carnies.

carnies.

The only carny I ever met was set up on a side street in Lower Manhattan—Ring Toss or Pea Wheel or what have you—Lorelei and I had run down to Pearl River for me to pick up some last-minute gifts/trash care of the Chinatown importers before my flight back to Iowa. I’d spent the week in long braids, littler clothing than I can fit into today, and had run the gamut of a line-up of metropolitan dates—at that stage I was chomping at the bit to flee my landlocked midwest life, feeling oppressively single, lonely, and questioning every last choice, not least of which the choice stemming from seeming inertia to continue on with the whole debt-incurring business of graduate school toward the ultimate, and long distance, goal of acquiring a Ph.D.—not to mention in a social science field when I knew myself to be a humanities girl through and through. Lorelei had moved east mere weeks before and had been living amid the musty waste of a dead or institutionalized old man’s West Side apartment, lining up his oddball and in places ingenious art collection for sale. Trying to keep the orphaned lapdog from shitting all over the place or driving the co-op members to action with its barking. New York. It all sounded good enough to me—intriguing at least if distinctly urban gothic—and I’d been shopping the New York Public School System’s web site for possibilities. I figured under the declaration of general literacy emergency even an MFA in poetry just might slip into a position at the front of a high school classroom. So this was intended as my initial, reconnaissance trip. Plus I’d been keeping myself busy with the dates lined up ahead of time online—somewhat flakey and sleazy across the board, but farmland beggars get down off their high horses and quit being so choosy after awhile. In any case, I felt just fine, sporting my particular exotic brand of pseudo-rural persona, done up in overalls with the tiniest of tshirts beneath and braids aided by sparkly little-girl butterfly clips—working that I’m-in-the-big-city-and-young-enough-and-desirable-enough-and-the-horizon-stretches-wide-before-me swagger—when that horizon literally split itself open with thunder a hundred feet outside Pearl River’s exit, and we dashed down the first side street and under a handy striped awning. We noticed then that the thoroughfare was closed off to motor traffic and lined with a series of such tented mechanical midway contraptions as make up a carnival these days—convertible trailers that uncollapsed to reveal a variety of culturally regurgitated Fun: Balloon-a-Rama, Spinna Winna, Hoop Shot, Rising Water, Frog/Turtle Pounce, Spill the Milk, and the like. Cheap plushies strung up swaying in the blowing rain. Hawkers leaning against their respective rentals each with the compulsory cigarette curled in a fist. Our guy shot us a lazy smile, invited us to try our luck, and, receiving a negative, proceeded to regale us with tales from The Life. In fact I’ve lost the details to the intervening years and doubt my own powers to reimagine the specific flavors of ramble and sawdust—chintzier and grittier than our wide-eyed romantic notions of carny life comprehended—but that tang of modern gypsydom—free agents contracting their chosen midway specialties, packing ‘em up and driving on to the next town in caravan with all the rest—or maybe packing in for a couple months to surf or hike should the notion seize—it smacked essentially of freedom to fresh-sprung workshop poets. And as we walked away, headed for the subway back uptown, Lorelei and I marveled together at the sheer weirdness of the world’s, and by extension our lives’, scope of possibility.

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