I realize this is my first blog post in a while. Perhaps I should just come to grips with the idea that these are gonna be quarterly, or maybe bi-annual, things … we’ll see.
I started a new job at the beginning of the year doing communications work for the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s been a very welcome change from the world of high tech marketing, which I’d been doing for almost twenty years. Nevertheless, learning the ropes of the new gig has taken up a lot of time, not leaving much room for writing.
The plot for my third book is still in what I call the gestation period … new ideas are still presenting themselves … parts are moving around … characters are asserting their personalities. I’ve been taking notes, but that’s about it.
What I have been doing instead is getting my memoir Mexicans Don’t Eat Pancakes ready for publication. “Mexicans” is a true story about my running away from home when I was seventeen. I wrote the book in my 20s when the memories were still somewhat fresh. For years, the handwritten manuscript sat in a box in my garage. Finally, in my 40s I typed it up. And now (pushing 60), I’m giving it one last edit before putting it to print. I’m hoping to get it out there sometime this fall. Again … we’ll see.
So, in lieu of any real blog content, I share with you an abridged passage from “Mexicans” about spending three days with a carnival in Texas. The opening pages are below. If you’d like to read the entire passage, here’s a link.
I heard the sound of a vehicle approaching from behind. Through it was still a ways off, I automatically turned and stuck my thumb out, squinting to see what it was. It was another truck.
“It’s probably another farmer. He won’t pick us up. Don’t waste your time,” said Blake.
I began to lower my thumb, then I stopped. “No, wait. He’s got a camper on the back. Maybe it’s not a farmer. And he’s got Oklahoma plates!”
The truck slowed down and pulled up alongside us. Three guys were inside the cab. One was middle-aged and the other two were young. The middle-aged guy was driving. He had on a black baseball hat that was about two sizes too small. The hat rode high up on the point of his football-shaped head. Hunched over the wheel, with a u-shaped neck and a beak nose, he looked like a buzzard. There was this kind of dim-witted expression on his face as he eyed us, his head bobbing up and down.
The other two looked normal. One was a clean-cut redhead about our age. The other was a pale-skinned guy with long stringy blond hair. He was probably in his twenties. He had thick glasses, which made him look the most intelligent of the three.
There was also a dog in the back. I couldn’t see what kind because of the camper shell. But from the sound it made as it pounced around, I could tell it was big.
The baseball hat guy spoke first.
“Where ya headed?”
“Up north … Oklahoma,” I answered.
He looked down the road in front of him … contemplating, I guess. Though, from the looks of the guy, I couldn’t imagine what thoughts that pointed head could possibly generate.
The other two just stared at us with these stupid grins as they puffed away on cigarettes. I had smoked all my mine and wanted one so bad — I had to ask.
“Can I have a smoke?”
“Sure,” said the guy with the glasses.
He extended a pack of Salems. I wasn’t really into menthol, but beggars can’t be choosers. I was grateful. He then offered me a light.
“What did these guys want?” I wondered. No one had ever questioned us before. We were either picked up, or we weren’t. The baseball hat, having thoroughly chewed through his thought, resumed…
“Why don’t ya come with uth … sthee the world!” He spoke louder this time and I could tell he had a speech impediment – an intense lisp. A lisp combined with a southern accent … oh boy.
“What d’ya mean?” asked Blake.
“Join da carnival! Sthee the world!”
“Sthure! We’ll pay ya and feed ya … you can work for uth.”
His eyes sparkled and it reminded me of the preacher at the Star of Hope rescue mission. He was preaching his gospel to us: The Gospel of The Carnival.
I was very suspicious. Blake, however, was sold on the idea.
“You can do what you want, Ackley. I’m gonna go.” Blake seemed desperate. Perhaps he saw this as a chance to avoid the disgraceful return home.
“Aw, what the hell … we’ll join the carnival,” I agreed.
We were gonna get in the back, but the guy with the glasses mentioned that the dog might bite. As a precaution, the redhead got out and hopped in the back, and the four of us crammed into the cab. We had joined the carnival!
Football head introduced himself simply as Dee. The guy with the glasses was Bud. The kid in the back was Clarence. We then introduced ourselves, and when Blake said his name, Dee tried to repeat it.
“Blahh …Blach …Blath …Blatch.” Each time it got worse. I saw Lockett wincing to hear his name massacred that way.
When we reached the carnival, a short woman holding a spatula and a frying pan gave us a look-what-the-cat-drug-in expression as we pulled into the grounds and filed out of the truck.
She was standing in front of a snack bar trailer. She had a small turned-up nose and straight black hair that was bobbed short. She actually could have been kind of cute, if it weren’t for her sour expression.
“Where’n the hell did ya get these fellers?” she bawled at Dee.
“Oh … teeth boys ith got da traflin spirit. Theys ith gonna join da carnival!” Dee persisted painting his picture about the romantic life on the road. We knew better though — from the moment he picked us up. And now, as we looked around, all was confirmed … dilapidated tin trailers that housed the ring toss and air rifle games … rusted old rides: The Hammer, The Zipper, The Scrambler, The Rock-O-Planes. And then there were the carnies themselves: discards of white trash America.
The frying pan woman was introduced to us as Marie, Dee’s sister. Clarence and Bud had taken off with the dog as soon as the truck stopped. This made Blake and I all the more conspicuous — there was no one to mill around with while Dee further explained our presence.
“I figure we needed thum mo help,” said Dee.
“Well, what a’ya gonna pay these boys?” Marie snapped.
“Oh, uh … uh, well … I take care uff it. Don’ thoo worry.” He purposely tried to avoid the mention of any sum to his sister, as that had not yet been discussed.
All the time they were bickering, she kept looking us up and down like we were meat or something — like we were slaves! I kept waiting for her to come over and pry my lips apart to see if my teeth were good. Or better yet, have us drop our drawers to see if we had any diseases … This one’s gotta cavity, Dee. I don’ want him. This one’s gotta big canker on his balls, Dee. I don’ want him.
Well, I guess we passed the test ok (and while keeping our clothes on, to boot). As soon as Marie seemed pacified, Dee whisked us off and had us follow him to his trailer. (I’m sure he too wanted to take his leave of her.)
All the trailers where the carnies lived were parked on the far side of the grounds, behind the game booths. Dee’s was the biggest – a long avocado-green box made of aluminum siding textured to have the appearance of real wood. Right next to it was an old teardrop-shaped job that had been painted white. The smaller trailer served as the carnival office and above the door was tacked a plywood sign that read: Citizens State Shows.
Inside Dee’s trailer there was nothing but chaos going on as two bratty kids ran back and forth screaming, hitting, and pulling each other’s hair. These, I later found out, were Dee’s son and niece. (The niece belonging to Marie back at the snack bar.) In the kitchen stood a voluptuous, yet somewhat whorish-looking redhead: Dee’s wife.
Dee had us sit down in the front room. Mrs. Dee (she was never introduced) finished whatever she was doing in the kitchen and then disappeared. There was a long pause until she was completely out of sight. Her big moon-shaped buns waved bye-bye to us through a pair of tight black stretch-pants. And that was the last we ever saw of her – a kept woman.
“S-tho, you boys wanna join da carnival?” he asked. We both just sort of looked at him, not sure if it was a rhetorical question.
Then he kind of leaned back and rubbed his chin, like he was mulling it over. What was this anyway? He pulls us off the road and tells us he’s gonna give us jobs, and now he’s holding this grand inquisition.
“Y’all know how to drive a truck?” he asked.
We both sort of nodded.
I said no.
Blake, however, said he’d driven one before. Of course, Blake had an advantage over me there. That’s because Blake grew up on a farm and he knew about semis and crap like that. Blake then made mention of this fact — that he was a farmer’s son — and Dee sparked up.
“You’s a farmer’s boy, eh? Oooo-ie!” I don’t know why it touched him off the way it did, but who cares, it seemed to be our ticket.
“What’s you two’s nameses again?”
“Blake and Steve,” I answered.
“Right,” I said with a shrug.
“Blake,” said Blake.
“Bwachhh.” He couldn’t say it.
“No, B-L-A-K-E. Blake.”
“Mmmm …ah-wite, I work on it.”
“Y’alls ain’t afraid of hard work, ith ya?”
This seemed like a weird question to me. Afraid of hard work? Hmm? I suppose it was just his way of making sure we were gonna tote that barge and lift that bale. Blake then started to play with Dee a little.
“Heck no. I ain’t afraid of no herd werk,” said Blake. I laughed at his impromptu Texas redneck accent. It wasn’t half bad. The humor was lost on Dee.
Dee then turned to me. “An’ what ’bout you … You ain’t ‘fraid no hard work, ith ya?”
I couldn’t believe this guy. What the hell was he gonna do with us anyway, put us on a chain gang? No, I ain’t afraid of no hard work, Mr. Dee.
I shook my head no.
“Well, good then. I put ya ta work.” He looked at Blake and then me. “Ya gonna have ta shabe off them two beardseth.”
The idea of shaving off my beard didn’t make me happy. I’d let it go for nearly a month and was somewhat proud of my scant pubic-like growth. It wasn’t bad for a boy of 17.
“I don’t have a razor or anything,” I said.
“Oh, we find ya one.”
So, I went along with it – rules are rules.
Among Dee’s other rules were no drinking and no drugs.
“Y’all don’ th-smoke marijuana, do ya?” (I was amazed. He pronounced the word marijuana like a Fulbright scholar.)
“No! Who … us?”
But it was the last rule that really hit me. “And we don’ want ya leabin the carnival for no reason.”
“You mean we have to stay here all the time?”
“You mean we can’t walk into town or anything?”
“Dat’s the rule. Everythin’ you needs is right here at the carnival.”
At this, it seemed like he was finished with his talk. But there was something that still needed discussing…
“How much are you going to pay us?” I finally asked.
At this, ol’ Dee began to hem and haw around like an old professional. In the end, it came down to this: He was going to pay us each $7.00 a day in cash. Out of that we had to pay for our own food. But because we couldn’t go into town, we had to buy everything from the carnival food wagon. Thereby, plowing what little money we made back into the system. What a sham! He was going to put us on the chain gang!
He also muttered something vague about putting $5.00 a day into some employee matching fund that was supposed to gain some kind of interest in proportion to whatever profits the carnival made (sort of a hillbilly profit sharing scheme, I guess). Of course, this was a sham as well – it was obvious. The whole thing was a farce – a bald-faced lie he’d told over and over to indigent Okies with strong backs and weak minds. But, seeing as how we didn’t have anything better to do, we joined the carnival. Perhaps we’d at least get a ride up north out of it.
“How far do you travel, anyway?” I asked.
“Oh … s’far as Nebraska.” Join the carnival. See the world!