Step At A Time

by Slim Price


Carny Haiku: My old deaf ears hear the percussion of canvas and high-ride wind plays strings.


The bright circle of outward exploding light into the sky is what first catches your eye. Once again the time is now, just as it has happened for as long as you can remember.  The Carnival and its mysteries of the ages has returned from afar.


As you near the site you can detect the faint lilt of merry-go-round music, blended with the squeals and laughter of children there for the first time to experience the magic the night holds.  The sights and sounds mingle with the scent of popcorn, candied apples, cotton candy and the unforgettable sausage, peppers, and onions frying on the grill.  The carnival lives in all of us right from the time we are small children. With some, the magic continues to grow until the desire is fulfilled by hopping on a train bound for wherever the tracks take you.


No matter what town you end up in, eventually there will be a carnival lot. They will need ride jocks, flat store agents, and roughies for setting up and tearing down at the end of the spot to move on to the next town. I was a young man, and like many before me was considered one of the wanderers, the drifters, the lost souls of years gone by that hear the call of the road. Some, like me, didn't know what tomorrow would bring, but were willing to do anything just to be a part of this wonder.


You would start by doing the jobs that no one else wanted to do. Cleaning the donikers, or the snake cage after a meal of chicken ends up all over the stage because someone picked the Python up too soon after it ate. After the fair has closed you then find yourself walking down the quiet midway so tired you can't even eat before crawling in the possum belly of one of the trucks to catch a few precious hours of sleep.  Tomorrow though, I know I am moving up the ladder of the Sideshow one slow rung at a time. I will do Bally Fire in the morning, because the regular fire eater just quit.


The burns on my face will heal in time, but every time the flames get close I feel the pain all over again. Chap stick is good for the lips until enough time has passed that they toughen on their own. I would suffer the fires of hell though just to stand on that little stage with the crowd gathered around watching me and me alone because I am a performer now. The sword is a bit tougher to master due to the pain, the gagging, and the feel of cold steel pressing into your stomach, but I am an even bigger star now!  If only for a few precious moments, I am King.


By now this is in your blood.  It is in your soul, your brain, your whole being. The smell of damp steaming canvas after a quick rain shower and the twinkling lights of a million fireflies are an example of what lures you to this magical place. One season rolls into two, and three and before you know it, you have spent most of your life on the road. It is your family. The Freaks, Geeks and Fakirs, are the ones you love. They are there for you, rain or shine. They will retrieve you from jail if you have too much to drink and bother the sheriff's daughter. They will hide you out. They will just be a shoulder for you, in a time of need. Because just like you they are trying to live the life they love. And in an effort to keep the candle burning, they are raising their kids to take over the reins when their time on earth is over.


You never get over the road. You just form your whole life around it. You don't ride the rides, or play the games, you just become part of the big picture. Some may be quickly replaced by another young man waiting in the next town for the day a carnival passes through, but no one will take my place.  I will continue the quest for the brass ring.  I have now formed a niche for the Sideshow.


“And now Folks, Step right up, you are about to witness something you have never seen before. She is alive on the inside, she will amaze you, she walks, she talks, she will slither on her belly like a reptile. And for the admission of ten cents, that is one thin dime, a very Slim Price to pay, for the show of a lifetime!”


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