The vastest things are those we may not learn.
We are not taught to die, nor to be born,
Nor how to burn
How pitiful is our enforced return
To those small things we are the masters of.
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART THIRTEEN: THE FALL
The carny folk was crazy because the carny was where all the crazy folks would go. Do ye ken? It goes all the way back to the clowns, or so I was told. The reason clowns is so scary is because they was outcasts and people who couldn’t shift for themselves in no other way would put on the makeup and stumble around and act as though they was pixillated for want of knowing how else to make people have pity on them. It was like a higher class of beggar only they didn’t have to mutilate themselves to draw on people’s sympathy–and before too long old Klowny, why, he took on airs and claimed to be an artiste, but mostly he was still just a madman of a larger growth—one that had just enough on the ball to be able to make a profession out of his foolishness. Maybe that’s why the priesthood is deadly enemies to the carny—after all—priests and clowns—mostly amount to the same thing—only one of ‘em is God mad—both wave their arms around a lot—both wear special costumes—both have certain things they say and do and only at certain times—both use magic and perform miracles—both specialize in mumbo jumbo—both are beggin’ after money in the name of a higher good–both are very fond of little boys—no, Yob, they are much more alike than they are different, though I will admit that most priests don’t wear makeup and very few clowns give blessings to the sick and dyin’.
The Carny folks was also crazy because they was wonderful and very enthusiastic consumers of all sorts of pills and powders and ointments, and many is the time they would send me to the Pharmacy—Moon Drugs, on the corner of Salt River Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard—to fetch them some sort of restorative compound or another.
Elsie The Beautiful Fat Girl—weigh’t about 500 pounds and was none too bright– liked her regular spoonful of Old Doctor Washington’s Permanent Fever and Ague Cure. She said it helped her with “the joint fever.” It was mostly a tincture of cannabis that she’d put under her tongue and she always had a far-away look in her eyes after her stupefying dose. She’s be in dreamland for two or three hours and she’d notice nothin’. I could see how that sort of condition might be dangerous to a likely lad such as myself who needed to stay alert at all times–and so I was never tempted to monkey with it none. And I would also absent myself whenever the Swami broke out the hookah and piled it with hasheesh—the sickly aroma always made me want to gag and I never wanted no part of it, though nearly everybody in the carny was crazy about the stuff. Nor was they ever shy about turning down a dose of some patent remedy; back in them days you never knew what was in ‘em and so unless it was alcohol and I fed some to the dog and it didn’t drop dead at twenty paces I wouldn’t touch it.
Stromboli, The Calabrian Strong Boy—rumor had it he was jazzing the Fat Girl– would take drops of strychnine in an egg yolk, to give his the pep to do his tricks, which was mostly confined to bending steel bars and snapping chains acrost his chest–although more than once he lost track of how many drops he had taken and nearly keeled over on the performing platform. First time I met him I asked, “Are you the Strong Man?” And he tipped me the wink and said “Someone’s got to be.”
Words to ponder!
India The India Rubber Girl—who would contort her body into all kinds of queer and unnatural ways—was always busy snapping at the asthma medicine, which was pure 100 per cent cocaine and would make her eyes shine unnaturally bright, but which also gave her what she called the inside meemies so that after her show she would need a swig or two from a bottle of bonded whiskey in order to “get right with her insides,” as she like to say.
Carl The Caul Man—a fellow with the unlikely name of Elmer T. English—he had a transparent membrane over his forehead as gave him the looks of a human blob—he favored Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, which was a tincture of opium, and he would sometimes take a drop too many and fall asleep on his oversized rocking chair.
As you might of guessed, the Freaks was mostly drug fiends and was hardly fit companions for a fine broth of a boy, but they did learn me one salutary lesson, which was to stick to good old alkie and not to monkey none with pills and potions.
I was fascinated by one blackface performer in particular. He billed himself as Dan Rice Junior, though his real name was Roger Hopewell, and behind his back everyone called him Hoppy. He dressed as a happy, toothless slave with a grizzled white beard, wearing a slouch hat and shabby overhauls and he sang the following song, all the while swaying back and forth, slapping his knees and cackling:
Oh me and my wife can pick a bale of cotton
Oh me and my wife can pick a bale a day
Oh! Mandy! Pick a bale of cotton! Oh! Mandy pick a bale a day!
That song haunted me for weeks and finally, as though to break the spell, I set out to talk to this wondrous performer and maybe even shake his hand.
All he said to me was this: “Do you know how hard it is being coked up and likkered up and looking at all them faces out there and trying to make them sober people laugh?” And then he took a big drink from a bottle of Vin Mariani—rumor had it he kept a case of it on the lot at all times and that he’d glug down two full bottles a day–and he sat down on his trunk with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands—looking for all the world like a tragic clown in a three ring circus–and he wouldn’t speak a mumblin’ word more. Foozled as I was my own self on the fumes of intoxicating liquors, I knew even then when to hold my peace and so slid slowly out of his tent to leave him to his sad private thoughts.
So you see, there was nothing glamorous about the Carny, though I still hung about hoping in vain for some pearls of wisdom to fall from those lips. But mostly it was full of hypes and con men as never did do much more than take up space and valuable air.
I thought that if I could be trusted with the Carny crowd on Mistake Island that this would mean I could make my entrée with the criminal classes in Noxtown. As it turned out, I was right, though not in the way I expected, and I little knew that my meddling with the bad men of the day was to have consequences I never thought of at the time.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR
Three letter word list
LAKE OF STONE
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
HOW HUMANS ARE CHANGING WORLD CLIMATE
6* DAILY UTILITY
ALL THE FINANCIAL ADVICE YOU’LL EVER NEED
VINTAGE ANATOMICAL CHARTS
FIVE THINGS I WILL NOT EAT
YOUR DIGITAL TRAIL AND HOW IT CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU
“THEY LIVE” WAS A DOCUMENTARY
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
RADIO FREE BOSTON: THE RISE AND FALL OF WBCN. By Carter Alan.
Northeastern University Press; paperback. 334 pages.
Once upon a time and a very groovy time it was, back on March 15th of
1968 when a lot of the little kiddies were gorging themselves on
Strawberry Pop Tarts and worshiping the Herculoids, it happened that
their beautiful older brothers and sisters were marching on the
Pentagon to protest Uglyface Johnson’s Asian land war. And from Day
One these hip Disc Jockey “kats” over at this Boston radio station
were saying ixnay to all the longhair Robert J. Lurtsema Classical Gas
and laying hip platters on the people by the likes of John Coltrane
and Jethro Tull… and giving the FBI the what-for. You heard me–the
Talk about “Sticking It to the Man!”
These “kats” were at ground zero! Teaching the kids how to dodge the
draft, and one of their disc jockeys who worked there for four days
was even in the SDS!
It was the REAL revolution!
And all through the 1970s this here radio station still did all KINDS
of righteous and Down With The People kind of stuff–like, they had
this listener line with people answering weird reference questions
about, for example, Costa Rica–can you dig it? And they would also
talk people down from bad trips and refer them to a suicide hotline
and do astrology reports and lay down some righteous raps about the
stinking war in Vietnam and Uglyface Nixon and the whole boodle of bad
jive down in Washington D.C. with the politician Daddies and the piggie
Get this–they wouldn’t accept no advertising from Dow Chemical, which
meant they lost a lot of ad revenue–or would have, if Dow Chemical
advertised on a hippie radio station.
They even had a Union! In 1979! Talk about solid working-class CRED,
man! And when the Boss Man tried to fire ’em, they went ON STRIKE!
And–get this–they WON!
Can you DIG IT?
Hey–and listen–these righteous DJ dudes got to meet all kinds of
world famous celebrities like Ian Anderson–a douchebag–and Jesse
Colin Young–an asshole–and David Bowie–a righteous dude–they
smoked his cigarette butt on the air–a TRUE STORY! And they were the
ones who gave The Clash and Aerosmith and U2 and Bruce Springsteen and
The Probers their big breaks, otherwise they might still be playing
half-empty VFW Halls off in some dying mill town where drunken
lumberjacks shiver out their lives in pickup trucks with busted
heaters. And Hey–these DJs also hob-nobbed with famous celebrities
like Little Richard and Robert Goulet and–get this–John Belushi!
What a stone GROOVE!
Now I’m not saying that some of these here “kats” weren’t heavily into
certain, ahh, heh heh heh, illegal substances, because there’s no
secret that, way back when, they were really into the kind bud and the
herbal remedy, and also the marching powder later on, though how any
of them could afford it on a disc jockey’s salary is a mystery to me,
or maybe I’m just naive, because I guess they also were in touch with
all kinds of heavy-duty cats from the music industry, but they don’t
talk about that much. In the book I mean.
No, instead, they talk about how they knew all these famous sports
people who gave their checks to sick kids with Cancer and how they
licked South Africa and Apartheid single handed –which meant they
lost a lot of ad revenue–or would have, if South Africa advertised on
a hippie radio station.
Maybe it must of been the drugs that made these righteous “Kats” so
doggone capital-F Funny because they were always pulling clever pranks
like mailing bags of shit to Arbitron and dropping things from high
By the early 1980s they were also into this stuff called Punk Rock.
That’s how cutting-edge they were! And by 1993 they were heavy into
all the alternative sounds–no more Thick as a Brick and stuff like
Now, you might say to yourself, who cares about an old beatnik
explaining to his grandchildren about this wondrous book. What’s a
book? I’ll explain later. A book about this groovy radio station,
What’s a radio station? Quit interrupting! I’ll explain all that to
OK, so you might say to yourself, Well, who cares about a book about a
DJ talking about the olden days at a hippie radio station? Well,
that’s easy for you kids to say but I would say that you’re probably
just jealous because you weren’t a part of this wonderful time when
jobs were plentiful, wages were high, food tasted good, and love was
free. And you can put THAT in your hash pipe and smoke it, Daddio!
It was a good station, for a while there, and then Howard Stern came
in and had to ruin it, because we all know that people like Howard
Stern and Opie and Anthony and Toucher and Rich are cheap vulgarians,
and bringers of bad vibes. And so after they came in, what was the
point anymore? And so the radio station finally went out of business
back in 2009.
Oh–and the name of this radio station these magical DJs worked for
was WBCN. Maybe you heard of it.
*11A BOOKS AND FILMS REVIEWED
APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA. O’HARA. ****
BLUE JASMINE [FILM] ****
BUTTERFIELD 8. O’HARA. ***1/2
THE CABBIE BOOK ONE. MARTI. ****1/2
EVERYBODY IS STUPID EXCEPT ME. BAGGE. ****
THE GRAPES OF WRATH. STEINBECK. ****
HOPE OF HEAVEN. O’HARA. ***1/2
HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES. HAWTHORNE. ****
THE INIMITABLE JEEVES. WODEHOUSE. ****
JEEVES AND THE MATING SEASON. WODEHOUSE. ****
LIFE AND MONEY TURNS MAN UP AND DOWN. OLISAH. ***
LOSERS V. 1&2. DIGGLE. ***1/2
LOSERS BOOK 2. ***1/2
LOST CAUSE. JACKSON. ****
MARVEL YEAR BY YEAR. ***1/2
THE NOVEL: 1600-1800. MOORE. *****
RADIO FREE BOSTON. ALAN. ***1/2
RAY AND JOE. RODRIGUES. ***1/2
TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE V. 2. ***1/2
THANK YOU JEEVES. WODEHOUSE. ****
THINGS WE FORGET. PENN. ****
WATERGATE: THE HIDDEN HISTORY. WALDRON. ****
THE WIT AND WISDOM OF MARK TWAIN. ****
YOU MIGHT BE A ZOMBIE…***
YOU’RE NEXT. [FILM] *1/2
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 711.
A yipping laugh is shorthand for “I acknowledge your attempt to be humorous without actually being amused.” Ideally, it should sound like this: “Kyah!” (And then, ideally, you should fold up your tents and steal away into the night.)