits.  The swan becomes a representative of the fluid ballets often executed in the air, as artists nimbly navigate their apparatus of choice in a display of skill and talent that leaves the audience breathless as they stand up to applaud.  Channeling this same determination through all aspects of life is what separates a Carny from those who just sit around wistfully lamenting about running away to join the Circus, signifying the dedication which is often lacking in pipe dreams.

Kitschy Variety: Just Desserts Dress

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When it comes to creating an ensemble that draws upon Circus as an influence, it is not always necessary for it to be obviously stated in a relevant print or pattern that has a history of association with the culture.  The first two looks that were put together for this particular Carny Style feature fell into both of these categories as a means of utilizing something people could easily identify with, and then expand upon that with designs which might have otherwise been overlooked.  The goal is always to come up with a result in which you feel comfortable displaying, catering to your personal tastes while also emulating a specific image.  A guide is nothing more than that – merely suggestions of what one individual would select to represent a unique culture that often gets reduced to the same stereotypical trope – which can be followed to the letter or taken in the bits and pieces that suit you.

Drawing inspiration from color-blocked frocks of the 50s, Pinup Couture’s Just Desserts Dress has a separate bust panel that gives a flattering fit, accentuating the figure further with a one and half inch wide [removable] grommet belt.  The alternating and vertically striped colors of the skirt help elongate your body while the fabric is promised to “provide maximum twirl-ability”, which is good news for someone who often feels stunted in full skirted dressed due to the fact I am fairly short.  It would also be fun to test out this claim on a dance floor or during a performance, especially if it responds well to dramatic movements.  While also available in a pink and black option, I chose the black sateen with two tone blues for the use of a primary color, which is something I usually take into consideration when styling an outfit.  Channel your courageous side and put some pep in your step with Irregular Choice’s Tea Time, where luscious blue leather is trimmed in puffy pompoms and the thick heel is covered in a dark faux fur.  The combination may seem strange, but remember that is the case with circus in general.  Maintain the vintage vibe and store your personal items in the Fast Track Bowler by Sourpuss, the black matte vinyl accented by aqua handles and a diagonal stripe that reaches from the bottom to the zippered top.  Providing three types of attachment, this Black Chiffon Rose Clip is a high quality piece that can be used to hold up high ponytails, secure straggling strands away from the face or pinned to a number of items for a quick touch of florid chic.

Featuring a fluctuation between smooth and grooved arches, the Idin Disc Drop Earrings are high polished metal rounds dangling from another pair of textured discs that give this jewelry its distinguished appearance.  Another habit I tend to have when styling outfits is selecting one statement piece that coordinates with whatever else you happen to be wearing while offering versatility so that you can wear it with more than a few things.  For this look, I chose a bright blue Bubble Necklace that has cascading layers of shiny baubles which still manage to drape elegantly across the neckline.  Ignoring the outrageous price for the simplistic design of Beaded Weave Bangle Bracelets, their criss-cross weaving of delicate silver beads reminds me of the ring they put up at the circus when they bring out the big cats.  Complete your collection of adornments with a Tarina Tarantino Cameo Ring, the hand carved white lucite portrait standing out against a vivid nile blue background.

Since summer is slowly winding down and the winds of autumn will soon be passing through trees, a pair of sheer Vertical Striped Stockings will not only give you some protection, but will also give you legs a long and lean look.  Bare shoulders and arms might also be asking for a bit of coverage, and the Deadly Dames Bad Girl Bolero would prevent chills from creeping across your skin while also adding a piece to your wardrobe that can be coupled with anything from casual to dressy.  Pretty much anything from this outfit [and previous ones for that matter] can be combined in a variety of ways to satisfy a desire to use retro and vintage designs in a contemporary manner.

Kitschy Variety: Strongman Swing Dress

There hasn’t been a new Carny Style category in quite some time, and in general I am finding it takes me more time to seek out pieces to combine into outfits that are wearable and reflect the characteristics of Circus culture.  A few things have been rolling around in my head concerning the direction I want to take these articles, a focused emphasis on showcasing my styling skills and the ability to promote popular alternative brands.  Without giving too much away, I know for certain that my detailed guides are appreciated by a significant amount of people.  Continuing to provide history and other information along with the articles is also something I feel is important to maintain, and I definitely have a few new features that will be introduced in the future which I hope is going to become an essential part of my ever growing portfolio.

Today I bring to you Kitschy Variety, a compilation of items where at least one of them is circus or sideshow inspired which can be used as a quick guide to organizing a polished look.  Even though I can occasionally get carried away accessorizing outfits, particularly when it comes to color coordination or pattern matching, I understand that this is not everyone’s taste.  If you do not have the time to drape yourself in jewels and etch out some killer makeup, this is the place to find easy instructions on how to put yourself together with little time and money.

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Shopping at sites like Sourpuss allows one to navigate from one category to the next and assemble an ensemble, where there is always a selection of merchandise on sale.  One of the newer arrivals on is the Steady Strongman Swing Dress.  The fitted bodice flows into a full skirt, the black trim a nice contrast to the tea toned fabric, upon which images of tattooed circus performers, animals and stars have been printed.  When it comes to selecting shoes, I tend to go for one of the primary colors since they are more interesting than the standard footwear that is on display in stock photos.  Vibrant yellow Wanna Be Bad heels decorated in solid black polka dots are paired with Eyelash Web Lace Stockings to give texture to the legs that flow with the retro theme of this outfit.

At this point one would have a polished look and could go out to enjoy tea with friends or check out the latest installation at a local art gallery.  However, I am a firm believer that those little extras are what puts a personalized touch on what would otherwise just be clothes you pulled out of the closet.  These are merely suggestions and can either be taken literally or used to find things that suit your own aesthetics.  Here I selected the Sourpuss Floozy Purse for its vintage influence, the cream colored vinyl and the contrasting large black vinyl bow.  Even if I have no makeup on, I never leave the house without having something on my head or in my hair – for some reason I just feel incomplete and it might be related to the fact that at one time a woman was considered as being undressed if she did not have a hat on.  A golden Glitter Rose Hair Clip can readily transform an ordinary ‘do into one that shimmers in the sun, and you could always clip it onto a cardigan or purse for a custom touch.

Overwhelming jewelry is not something I am keen on, as it can give off a cluttered vibe and weigh down the silhouette you just carefully coordinated.  These Yellow Rose Earrings may seem small and simple yet standout among traditional pinup designs, plus they go with the shoes and the hair clip.  Picking out certain elements of prints that appear in the outfit to match to accessories is another habit I have, but when there are pieces such as this Vintage Strongman Necklace it is difficult not to.  The portrait of a mustached man wearing stripes hangs next to a key charm on a sturdy ball chain, though that could be swapped out for a piece of ribbon or suede if desired.  Symbolic of mystery, wisdom and intelligence, the Retro Owl Ring is a limited edition piece by Sourpuss that features a detailed black owl perched on a purple band.  The only item not found there is this Crystal Circle Bracelet, selected for its black beads and circular gold charm that represents the center ring.

While I used a primary color and polka dots, neither of them completely dominate the outfit and yet still manage to generate interest compared to the way the model was dressed on the website.  Nothing wrong with that, as it allows one to take the reigns of creativity and make choices that represents your personal style.  This is just one way of taking things found on one site and putting them together in a cohesive manner.

Becoming a Greenhorn

[Originally written on this date in 2005]

Well, I am no longer able to contain my excitement.  Up until now I have avoided discussing details about what I have been working on, as I tend to get paranoid and did not want to wind up looking like an ass for having talked about something without actually doing it.  However, since I have zero worries of that happening I can finally gush all I want.

Next month I will be leaving New Jersey and joining up with the Great American Circus Sideshow, which will be doing a tour of the East Coast until October or November.  This will be an authentic 10-in-1 complete with a tent and huge banner line that does daily shows.  My duties will include appearing on the bally and inside stage, as well as being a part of general set up and tear down.  Unfortunately I offered Electric Sideshow as a package deal and have to take my partner along, but I am getting paid in cash to do something I enjoy and cannot complain.

The fact of the matter is that I have wanted to do this since Jon and I stopped performing together, and it’s hard to believe I am actually going to achieve such a long-standing goal.  As much as I would rather be doing this with the man I love, I know he would not want me to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.  Then again, I sent him a letter telling him all about it in the hopes that it would urge some communication out of him, though I conveniently made no mention of my affair with Shane

Strange how there are going to be many things I will miss about the Garden State, such as great shows, drunken fun, roadside attractions, going to the Shore, adventures in the woods and all of the other weird things that make me love this place so much.  There is a lot I have to learn from this experience though, and know it is exactly what I need to evolve both as a performer and as a person.

Between now and the time I have to leave, I have to figure out what to take since I need to pack enough and fit it all into thee piece of luggage.  Tomorrow night Electric Sideshow is appearing at the Rail, and then on Friday we are heading up to Otto’s Shrunken Head in NYC, which may be the last performances in the area.

While refreshing my inbox hoping that Jon would reply to my letter, there’s a knock at the door.  It’s Shane; he wants to talk.

Sitting in his back yard smoking a joint and sharing a bottle of whiskey, I wait nervously for whatever he is about to say.  My mind is occupied with the upcoming shows and the fact that in a few weeks I am going to be touring the carnival circuit.  He casually holds my hand but won’t look at me, and my gut tells me what I have been trying to ignore for the past few days.  When he turns to kiss me, I hesitate and there is no reason for either of us to pretend nothing is wrong.

“There something you want to tell me?” he asks, a slight bit of nervousness in his voice.

“Listen, I should have been straight with you from the beginning,” I say, courage swelling up from nowhere.  “Well, I did tell you that I am involved with someone, though just as guilty as you are of letting things get out of hand.”

He cannot hide being taken back by my bluntness, but he puts on the macho act anyway.  “Yea, I had a feeling this was all for kicks.”

“Not entirely, but I am in love with Jon and when he returns we will be together.”  Seeing the truth sink in hurt as much as I figured it would, but there was no reason to prolong it.  “Oh, I also got a job with a touring sideshow and I am leaving in July.”

“Ain’t that kick in the ass,” he chuckled.  “Guess a Carny’s gotta do what they do best, and I have my own plans, so I can’t be mad I suppose.”

“Shane, I had a blast with you and I want you to know that it did mean something, otherwise I would like to believe neither of us would have wasted our energy.”  This was for the best since pursuing a relationship would have been rather difficult due to a few reasons, and in my mind putting an end to things seemed like the most rational decision to make, lest either of us wind up being hurt.

“Tell me something though,” he said, turning to me with a serious expression as his hand settled on my cheek.  “What is it that keeps you waiting for him?”

“Trust, loyalty, devotion and knowing that he would do the same in my situation.”

“How can you be so sure of that?”

Frowning slightly, I was not about to justify my long-term relationship to someone I was simply hooking up with.  As much as I cared about Shane and enjoyed our physical encounters, I went to bed every night thinking of Jon and endlessly wishing on stars that he would come sweep me off on an adventure somewhere.  “Since when do I owe you an explanation of something that doesn’t concern you?”

Ignoring the question he pulled me in for a kiss and this time I resisted as much as I could, though our lips made contact anyway.  What had once been fiery and irresistible was now very wrong and not something I should be doing if I wanted people to know that I was committed to Jon.  For whatever reason, that did not occur to me during the past few weeks I have been hanging out with Shane, snogging and shagging when the mood struck and chalking it up to a Summer romance that wasn’t meant to last.

“Alright, I was hoping for one last…nevermind it doesn’t matter.”

He walked me up the street in silence, casually holding my hand while doing his best not to look sad and telling me we might see each other once more before I left.  Not really counting on that, and though I cherish him so much as a friend, my impending job has me missing Jon more than ever.

“Nothing is ever really guaranteed,” I said as he stood there and finally released my hand.  “However, Jon is my brother and our bond as family is for life not matter what.  You can think I am a fool or whatever you want, but don’t act like you weren’t going to tell me some story to cover your ass before moving on yourself.”

He had that same look on his face as he did before when I spoke what was on my mind, though he just turned and walked away.  It’s better like this, or at least that is what I tell myself while still waiting for a notification of new mail to appear.

Drunkapalooza ’05: Day Four

[Originally written on this date in 2005]

That time of year has come again, when carnivals pop up in local lots and the children pester their parents until they agree to spend loads of cash on junk food and rides that will spin ’em sick.  Then you have the big shows, the circuses that bring entertainment to men, women and children of all ages.  Ringling Bros has two shows that tour venues across the country while Big Apple takes it to the next step by pitching a tent.  Attending either of these events has always seemed as normal to me as going down to the shore every summer.  My memories of being a young child at the circus are vague at best, but the instinct that drew me to this culture in the first place only grows stronger.

This time around it was the Cole Bros Circus and while I have read quite a bit about them, I had yet to see a performance.  As I was driving up the field hosting the show, the familiar sight of a giant red and yellow striped tent put a smile on my face.  The circus in all of its star-spangled glory had come to southern New Jersey and I was bursting with excitement.

My foot was still a little sore, or perhaps that is the excuse I needed to chug a mixture of vodka and that vanilla Coke, the contents disappearing quickly as I wanted to get a good seat.  Dined on a hot dog and popcorn as the show began, scanning the faces in the crowd around me as anticipation was satisfied with the entrance music struck up by the live circus band.  Every act was spectacular even if it was mostly traditional stuff like high wire and horseback riding; no matter what it takes a lot of practice to flawlessly perform those acts, and I have an enormous amount of admiration and respect for those who do so with great showmanship.  The most death-defying stunt was the motorcycle on the high wire, where a woman in a sparkling costume sat on a fixed bar as the bike rode up and down the tiny wire.  When it turned upside-down, I was cheering just as loudly as everyone else.

Trapeze is still my favorite act, and part of me would love to give it a try at least once.  Perhaps I have watched the movie of the same name one too many times, but it helped me understand why tradition is so important in circus.  That afternoon I watched a fifteen year-old boy fly through the air and pull off a triple, so clean it nearly brought me to tears, and I wondered if anyone else realized how difficult the feat was.

When the show had ended and people were filing out of the tent, I had the opportunity to talk with the ringmaster and probably gushed about circus history a bit too much while he listened politely.  Then we were in a discussion about sideshow, and he actually knew a fair bit of history of Cole Bros having their own congress of oddities in the past.  To me it is incredibly important for the ringmaster to be a liaison between the public and the circus, having the ability to answer a variety of questions with the utmost patience while staying in character.  The opportunity to talk history with someone like that was a great experience and I left the tent in a fantastic mood.

Somehow I navigated myself to a diner where I had a cup of coffee and piece of pie, knowing that after the last performance the circus would have to disassemble the marvelous world they created, pack it into a truck and haul it to the next spot they would be setting up.  Jon often spoke of what this process was like and that everyone had to work in harmony to get it done as efficiently as possible.  There were times where the tent came down at night in one town and was being put back up the next morning in a completely different one, where everything needed to be in place by show time that same day.  To an untrained eye the scene would be chaos, but the way he described it made it seem as though actions are guided by instinct and no one has to question what goes where.  How someone even learns that is mind-boggling, and to do it in what some would view as a stressful situation makes the accomplishment that much more impressive.

Before leaving I sat in my car and was overwhelmed by too many thoughts, which seemed to be a common theme during Drunkapalooza, pausing while my head swam with emotions.  All I could think of was how at that moment I wanted sell everything that I did not need or had no sentimental value, practicing for hours every day until Jon came back.  When he did return, we would reconnect as we always had and then leave the Garden State for a tour of the country, hitting diners, motels, roadside attractions and any other kitschy distractions we encountered, racking up miles and photos and stories.

If not today, than tomorrow.  If not tomorrow, than next week.