Then thro’ the world a wretched vagrant roam,
For where can starving merit find a home?–Sml. Johnson
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART TWELVE: THE FALL
Time was when I would waken myself early on Saturday morning and go down to the parlor of the whorehouse and drain the glasses of cocktails and shots of raw whiskey as was left over from the night before. Then I would stagger down the street and hop on the back of the trolley to Mistake Island, where the Carnival was camped during the off season. There was all sorts of moth-eaten and fly-blown exhibits there, and while I was foozled with my head full of fumes I would amuse myself in all sorts of kiddie ways. Privacy for young lovers was at a premium back in those days. So I would walk through the tunnel of love, and see in the shimmering water the discarded French letters left by young couples who engaged in clandestine woo.
I would be there every Saturday while the weather was good and even when it wasn’t. I would stare at the frozen wooden horses of the busted down merry-go-round so long and so intently I could almost imagine I could see the worms crawling out of the carved wooden faces of the petrified nags.
The Freak Show was my special favorite. Pretty soon I got to be a fixture and so it got so I would run errands for the freaks and the straw boss would let me attend the show for nothing and I was even allowed after a spell to hang about the tent when the Freaks were off duty between shows. I wish I could tell you that they all had interesting stories, but they seemed to spend most of their off-duty time talking a dram of liquor—not so much as to make them sloppy, but to maintain an easy glow—and most of what they had to say was to complain about the customers—‘Rubes” they called them—and their skinflint and cheating ways.
Didja hear, they would say, about the rube who said we picked his pocket and called for Johnny Law and then he later finds out he left his wallet at home? Did you hear about the rube as said we cheated him only he was too drunk to even see straight and he brought Johnny Law to bear only we chilled him with a double saw and the straw boss suggested he ‘eschew’ carny games ‘for the futurity’—that Shermy really has the gift of blarney! Didja hear that the rube wanted to see the Donniker dance, not knowin’ and maybe not even caring that a Donniker is a shithouse?
And what about the feebs who say the Carny is a filthy pesthole and turn the air blue with oaths and dirty words and all in the presence of women and small children, something even a carny wouldna never do?
Can you believe how stupid some of the people who come to the carny can be? They leave their tots and even their babies in the strollers unattended and squawk and beller when they find them missing, not knowing or caring that no carny worker worth his salt would ever so much as touch the hair on the head of a little babe and it was the Elsie the Beautiful Fat Girl as took ‘em to her tent to watch over ‘em until their kinfolk could claim ‘em. Howzabout the Rube as wanted to pick a fight with the Calabrian Strong Boy, not knowing that the big lug for all his muscles is one of the most peaceful and quiet fellers there is? We had to call in Shermy to put the kibosh on the louse with the old Chicago cross-arm—you wanna see how we done it? You creep up behind ‘em and you take your left foot and you kick ‘em under the left knee and you take your right arm and grab ‘em tight around the belly and you wrap your left arm around their throat—works on women too, but with them you got to be more careful and unless they’re awful drunk you can usually chill ‘em by grapping ‘em by the hair and pressing a wet towel filled with ice to the back of their neck—they mostly never knows what hit ‘em in either case and you can hustle ‘em out of there before it becomes a real Hey Rube variety of beef. Your little clubeen or lead sap that you keep rolled up in a newspaper is one of your best friends—a real persuader for rubes as want to start trouble, ‘specially rowdy boys—puts the chill on their sass while to all the world it looks like you’re merely swatting the rascal with a rolled up paper.
Knowing what I know now, I wouldna set up camp near any carny, and never–in a million years–would I ever set foot on any carny ride. Folks as has skilled positions in the carny is mostly crazy, and the unskilled labor is nine times out of ten either totally bughouse or well on their way. Carny rides are built to look good, but they sure as hell ain’t built to last. Any kind of ride that’s jerry-rigged by drunks and hopheads is bound to fall apart, and sooner rather than later. Y’want my advice about them rides? Don’t do it. That’s all. Just don’t do it. Carny folks is crazy. A bunch of lunakicks. Why is that, you ask? Carny folk need to travel a lot, and that makes for a very unsettled mind. That’s first and foremost. Second, they don’t trust nobody else but another Carny, and not even then. People don’t take to the carny life because they’re some kind of genius. A high school graduate is as rare as a two-headed gorilla among the carny crew. I’d say at least half of them couldn’t read ner write any better than a fourth grader, which is when most of them dropped out of school, at around the age of eight or nine. Fella who makes it to 8th grade is known as “Doc.”
Carnies often go back two or three generations. Very few people choose that life unless they are born and bred to it, or they have no other choice. Rum-dum old hoboes with no other place to roost; war vets addicted to Morph; escaped cons on the run; lammisters from bad marriages or even worse fixes and beefs; there’s your carny crew in a nutshell. Their whole existence is based around cheating people and taking their money; small wonder they’re so cynical; that’s why the rubes and square Johns stick in their craw. Carnies is just the kind of folks you wouldn’t pick to teach your young ‘en how to make his way in the cold world; and yet, there I was. Not my fault that Red Mary’s whorehouse was a very short trolley ride away. After a goodly while I couldn’t get enough of the carny; it was just about the most romantic thing I could imagine. But deadly to my hopes of ever amounting to anything good or decent. That was what I didn’t know. Until it was well nigh too late.
RUFUS & CHAKA KHAN
TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD
BANNED BOOKS WEEK READ-OUT
ROBERT ANTON WILSON
100 GREATEST MOVIES OF THE 1960S
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
REPUBLICANS WHO HATE FOOD STAMPS
6* DAILY UTILITY
POLICE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
YOUR STATE SUCKS
MEN FAKE INTEREST IN SPORTS
IN DEFENSE OF GORDON RAMSEY
Contrary to popular opinion, certyain Amerocans of a decided masochistic bent apparently enjoy being hectored by rude, chivvying Brits.
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
What about Billy Joel? That bald-headed fartsnatcher? That googly-eyed, leather-faced dolt and the ridiculous pride he takes in his nauseating songs? When performing them, he displays the rapt attentiveness of a toddler examining his own ripe turd; the bold facial expressions of a fat aristocratic midget who’s about to commit himself to a monastery after his midget wife has just been fatally mauled by a powder-gray weimaraner, and the fascinated self-regard of a magpie ducking its head and pecking at a shiny piece of bottleneck it has just extruded from a flophouse dumpster.
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 710.
BANNED BOOKS WEEK: RECOMMENDED READING
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. By Mark Twain.
BELOVED. By Toni Morrison.
THE BLUEST EYE. By Toni Morrison.
BRAVE NEW WORLD. By Aldous Huxley.
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. By J.D. Salinger.
LOLITA. By Vladimir Nabokov.
THE LOVELY BONES. By Alice Sebold.
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. By Ken Kesey.
OF MICE AND MEN. By John Steinbeck.
SLAUGHTERHOUSE-5. By Kurt Vonnegut.
SONG OF SOLOMON. By Toni Morrison.
THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. By Tim O’Brien.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. By Harper Lee.
All books have been drawn from the American Library Associations list of The Top 100 Banned and Challenged Books.