Since I am still dealing with a sore hand, I have not been doing much writing lately. So I am re-posting this blog post from June 24, 2009. Enjoy!
I drove past St. Peter's Square last night and the carnival is in the process of being constructed. The vendors carts are in place and I noticed that Spaghetti Eddie's Italian Sausage with Peppers & Onions cart is right out in front. Where it should be.
They were working on the cart that sells candy apples and fried dough as I passed by and I couldn't help but remember the many such carnivals when I was a kid. Every year there was one set up in the Queen of the World Church parking lot and out goal, as kids, was to go every single night --- whether we had money or not. My brother Jack and I used to cut through the woods on the other side of Vine Road and meet out friends there. We'd walk up the old logging trail and when you emerged from the trees into the field along Larch Road you could already see the top of the ferris wheel spinning beyond the roof of the church and the school where both Jack and I had attended elementary school.
There was something enchanted about the carnival. All the carts and rides and games and stands were set up in a tight ring at the far end of the parking lot. The pavement was covered with a thick layer of sawdust and you were always stumbling over huge electrical cords. But it was wonderful. Once you were inside that ring everything was magic. The lights were brilliant and flashing and the music was loud and repetitive, coming from everywhere, making no sense. People squealed and hollered and laughed. I remember wandering around and around and around just watching everything.
Jack was partial to the stands where you shot at targets to win prizes. In retrospect I think it was sort of brave of those carnivals to have such a stand in an area where boys and men were used to handling guns and were generally pretty good shots. But, according to Jack, who was as good a shot as any but didn't seem to win a lot, the guns were so poorly sighted being a good shot was more of an impediment than a help.
I was always sort of fascinated by the people who worked at the carnivals. I knew there was something different about them though, as a kid I couldn't figure out what it was. I remember looking at the men who all seemed sort of scary to me. Many of them had tattoos. My godfather, my dear Uncle Buddy, had a lot of tattoos so I didn't find that unusual. But their tattoos always seemed bigger, more profuse and scarier. I remember standing by the machinery that ran the ferris wheel so I could watch the man who ran it. He had tattoos all over his arms and what you could see of his chest beneath his unbuttoned shirt. I was staring at them trying to figure out what they were when I realized he was looking at me too. I looked up and he winked at me. I turned and ran but that feeling stayed with me for years.
There were other carnivals, of course. When I was really little there was one that sat up in the field by the airport. The only thing I remember about that was the water tunnel with little dolls floating in ti. You picked out a doll and the number on its bottom told which prize you would get. I remember being very disappointed that I didn't get to take the doll home, too.
And every year there was the trip to the Clearfield Faire which was a combination county fair and carnival. Plus they had side shows back when sideshows were a collection of more scary, strange people. Many years later, when I was living in Erie, PA and working the night shift in a diner there was a combined circus and carnival that came every year and sat up in the high school stadium across the street. When the circus closed for the night the carnies, roustabouts, performers and other folks would come over to our diner for a late supper. It was always wild. I was nineteen then and so innocent. There was a carny who liked me and when I told him I always liked candy apples he brought me one every night. He had long black hair and blue eyes and a Quebec accent when he talked. He wanted me to quit my job and come with him. I didn't but I never forgot him.... his name was Baptiste.
Happy St. John the Baptist Feast Day and thanks for reading.