Stories from the 1981 Tennessee State Fair
By Spalding Gray


PT - 11


September 23. The young Perlow boy the twenty-year-old philosophy major came over for breakfast. I asked him why he was in philosophy. He was very conflicted; he wasn't sure if he wanted to be a carny. He told me that Woody Allen had majored in philosophy. He figured it was a good cover-all and that he could go into anything from there. He saw that I was reading a newspaper and asked me what was new. I told him about what I had been reading. There was a guy in California that fell ten feet and landed on a construction concrete reinforcement bar and it went through the back of his head and it came six inches out between his eyes and it was sticking  out and all his friends were fainting and saying. "Oh my God." And they came down and cut the bar off the cement and the guy went to the hospital and there was nothing wrong. The doctor said it was impossible, that he should be dead, and that there was I in the human brain for a spike that big. All he had to do was to go into therapy to get used to the idea that the thing had gone through his head that was the only thing he had to do. Then they were shooting twelve-year-olds in Iran. They had found out LBJ. was a crook they had just found that outland there was a woman who was selling her womb for $ 15,000 to go to college. And the Wanous boy said. "You know. I had a dream about a womb last night." And I said, "Tell me about ft." But he didn't!

This was the big day of the snake feed. Pierre promised me that they were going to go get hamsters and feed the snake. Randy said, "Look, they won't feed the he wanted me to go up and look at a '37 Ford truck he was interested in "they won't feed the snake in front of you. Most carnies won't feed their snakes in front of people. They're not that far gone, you know." I said I thought they were, and that they would. I could tell from the way Pierre said they were going to feed the snake that it was kind of like, you know, they wanted me in on it. So 1 hung around, and they didn't come back 'til late. I went up under the elm tree and tried to relax, but 1 got anxious. I thought maybe they were feeding the snake without me. So I came down to find they had returned with a case of beer, hamburger meat, a bag of crinkle chips and the makings for guacamole dip, and Ellen invited Randy and me for dinner. I said, "Oh. by the way, did you get the hamsters?" He said, "No, we got gerbils instead. Get the python!"

Pierre brought out the python, the neurotic one that had been run over by the truck, and placed it on the ground in front of us. As he did this, Ellen put baby Ian in his stroller and wheeled him down so he was facing a blank white wall. And Ellen climbed into the truck and disappeared. She couldn't bear to see the feeding, particularly when they used rabbits, which really scream. Baby Ian knew, of course, that something was going on and kept looking back over his shoulder. Maurice opened the cardboard box and I saw the three gerbils and they were about four times the size of hamsters. Maurice said two of the gerbils had been humping all the way back from the pet shop, and they didn't want to break them up, so they took the one gerbil that wasn't mating out of the box. He was so cute, so beautiful, like a little stuffed toy, all brown and white and they plopped him down on the grass and he began to eat right away and I thought, Oh. God, run, run. I couldn't believe it, a huge python was curling right next to the gerbil, and the stupid little thing was eating grass. It must be such a hybrid that they've bred any sense of fear right out of its inheritance line.

So he was eating away and the python didn't seem to see it. Then it got a sniff of it as food and ZAP! It struck in a flash. And the next thing I could see, because it happened so fast, was the gerbil wallowing in the python's coil. It squealed for about thirty seconds and then was silent. All I could see of it was its rear end with a little trickle of urine coming out. The python just held it and kind of squashed and smothered it and then it slowly began to uncoil. It was in a big heap of about six coils and its head came around, moving as though it was a separate part. The head sneaked around the bottom and went along the ground and then came up and played a little discovery game. The gerbil was lying on top of about six coils as if it was sleeping. The snake pretended to discover the gerbil and then started to caress it with its head as if it was making love to it very tenderly. And Pierre said, "Oh good, good. It's starting its death dance. That means it's going to eat." Because sometimes it's so neurotic it kills and won't eat. And so it began to sniff. It is so blind it sniffed the two ends of the gerbil to see which was the head because it wanted to swallow it head-first. As it did its death dance, it began to uncoil and head out toward an empty styrofoam beer cooler that was lying on its side under the trailer. As it was heading for it, Pierre said, "Oh God, shit, what's it doing now?" It was uncoiling, and as it uncoiled the gerbil started to fall through the coils until it was in the last coil lying there, curled like a little fetus waiting to be born. And the coils massaged the gerbil as it unwound so the gerbil moved very slowly as if it were still alive. And Pierre reached in and pulled out the gerbil by the tail as if it were still alive, and went down and dangled it in front of the snake, and the snake finally took it and wrapped around it and began to squeeze it.

By now Ellen had taken the hamburgers out and she was making up patties and putting them on a grill. It was cheap hamburg, and the hamburg was dropping through the grill. It was very fatty and it was burning on the coals. And she had the guacamole mixed up with a real lot of garlic and we were dipping our crinkle chips in and looking over at the snake. By then the snake's mouth was open so wide it looked like someone had caught the snake, chopped it open, and stuck the gerbil in. There was no sense of mouth. All you could see was a little pink squirter emitting a kind of white fluid that acts as a lubricant to help the snake swallow. At last the gerbil slipped all the way in, and the snake's mouth closed and revealed this glassy, evil, satisfied eye, and it just sat there, digesting the gerbil.

We finished up our dinner and decided to drive into town. The closer I got to Nashville the less I wanted to see it. Compared to the carnival it suddenly looked dead, flat, and gray. The carnival was where all the energy was. It was endless lights, endless sound, and I'd become addicted to it. I'd become numb and addicted. I said, "Randy, let's get back. Let's get back. I don't want to see Nashville. This is an empty, barren town. Let's get back to the carnival. I want to see the Alice Cooper concert."

I'd heard that Alice Cooper hadn't sold many tickets. He'd sold about 600. But then an item appeared in the newspaper saying that John Go forth called the Best Western Motel and said, "Reserve rooms for the Rolling Stones they may show up at the fair tonight." And the guy at Best Western was so excited he forgot to ask where John Go forth was calling from. So he had no way to return a call. So they called the Stones' manager and he said, "The boys won't be showing up. They all have colds and there's no way any of them would stay in the Best Western Motel." But, as a result of all this, ticket sales went up to 6,000 in one afternoon. The concert was held outdoors at the fairgrounds speedway. It began with a large display of fireworks which ended with the burning of a cross as the crowd yelled, "Burn that cross!" They had Union Jacks out and were all cheering for the Rolling Stones. A disk jockey came out and said, "All right everybody! We're going to have the Nomads, we're going to have Alice Cooper. And who knows who else?" The crowd went wild. Later, the disk jockey claimed he was just told to say, "Who knows who else?" He didn't know who he was referring to. So out came the Nomads, who were a New Wave group, and when they started playing everyone booed them like crazy. And they stopped and said, "Look,  man. if someone was supposed to show up here, they wouldn't show up at the beginning of the evening, so hear us out." And they started playing again. And at the end everyone was booing and saying, "Go back to New York."

Then Alice Cooper came out. He had cut back on special effects to save money, so he only had a few props: a crutch, a stuffed naked woman which he dragged around the stage by the hair as he sang "Only Women Bleed," and then his pet python. But the crowd went wild. They loved him. They cried, "Alice! Alice! Alice!" And he's a man and this was the South. A good percentage of the people didn't even see the concert. They paid their seven-fifty and came in, got drunk at the beer stands in the foyer, and began fighting. The hope at the carnival was that they were going to sell a lot of T-shirts and rides to 6,000 people after the concert, but they all came out drunk, and didn't buy anything. 1 was talking to a T-shirt salesman, and he said, "Look, this is the worst carnival we ever had. No one's spending money. We're broke. Some guy comes up to me and he says, 'Ya got a KKK T-shirt?' What am I supposed to say to that?"


To be Continued


Above Image - Cover - Published by Aperture, A New Images Book, 1982. First Edition


Special Thank to Kathleen Russo, the Estate of Spalding Gray and official website of Spalding Gray

All stories are re-printed with the permission of the Estate of Spalding Gray

All stories are copyrighted Spalding Gray & Spalding Gray Estate and posted here with their expressed permission,


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