I’ve been on this Carnival for three sloughs and the threat of violence and bodily harm hung over each pre-dawn shift.
On the first one, I didn’t wear a hard hat and within minutes Jesus, a 59-year-old Mexican, dropped a two-pound pin on my head from a beam above.
I felt like I was in a Looney Tunes cartoon and my bump was rising like a red bulb to the sound of a sliding whistle going “whoooOOP!”
I was also hit in the face by a swinging spring. My hands were scratched and cut.
However, those sloughs were remarkable for the damage I dealt out.
I began the first slough day by pinching the finger of a supervisor – my fault because I didn’t know I was moving something that could slide.
I went on to pinch fingers three more times before the end of the night, and the recipient of my accidents couldn’t have been a more deserving soul.
Franklin* is a 39-year-old African-American on parole for wife beating, an offense he said was not his first and for which he got six years. Six years for domestic abuse. There is more to his story than he is telling.
Franklin is about 6-foot-2, foul-mouthed, abusive and often threatens me with violence. He stops crew work to ridicule and mock.
The second time I smashed his finger he shouted to the carnival crew that he would “F” me up if I did it again. Within a few minutes I did it again.
It was an accident but he shouldn’t have had his finger at the pinch point while we were both lifting.
Somewhere inside me, I felt the way I feel when I smile.
For those who don’t know me, I’m 54-years-old, 6-foot-five inches tall and I make my living typing.
I’d be giving away weight and age to a former Grambling scholarship football player and criminal who has done hard time. Adding to his temper is the fact that this former cocaine abuser is attempting to give up his daily marijuana habit ahead of drug testing during fair season.
Still, after his ‘dance of pain,’ I stood ready for him to come at me.
But I also knew his offense. Wife beaters. I’m in the wife-beaters-are-cowards camp.
Still, he continues to deride me every chance he gets. Last week, I was tired and after a barrage of anti-gay abuse (I’m not gay and not offended but still … ) I became a comic mime.
I began imitating him as if he was “Slappy White,” with exaggerated druggy laughs, slapping my knee, pointing and calling people “dog.”
The all-Mexican audience doubled over laughing, Franklin vowed to visit me in the night in the bunkhouse while I sleep.
Again, he never came.
On this slough, the boss Robert E, was aware of the problem and wanted us separated. Franklin, who is with this carnival for a second year, worked the slough on the carousel.
I worked with The Rabbit on the Lollie Swing, a swing ride made by Zamperla in Vicenza, Italy, one of the biggest carnival ride makers in the world. It is a bit over 20 feet high, with a clown at the center holding lollipops with 16 swings coming off the lollipops.
The Rabbit also is an African-American with a long prison record. He’s on the carnival with his wife. They are my neighbors in the bunkhouse trailer and I have a friendship with him on some level, so the Easter slough goes without threat or accident.
On my 54th birthday earlier in the week, I went out and bought noisemakers and leis for carnies. There were lots of jokes about age and a few toots on the birthday horns.
Upon hearing about my birthday, The Rabbit went back to his bunkhouse and dug out a bag of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies for me. No family or friends nearby, it was my only birthday present.
However, The Rabbit’s thoughts and methods are disorganized and we have a long, frustrating time Sunday night. It should have been a fast turn-over but the mud, rain and slope of the park adds to our frustrations.
We go back to our bunkhouses in the rain between 4 am and 5 am, a couple lights dimly lit the midway as we walk in mud-heavy sneakers through mud puddles.
Almost all of the dozen-or-so rides are packed up. In the morning, we’ll still have clean-up work.
We are soaked to the bone and nothing less than weary. Unlike during the day, when classic rock music rolls up and down the midway, it is eerily silent just before the dawn of a new show.
Easter is finished. Time to rebuild.
*(all names are carnival names or aliases in my blog)