Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pulling Up Stakes

While I am greatly enjoying posting various musings, rants, writings and other assorted things from my life that involve circus and sideshow, it was suggested to me recently that I try blogging on Word Press. Everything that has been featured here is now archived in the new space, and nothing else is going to really change. All new Tales From the Road will be posted on a monthly basis, as well as the exciting conclusion of Serpent Queen. Digging through my old blog archives recently has turned up quite a few great pieces that I feel are appropriate to share with the Internet world, as many have never been publicly posted. There will also be more frequent posts detailing my performances, complete with photos, as I greatly enjoy every opportunity I have to be on stage and feel others might be interested in reading about the experiences. Oh, and I am finally getting around to making a press release for the novel I have been working on for the past several years. It's bee nice knowing that people have taken the time to read everything here, so I hope that the new space will be just as successful.

Decadence & Deviance is now on Word Press!!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sideshow Musings

[Originally written 10.28.02]

We should have been doing the horror show this afternoon, but a whole lot of rain came by to cancel those plans. Jon has been passed the fuck out on some drug since I arrived, and I am kind of afraid to disturb him. Instead, I just helped myself to a bit of weed and have a little too much time to think.

All I can do is mull over the things that I want to do.

Trying to generate interest for the remainder of our shows via the Internet hasn’t led to much response. Is the population of this state. Or perhaps it's just that no one cares?

The more I try, the more I am disappointed. Then that thought occurs to me: Have I been cast out?

You know what? I fucking hope so.

This is the reason I want to do sideshow more than anything. Freaks. Oddities. Mistakes. Nature's cruel jokes. They had many names and many faces. They had physical abnormalities that made people stare in horror, wonder and curiosity. They were given jobs in the sideshow, people paid to see them.

While I can't say for sure that I know every sideshow treated their freaks well, I do believe it.

In a society where people would rather shun them, lock them up in a mental hospital away from the ignorant stares of others, these 'freaks' were taken in and given a home. The sideshow has virtually died out, but people are at least trying to keep this tradition alive. There are new acts, more bizarre than ever before. In an age where one can do whatever one wants with their body, there are new idols to look up to. People who chose to make themselves out of the ordinary.

The desire to join those ranks just grows and grows. To perform for the masses. To entertain. To bring shock and wonder to all who see me. With great pleasure, I will modify my body all I want, and you will all turn your little heads to stare. While you are ordinary and blend in with the rest of the useless flesh, I will stand out, because I can.

This is something that is in my blood, because I was born with sawdust in my veins. There is confidence in the fact that I can succeed, because I know all the ins and outs of show business. What to do and what not to do on stage, as presence is very important. It's all about being seen and heard to draw a crowd. If you entertain just one person, you have accomplished something.

Doing these horror shows here in South Jersey have only fueled my desire. So what if it’s just the two of us? To be quite honest, I would rather work with someone I can trust…even if he is passed out right now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Serpent Queen - Part II

Stepping back in time to Part I of this fictional story, Levi is an albino and travels with the carnival that took him in. He has returned to New Orleans, city of his birth, where he is drawn into a lounge and sets sights on a beautiful snake charmer. After being entirely captivated by her seductive routine, he finds the courage to seek her out. However, will such a radiant goddess even want to spend a moment of her time talking to someone like him?

* * *
The room was illuminated by series of oil lamps set beside three wooden boxes that certainly housed snakes (as indicated by the hand-painted lettering on their surfaces), the low flames casting all sorts of dark figures on the red and gold walls. There were highly decorative oriental rugs sprawled across the hardwood floor, their colorful patterns almost dizzying. A comfortable-looking bed was pushed into a corner, the sheets a lovely ivory silk that matched the down-filled pillows and certainly made for an inviting place to sleep. Across from that were her costumes—carefully arranged so that the expensive fabrics did not touch the floor—next to which was set a dresser and vanity, where the goddess was seated. She wore a red silk robe loosely tied to expose her legs, which Levi discovered were each heavily tattooed with the intricate scales of snakes that wound up the pale skin and disappeared somewhere beneath that garment, tails re-appearing on the small amount of her arms exposed by the elbow-length sleeves.

Levi was awestruck as he silently observed her run a bristle brush through luxurious blonde curls that tumbled around her shoulders, lips humming along with the record she listened to. There was nothing his imagination could concoct that would have been able to compare to the radiant beauty who was still unaware of his presence. The light that danced on the mirror reflected off her porcelain face, the features of which could be the envy of even the most skilled artisan who would certainly fail at every attempt to capture them. Her intense green and gold eyes were framed by feathery blonde lashes, the shadows of which rested on each of her full cheeks, and those soft pink lips which had kissed the python moved in unison with the words that crackled on the phonograph. The speech perfectly planned in his head refused to be vocalized as he found his tongue to be frozen in his mouth, but he knew it was rude to just stand there staring at her with a lustful desire that made him no better than those hungry wolves who were still hooting and hollering outside.

"Excuse me," Levi managed to say after forcing the nervousness down his throat, and he dared to take a few steps towards her.

She turned around and surprise immediately seized her, hands clutching the robe so that her legs were swallowed by the red silk. "What are you doing back here?" she angrily demanded.

"Please do not be alarmed," he replied, maintaining his distance. "I was so captivated by your performance that I—"

"Thought you could have me?" she interrupted with an accusing glare. "You and every other man out there who believes I am some fantasy come true."

"No, you have it all wrong!" he protested. "My intention was not to come back here for…for a proposition." The words had tasted bitter, but Levi certainly wanted her to believe that he much different from those other men."

"Give me one good reason why I should not have Samson crush the life out of you," she said, moving towards the largest of the boxes and placing her hand on the lid. "He will not eat you, of course. Just squeeze the air from your lungs and break the bones in your body."

Levi recalled the numerous times that he had wound up in the snake pit as a special attraction at the sideshow, having to survive amongst a dozen or more mean-spirited and ill-tempered serpents who could have easily dispatched him from the earth if they had so desired. Studying the expression on her face,he wondered if the threat held any validity, or if she was just protecting herself with a bluff. Either way, his desire to gain her trust outweighed any fear that he may have had. There was no mistaking she held immense power, where every bit of her confident composure commanded respect, which Levi would easily give. Perhaps allowing her to be in command of the situation would ease the tension that she seemed to be filled with, though her certainly could not place blame for being protective of herself.

"I can offer you so much more than that," Levi finally said with a smile as he cautiously approached her, trying to keep his eyes trained on her despite their tendency to shift and avoid the light.

She examined him carefully, taking note of the high quality fabric that composed his suit, as well as the coordinating and equally well-crafted shoes. Only a select few could afford to dress as a gentleman, and he was certainly not there to exchange money for a sexual favor. In fact, she was growing rather curious of what he did have in mind.

"My name is Levi," he continued, extending his hand.

A smile crept onto her lips as she accepted the gesture and replied, "Evette."

Levi boldly placed a kiss on the back of her hand, taking in the sweet scent of her skin. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, madame."

"Evette laughed as her cheeks flushed. "You are quite the charmer."

"I have to ask how such a lovely young lady winds up in a place like this," he remarked.

"There is always a reason the girls wind up here," she said, slipping out of his grasp and sitting on the edge of the bed, the hem of the robe fluttering to give him a glimpse of her inked leg. "They do it for the money; the attention they get from the men that come here looking to satisfy their most deviant urges. I have no interest in either."

"Then why are you here wasting your talent on those dogs?"

"Well, unfortunately not everyone shares that opinion," Evette replied as she laughed again, causing her curls to bounce slightly. "Many people believe me to be some sort of witch for being able to handle these magnificent serpents the way I do. You think that I would be allowed to dance in a theater amongst the elite who have trained for years to perfect their movements?"

"While I see your point, what you do is art compared to those tramps," Levi said, taking a few steps toward her. "Evette, I am certain that you would rather be appreciated."

"Of course…but there are not many who express the feeling."

He watched as the lid of the largest box was pushed open and a long pink forked tongue flicked the air. An enormous head three times the size of Levi’s hand peered at him with intense pink eyes. The albino snake was without the high yellow markings of the other one that Evette had been wrapped in earlier. It stared straight at him, carefully poised in mid air as though it would strike if he made one wrong move, but Levi did not back away.

“He will not bite you,” Evette assured. “He is just taking in your scent.”

“I know that,” Levi confidently replied, the palm of his hand upturned. “He is very beautiful.”

“I prevented them from being turned into fancy accessories for the rich, as albinos are rare and their skin is considered to be highly valuable,” she explained, disappearing behind an ornately carved black wooden dressing screen.
Levi smiled when Samson settled onto his hand, their eyes locking. “Yes, I am just like you,” he whispered in Cajun, “but we can keep that between us.”
The snake seemed to turn its head in understanding before slinking back into the box, never breaking its gaze from him.

“They are much more than pretty skin,” Evette continued as she re-emerged, layers of cream-colored chiffon flowing down to the floor, a white lace shawl wrapped around her tattooed shoulders, obscuring them from fully being viewed. "I have a bond with each snake, and they all have different personalities. One must learn that in order to properly handle them."

"Well I admire your courage for taking on that challenge," Levi remarked, wrapping an arm around her waist. "One must wonder if that extends to other things."

"Oh?" An eyebrow raised as she struggled to get a good look at his face, which seemed conveniently hidden beneath shadows cast by the brim of his hat. "Did you have something in mind, Levi?" She smoothed the lapel of his jacket, desperate to know if he was as handsome as he was suave.

The fragrance of her hair—pinned back from her angelic face with a set of silver combs—traveled up his nose and sought to embed itself in the pleasure center of his brain. Even the soft touch of those slim fingers was enough to tempt lust into filling his body, as he had always been convinced his odd appearance would cause a woman to keep her distance. However, he reminded himself she was unaware of the fact that he was no ordinary man, or that had something in common with those snakes she so easily tamed. Would she have enough skill to do the same with him? His name had graced those lips that tempted to press against his as though she uttered a sinful prayer. There was something about her that felt irresistible, and there developed deep within him a craving to know how sweet her forbidden fruit was.

"As a matter of fact I do," he said, tenderly clasping her hand. "I can bring you to a world that is far removed from all of this, where your wildest dreams will come true, and you will be treated like a Queen…as any woman should be."

"That is mighty convincing, but what about my snakes?"

"There will be plenty of room for them as well, and I promise that no harm will ever come to them, or you." Levi paused to stroke her face, taking delight in discovering it was as soft as it looked. "I know that this is a lot to ask, but I want you to trust me."

"There are reasons I can think of not to," Evette replied, "but my instinct is much louder than those thoughts, and it has convinced me that I should."

"You will not be disappointed with your choice," Levi assured her.

"My trust is in your hands," Evette said, flashing him a smile. She took a moment to gently speak to the snakes before ushering Levi out of the room, locking the door behind them, the key secured to her wrist. She knotted the shawl to keep it from slipping off her shoulders and took his hand once again. "We should go out the back so that no ones sees us. If they think you are a client, they will ask for money."

Evette slowly led him down the hallway so that their exit was undetected, and fortunately the other girls were too busy to even notice as the pair quietly walked out, the humid evening air greeting them with a better smell than that sex-filled corridor. Levi took charge once they left the lounge, cutting down dark alleys to avoid any prying eyes that might have been interested in their departure (as he understood her concern). If things went his way, she would no longer have to worry about anyone trying to bring her harm. In fact, he was hoping to convince her that she did not need to be put on display as if she were a slab of meat for the pack of salivating men that fantasized about having her alone in bed. Instead her talent could be utilized to draw in the crowds, earning more than just nickels as she amazed them with her tantalizing snake charming—and it would definitely add something extra to both the bally and inside stage of the sideshow. He had no worries as to whether or not the Family would accept her with open arms, as he felt that she already belonged to his world.

The few lights that remained burning in the canvas tents scattered across an open field were the only indications that life existed amongst the silent grounds. Levi glanced at the carousel as the glass eyes of the wooden horses seemed to follow him, but it was only the drugs causing the usual hallucinations. Ignoring the sensations that tingled through his body, he held the flap of the sideshow tent open for Evette, a sly smile tugging at his lips as he watched her saunter past. She surveyed the surroundings with curiosity, holding fast to the shawl around her shoulders.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tales From the Road

After landing in Bedford, PA and being introduced to the rest of the crew, the time has come to finally open the show to the public and learn first hand how a grind show operates.

July 24, 2005 - Debut show in Bedford, PA

Following the usual morning relaxation period, it was right to work moving the stage we had assembled the other day, relocating it outside for the bally. There is a bigger and subsequently taller stage, which had to be taken inside for us to perform on. Then the props were moved inside and the banners were unloaded. Had the privilege of hanging them up with the Manager. Mab taught me the proper way to hoist them and tie down the ropes so the banners would not fall should a strong wind come by. It was a bit awkward at first, but I got the hang of it by the third banner. Tying slipknots is already becoming second nature. A small complication arose in the form of not having ties for some of the banners, missing pullies and ropes. Once that was sorted, I thought the rest of the job would go smoothly, but then the Manager accidentally cut himself with some scissors. Brock and Elvis were sent to assist me with the remaining banners, and the line appeared decent for my first time. The teaser had to be hung from the tent itself, and all free hands were on that.

It was rather annoying that the curious people walking by kept asking when we would be open. The Boss explained that the girls were having their showers and to come back later. Definitely admired how he handled the marks, and that is true showmanship.

Had been applying make-up whenever I had a spare moment, and was then told to do whatever I needed in order to be ready for the show.

Here I will state that I noticed the Deadhead girl did absolutely no work whatsoever. She walked around in the outfit the Manager bought [you know, so she can stand on stage and look cute], either with the dog or carrying a beverage. Now I see this as being a little unfair. The rest of us are sweating in order to get everything done, obviously being compensated for our services. She receives a smaller salary, but still it would not hurt for her to pitch in. This sort of behavior will certainly be noticed, both by those of us pulling our weight as well as the eyes that constantly make sure we are doing so.

Show time was very unorganized, as none were certain who was supposed to go one first and how we would rotate. The schedule was hectic, between going up and down on the main stage, then out to the bally stage. The crowds were not that enthused, though we tried our best to get them involved. Most of the response was pretty weak, but some grossed-out reactions were all I needed to hear. It is somewhat disheartening to see how many people stop on the midway for the bally versus the amount that actually filter in.

Managed to get glass stuck in my foot twice and had to stop jumping after that. Lifting the snare drum with my ears seemed to go over well, as did the Bed of Nails. Need to expand the patter so that the set is not as short. Would also like to add a couple of acts, and perhaps get in the Blow-Off [doing the Insectivore] to make some extra scratch. While I am supposed to be selling jewelry, that has yet to actually happen.

The night was over before we knew it. Even though we were tired and hungry, we stuck around to hear what the Boss thought. All suggestions were taken seriously, and there really was not much criticism—to our relief. Considering this was only the opening night, it went fairly well. The more we do it, the more natural it will become, and pretty soon we won’t even think about what we are doing.

My stomach had been empty all day, so headed out to town and went for Denny’s—just like back home. This one was fairly large and really nice, complete with rolling chairs. Ate until I was full and returned with a few leftovers, relieved to get some sleep. A storm rolled in some time during the early morning hours, quite loud and very fierce, but it helped cool things down a bit, even if it is still humid.

July 28, 2005 Breakfast at Denny’s makes strange dreams

There were definitely some weird images in my head last night, but once scene in particular that is still stuck. Not sure where I was, but saw Joslyn and Bill [decked out in their finest, as always] chatting with Jon. Now that I sit here and recall the dream, I believe they had come to see me perform…or something like that. At first glance, my dream mind had mistaken Jon for Brian Setzer. *hahaha* It must have been the flashy outfit—tight red leather pants, black shirt half unbuttoned and all the silver jewelry. The last time we saw each other, his hair was pretty short and face had been shaven clean. However, in the dream, his dirty blond locks were tamed into a stellar pompadour, accented by perfectly trimmed chops.

Next thing I know, the two of us are climbing into his Mercury. Being tired, I ask him to “turn the colors off” [whatever that means]. Jon pushes a button on the dashboard, and then we are driving through a landscape that could be right out of Sin City, the sky red and black above.
This is what I get for eating the Country Scramble Bowl at Denny’s around midnight before heading to bed. It is a bit ironic that the dream included the three people I had wanted to see before I left. There is a good reason I did not get that chance, but someone should tell my subconscious that. Wonder what other odd dreams I can come up with.

July 29, 2005 Week in revue

Anyone who is blissfully ignorant to believe that show business [no matter what field] is some sort of glamorous fairytale, should be repeatedly stabbed in the head with a sharp implement. Being up on stage in front of a gaping crowd is certainly a great rush, fantastic beyond description and exactly the reason I wanted to do this. However, as it has already been documented, there is a lot of physical labor involved. When the weather was bad earlier this week, we had to grind out our shows in order to get as many people [or paying customers I should say] as possible to come in. The constant demand for performance is rough, but that does not stop me from getting up on stage with a wide smile and do what I do best. Have learned a great deal, including how to tie down a tent in preparation for inclement weather, even if it did only rain for about ten minutes or less.

Of course no Family is complete without drama or bullshit, though I tend to stay far away from both as best I can. Will voice my opinion at appropriate moments, particularly with the Boss, who is wise to everything. He can smell bullshit from a mile away and before it even hits the ground. He is a highly intelligent man with a killer witty attitude, and to me that is what makes him so great. He is willing to give anyone a chance but does not hesitate to put them in their place should they try to pull a fast one. As the saying goes, you cannot bullshit a bullshitter.

An example of that is Elvis being excuse from the outfit. Kind of a shame since he was a decent worker, and the first person I met who could actually speak Carny. He even helped Spirit [this goat that refused to use its front legs] to stand up without falling over. However, he tried to feed the Boss some story about being offered a job by his grandfather. The Boss does not appreciate being lied to [he knew the story was just made up], so he told Elvis to pack up and move along.

Yesterday, Little Miss Priss [that Deadhead chick that does not want to help with any of the physical work, yet wants attention for being up on the bally stage and in the electric chair] put up a big stink about her wardrobe. She had left the clothes our Manager bought in the bathroom and apparently someone stole it. The Boss gave her a few other costumes to try on, and she wound up in a blue bathing suit with white sequined stripes. Not even halfway into the show, she got off stage, changed and left for the night. Well, the rest of us had to pick up her slack, which meant being on the bally stage and in the Blow-Off. Somehow I am chosen to sit in the electric chair, and definitely got shocked on my ass. Her beef was composed of the claim that her [quite small] boobs were popping out, and guys were pointing and laughing because her cooch was showing. She even tried to use the old “I have my period” excuse. The Boss was not pleased, having some words for her and the boyfriend.

Today she is in a neon orange bikini [a thong no less], with a black shawl tied around her waist. So far there are no complaints, and I suspect that she was just trying to get more free clothes because she was unhappy with the previous selection. A pink leopard print shirt, pink shorts and black fishnets are too revealing, but a thong bikini is totally fine? Oh, and apparently she has completely forgotten about that time of the month. On a more humorous note, when inquiry was posed as to why she did not help set up [or assist with any manual labor at all], she claimed both the Boss and Manager said she did not have to. Sure...that is why two nights ago, the Manager remarked that he should not allow her to leave right after the show is finished, because she can assist us in lowering the banners at night. The Boss also mentioned earlier that Miss Priss, her boyfriend and the brother would be useful in tearing down. It amuses me when people convince themselves that they can lie and no one will know.

Last night, the Boss came over while I was dining on a bowl of Coco Pebbles and bestowed a great compliment. “I just wanted to tell you that out of all the people here, you’re the only one[s] with your shit together.” It was something I appreciated very much, as I am here to perform and get a lasting experience out of everything. People can point, laugh and say whatever stupid shit they want, because I will be making a profit off them.

There has been other things going on as well, but would rather not go into much detail. However, we were concerned when our fearless leader—the Manager that is—was taken to the hospital early this morning. The stress must have gotten to him. The good news is that he is doing well and will return in a few days.

The rest of us are pretty much running the show at the moment, minus the Blow-Off. Sold a few pieces of jewelry here and there to make extra scratch. Money is spent on food, gas and washing clothes at the laundromat. We are allowed to ask for a cash advance on our salary if needed, since we will not get paid until Tuesday. Seems like a long time to wait, so I might do that tomorrow.

Right now the pitch on the bally stage is bombing. It’s just not the same without the Manager. It’s a lot harder to give a good one to get the people to come in. Later on, I am going to practice sword swallowing, which would be awesome to add in the show.

Have shows to do, so I will end this for the moment.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Living On a Diet of Steel

Out of all the sideshow acts, I consider sword swallowing to be one of of the deadliest, as there is certainly a great risk taken every time that steel blade enters the body. The practice dates back thousands of years to origins in India, where Fakirs and Shaman priests used it as a demonstration of their power to be invulnerable, and a connection to their gods. There is a great hall of fame list that has more details of this ancient art, which I am sure some might find to be quite surprising. People constantly ask me exactly what inspired me to want to learn how to do this, so I thought that I would take the opportunity to finally divulge that information.

The first time I ever saw someone down a sword was at Coney Island, and of course I was instantly intrigued. While I could wrap my head around most of the other acts, there was something undeniably sensual about sword swallowing. Understanding that there was no trick to the feat, my curiosity of how one was able to accomplish it grew each time I returned to Sideshows By the Seashore and watched Tyler Fyre stick that blade into his throat. In 2002, I had the opportunity to attend the Coney Island Sideshow School and finally learn the secret behind sword swallowing, which I am not going to share. What I will say, however, is that practicing with a wire coat hanger was one of the most unpleasant things I have experienced, but I was certainly determined to emulate the act that had caught my attention.

There are a few gag reflexes one must over come in order to safely pass an object into the throat, down the esophagus, where it will rest some where in the depths of the stomach. Doing this right results in an overwhelming amount of applause from an audience. Doing this wrong can [and has] lead to serious injury, or even death. This is due to the fact that the object is passing several vital organs, including the heart and lungs. Suffice to say that ones life is literally on the line each time the act is performed. It took about a month of practice with the wire coat hanger to get it all the way into my stomach, and I must say that it was certainly a proud moment.

However, I could not legitimately call myself a sword swallower and present the act with this crude implement. So it was that I abandoned the practice, though I did purchase a sword in 2005 at an indoor flea market in New Jersey. A fellow performer suggested that I make some changes to it in order for it to be presentable on stage. For whatever reason, I was slightly nervous about actually making an attempt to swallow the sword, and so it sat in storage for a couple more years. The motivation to return to practice came from continuing to watch others flawlessly perform the act, because I knew I had the ability to do the same if I tried hard enough.

Swallowing 18 1/2 inches of solid steel in the wasteland of West Philly.

In 2006, while living in West Philadelphia, I was struck with the inspiration to attempt swallowing the sword. At that time I was friends with Barry Silver [notable master magician and fellow sideshow performer] who had learned several skills from the legendary Red Stuart. It was with their assistance that I worked up the courage to finally stick that sword in my throat. After about half an hour of practice, for the first time ever, I felt the steel blade slip down into my stomach. That swell of pride returned, only this time, I had truly become a sword swallower. Barry was the first person I called to share the good news, and I wound up replicating the feat for him and a few other friends.

Four years later, and I am still happily performing the act for a wide variety of audiences. Much inspiration has been drawn from Red Stuart, who is the world's oldest living sword swallower, and also holds several Guinness Book World Records. It is said that he has swallowed over 50 sword simultaneously, and I have personally seen him down broad swords and even a Ford model A car axle at the Palace of Wonders. Truly he deserves much recognition, and I can only hope to achieve even a fraction of his greatness.

Photo courtesy of

While researching sword swallowing history, I cam across this most amazing woman, Edith Clifford. She began performing the act at the tender age of thirteen, and became famous for swallowing razor blades, scissors, saw blades and bayonets. Personally, I would also like to note that she has held the record for most swords swallowed by female for over one hundred years. That number is 24, and as far as I know, the current record is only half that amount. While this is certainly impressive in its own right, there is a great urge I have to not only duplicate her effort, but hopefully even surpass it. Presently, I have succeeded in swallowing three swords at once, which was first accomplished on stage at the Troccadero Theater in Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, I was a bit nervous about doing this for the first time, so Red Stuart easily swallowed the stack to give me motivation.

The very dangerous triple blade sandwich. Slipper Room, NYC [2007]
Photo: Stacie Joy

That was also the same evening I shared the stage with Red Stuart and a few other sword swallowers to participate in a group swallow. In other words, we all stood in a line and swallowed our swords in simultaneous fashion. While I have only been a part of two group swallows, I must say that it was quite an honor to be on stage with performers I had the utmost respect for as we all slid solid steel into our stomachs.

Group swallow at Palace of Wonders, Washington D.C. [2007]
Photo: David Schmidt

Over the past four years, I have added a few other objects to the routine. Currently, I swallow a stainless steel wire coat hanger, 15 inch cane sword, 18 inch 8-sided sai and the 18 1/2 sword, though it is without a proper handle. It actually fell off during a performance, at which point I picked it up, explained to the audience that they could not think the blade retracted into the handle, then continued with the act. There are certainly plans to find even more objects that I can swallow, though I am keeping such thoughts to myself.

In recognition of my accomplishment as sword swallower, I decided to get a tattoo that would very obviously state my profession. This was something that did not take much thought, as I had wanted to celebrate my 26th birthday with a new piece of ink anyway. The design was partially inspired by one of my own swords, and I took a long train ride up to New Jersey just to obtain the piece. While I was definitely slightly nervous, most of that feeling subsided the moment that stencil was placed on my neck. About an hour or so later, I looked at the permanent artwork and smiled. Two days later, I performed at a New Year's Eve event at a warehouse in Brooklyn, even though my neck was slightly stiff.

The very appropriate tattoo to honor my profession.
Artist: Kevin Craig

The highlight of my somewhat short career as a sword swallower came in January of 2009, when I met Thomas Blackthorne. He is most well known for swallowing a jackhammer, and also holds several Guinness Book titles. It just so happened that he was passing through town with a sword that he had made, in an attempt to get as many people as possible to swallow it. Barry Silver and myself accompanied him to the steps of the Art Museum, where we were photographed and videotaped downing that very cold steel blade. The best comparison I can give, is if one were to accidentally swallow a whole ice pop. However, I must say that it was the finest sword I have ever had the pleasure of sliding into my stomach. A few months ago, I learned that the record was officially recognized, with my name being recorded in the book for posterity, and literally is engraved into that steel sword.

There are approximately 100 people world wide who can swallow a sword, and only a handful of those are women. While I am not the youngest, tallest or even can swallow the most, I am still very proud of my unusual ability. It is definitely my favorite act to perform, and never ceases to get a reaction from the audience. My main goal is to continue sharing it with as many people as possible, teaching a bit of history along the way, and some day setting a new record. As it has been said many times in this business, certainly this is a hard way to make an easy living, but I would not trade the experience for anything in the world.

For more information about sword swallowing, please visit the following sites:

Sword Swallowing To The Hilt

Sword Swallowers Association International

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Benefit For Uriah & Quentin

As a follow up to this post, I am happy to report that these gentlemen have finally been released from prison. However, they are far from being free, as they still have to face trial. The support and generosity of donations is very much appreciated. CD's and T-shirts may also still be available via Farmageddon-Records.

In addition, there will be a benefit concert in Philadelphia on August 28th. Proceeds will put towards their legal fees and whatnot. According to Farmageddon-Records, any extra funds might possible go towards an organization helping sexually abused victims. Over all, it is important to remember that your actions will always have consequences, so it is wise to think carefully about this. Lies do nothing but cause harm, and in this case, have pretty much impacted the lives of two innocent men.

Entertainment for the evening will be provided by Nate Hancock, American Speedway, the Goddamn Gallows [minus Baby G] and yours truly swallowing swords. There will also be a 50/50 raffle, and possibly some other great surprises. Supporting the scene always helps it grow, so scrape those pennies together and come out to show some love.


[Originally written some time in 2002]

As far as I know, there is not much of a real scene here in New Jersey. Granted, I have come across many people that used their entire allowance at Hot Topic, just for the simple fact of being able to say: "I shop at Hot Topic, I'm cool" or what have you. Oh yes, I am ever so impressed because you gave in and decided to support a corporation, while in the meantime, mommy is sewing your brand new patch onto your black backpack so you can show it off on Monday in school.

So yeah, aside from those that blatantly scream "I spend my allowance at Hot Topic to make mommy and daddy pissed", there are the ever present metal heads, hip hop dudes and a random spattering of punks—tho most of them are all about the fashion and will make faces at you if you don’t fit the stereotype. Then there’s the preppy douchebags and their fake ‘n’ bake girlfriends rolling around in plastic cars that they can't handle at high speeds—tho they do put so much effort into showing how fast they can go. Just can't wait to die, I suppose.

From what I have experienced, there is no united scene around here. Maybe I can't really speak for the rest of the state, because I haven't been everywhere in Jersey. Here in E-town, there's nothing. Oh, and that so-called 'club' one city doesn't even deserve recognition. The only 'dress code' enforced there is green. Enough said.

Being inspired by certain things isn't bad, but blindly falling into a genre or trend is pure stupidity. It happens all the time, tho people are never aware that they do it, and they certainly make for good amusement.

Anyway, getting to the point. Yes, I have indeed reaped a benefit from the fact that 'unusual' clothing is more readily available. However, it also means that anyone who just thinks it's 'cool' or "my friends will freak when they see me in this" will grow bored and move on. There are countless times where I hear the story of "oh, I used to dress like that". The reason you don't now, is because you only liked the novelty of the clothing/accessories/music. Do you seriously think you're going to convince me to change just because you grew out of your phase?

That's always been good for a laugh. If I was going thru a 'phase', I'm quite sure I would have grown out of it by now. Let's see, I'll be 21 in December, which means I've been in my 'phase' for about six years now. That's sort of beating a dead horse, eh?

However, it is important to stop caring and not let the exploding 'trends' bother me, as I know that one day it will get boring, and the next 'new thing' will be sought after. While all the lemmings gather, I'll just continue to be myself. Of course I know that there are plenty of people who say: "This is just me". Sure, I'll believe that, considering the fact that the majority of the people who do say that [once again] are corporate Hot Topic products. Manufactured DIY is such an oxymoron. If it has pre-made, you are only impressing the other idiots who do not comprehend the purpose of DIY.

In any event I am straying from my point.

There are many different labels that people attempt to place on me, from 'goth' to 'punk', and other not so nice names], but I have never really considered myself to be any of these.

In my heart, I have a fondness for the circus and sideshow, which has been with me for numerous years. My best friend said that he considers me to be a true Carny, and since that is not an honor one can easily gain, I might as well start wearing it with pride. There is joy in modifying my body, to please only my own aesthetic. Clothes, hair, make-up and accessories follow the same vein. The music I listen to and movies I watch are because I want to, not so I can throw around my knowledge of them adnausem. These are just things that make up me, not because they are a part of some stereotypical genre or scene. You cannot lump me into your general categories, and it's simply because I don't belong in any of them.

Even while wearing clothes I don't consider being 'dressed up' in, some random woman passed me on the sidewalk and said "Cool outfit". My appearance can make a good conversation starter, but I have noticed after a few minutes, people are looking past my skin, and are talking to me. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I carry myself with confidence, and I do not allow trends to dictate what I should or should not wear.

In the end, I will always feel like the eternal misfit, because I know that there is no one else like me. However, I choose to embrace this, knowing that I am true to myself and don't need to play some character in order for people to like me, as I have no interest in fake friends. Take your scene and shove it; I'm proud to be a Carny, and no can ever take that away from me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tripping on Coney Island

[Originally written 9.22.02]

Went to Coney Island last nite, and I didn't want to leave. Oh how glorious it was! Got to chill with Jon, whom I haven't seen in quite a while. He’s such a sweetheart to have accompanied me for the adventure. There was a full moon, and it was so beautiful.

It's strange, because when I was flipping thru the channels yesterday, I came across The Warriors. Coincidence? [For those that don't know, the Warriors wind up in Coney Island].

So I just had to go. Made myself ugly, and we met up at a rest stop in the Turnpike where I left my vehicle, and we rode towards Brooklyn together in his Chevy. As luck would have it, we were able to hop right onto the Goethels. Looking to my left, there was the moon...fat, round and orange, due to the numerous amount of noxious fumes being released - I could actually smell them.

Cruised over the bridge with Luna as our guide, and the closer we got, the higher in the sky she rose, becoming brighter and brighter. Ran into some traffic on the Verizzano, but that didn't bother me, as I could peek over the side to see my neon-lit Mecca.

Finally we arrived, and there weren't a whole lot of people, but just being at Coney Island for the first time in a long while, I smiled.

We smoked a blunt in the Chevy while listening to some surf tunes.

Went down to the sea and did what needed to be done. I washed myself clean in the dark water and vowed that one day I would return. Then we ate mushrooms.

Rode the Cyclone six times in a row, which put much needed joy in my veins. The first time around we were by ourselves, and I think I really needed that. She was quick as hell and fucking great as always. Feeling the wind in my hair again made me very happy. Second time around there were a few more people, and each subsequent round was almost a full train. Every circuit was breathtaking with the full moon shining over the water. Fantastic moments of weightlessness and just the exhilaration of forgetting about all the shit that I've been carrying left me feeling wonderful.

Then we dropped some acid as we made our way towards the Wonder Wheel. By the time we were rotating into the evening, all the lights on the buzzing rides were slowly swirling together. What an amazing view…wait, is he holding my hand?

Strolling along the boardwalk, I was in my own little world with my hand clutched tightly by my best friend. We laughed over some Nathan's famous hot dogs and then found a dark spot under the boards to finish off the rest of that blunt. The vast stretch of dark water in front of us seemed to swirl into the sky. While the noise from the people and rides collided above, we were just enjoying random conversation and the relaxation of sitting in the cool sand. Hours passed without us even noticing, his arms wrapped around me and my head leaning against his chest.

Eventually the people were departing, so we pried ourselves from the sand, and then we climbed into his Chevy once again. The drive back to where my car had been parked was strangely quiet. Said our good-byes, tho it was pretty hard, and I will have to try my best to make another journey out that way before the end of the season.

Sincerely wished that I didn't have to drive back to my apartment alone.

Truth be told, I feel much different today. While I'm not sure exactly why, I feel as tho I have shed a great burden. For once in a long time, I am definitely very happy. It's all thanks to visiting a great amusement park and few rides on the mighty Cyclone. Of course having my best friend by my side always puts a smile on my face as well.

Coney Island is a magical place after all.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hobo Ethical Code

It has come to my attention that being a hobo has become 'trendy'. While this information is not very new, I must confess that I really don't understand why people have to ruin cultures that existed for many years. There are kids that come into the Hostile City for the specific purpose of posing as a squatter or gutter punk. They congregate in the park, contribute nothing of worth and will put their hand out in hopes of making some money.

Honestly, I find this to be incredibly disgusting and insulting to those who have truly embraced such a lifestyle. On a recent trip to South Street, I saw a couple of these kids sitting with a cardboard sign and asking for spare change. Their clothes appeared to be fairly new and were quite clean, the girl was wearing bling plugs, and neither one of them looked as though they had spent a single nite on the street. When I walked past and that hand when out, my natural response was "Get a fucking job!"

There are a lot of homeless people in this city, some of which are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Every single one of them has a story, and unfortunately, there are many who lie thru their teeth for sympathy. While I have given of myself in many instances, lately I cannot bear parting with a dollar or even the loose change jingling around in my hand bag. Mostly due to the fact that I myself am unemployed, but also because I am tired of people taking the easy way out. If I really wanted to, I could be just like those individuals who would rather sit on the street and prey on the generosity of strangers than make the effort to get a job.

On a few occasions, I came across some hobos recently, and without a second thought I happily handed them whatever I could spare. It did not matter what they were going to use the money for, nor did I really care. At least they are being honest, and I will readily reward that over some lame story that's supposed to play on my heart strings. Besides, as a Carny, I sort of feel obligated to show kindness towards like-minded individuals.

In any event, before taking the plunge and jumping on a train to score cool points, one should be fully aware of what is considered to be proper traveling etiquette.

An ethical code was created by Tourist Union #63 during its 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis Missouri. This code was voted upon as a concrete set of laws to govern the Nationwide Hobo Body.
  • Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you.
  • When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
  • Don't take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
  • Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
  • When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
  • Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk [or drug addict] and set a bad example for locals' treatment of other hobos.
  • When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
  • Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
  • If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
  • Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
  • When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
  • Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
  • Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose all molesters to authorities, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
  • Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
  • Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
  • If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!

For some more interesting reading, check out the Dictionary of Old Hobo Slang, brought to you by the Original Hobo Nickel Society.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Serpent Queen - Part I

In addition to the various prose that has been directly inspired by the circus, sideshow or carnival, there is a short story that's been in storage on my computer for a couple of years now. To be honest, the original motivation behind penning the words was of a personal nature, so those details will not be shared. However, I do really enjoy the way the story came out, and figured I might as well put it in a more public domain. Perhaps this will assist me in finally completing the novel I have been working on for the past several years, which I definitely need to start talking more about. Having complete strangers read my intimate thoughts always seemed strange to me, but I know that I have a gift that would only be wasted if kept to myself.

The story has no discerned time in which it takes place, but I believe I was aiming for the mid-1940s, tho there may be some elements that are not compatible for that period. Then again, that's the joy of fiction - one can create a world and have total control over the things contained within. For me, writing about this particular subject seems to come naturally, and I certainly hope that someone out there enjoys reading it.

THE oil lamp sent a dim flame across the stretched canvas tent, shadowy figures dancing like stringless marionettes, black soot collected in the corner where a wooden table resided, a powder blue jacket draped over the coordinating chair. Sulfur filled the air for a brief moment as a match was brought to the end of an expertly rolled blunt, pungant smoke hanging heavy amongst the thick humidity that dominated the evening. It appeared as beads of perspiration on his white skin, wiped away with a black silk handkerchief for the third time since he sat down. Summer was always brutal when most of the day was spent inside that tent, even if every other hour was consumed by talking out on the bally stage. They all stopped when he was using the microphone to lure them closer with his intriguing words, promising that all sorts of unusual things were on display for their viewing pleasure, should they be so inclined to pay the admission. He was never quite sure what caught their curiosity more—the huge banners with exaggerated depictions of the various acts, or their awed expressions when they realized the man in the fancy suit with the heavy accent was quite the attraction in his own right. The talker had no intention to profit off the condition that Nature had bestowed upon him, and one that he had come to exploit himself in the beginning, before recognizing his true gift. He had the ability to get people’s attention without having to capitalize on the fact that he was not like everyone else, and it enabled him to collect large tips as he used every last ounce of his skill to call them in. At the end of the day, as he sat and inhaled the mix of pot and coke deep into his lungs, a smile was fixed on his lips; satisfaction of another successful week of long hours on that stage. The weekends were not any easier, but there were two other talkers that took turns doling out bullshit to the marks and rubes. While the show may have been over for the evening, he was just getting ready for the one he would put on display for the locals.

* * *

ON a hot Summer night deep in the swamps of New Orleans, a woman laid on the banks of the Mississippi River, ready to give birth on its muddy shore. She was an unwed mother of great wealth and social status, so ashamed of the child she carried that she had lied to everyone about its conception. The truth was she loved a man her father did not approve of, but that did not stop her from engaging in an affair so full of passion that her mind was never plagued with worry of any resulting consequences. It became clear to her a few months later that she was pregnant, and while her lover was overwhelmed with joy, she knew the child would never be accepted by anyone in her family. Then a lie was fabricated to implicate her lover as a rapist, which resulted in a conviction that took his life. The slaves that had seen her leave the house after everyone had gone to sleep were aware of the secret and whispered among themselves in their native tongue, saying she would pay for her dishonesty. Nonetheless, they had helped her down to the murky water where she intended to dispose of the baby as though it was an annoying inconvenience, burying all traces of the secret once and for all. Her screams were lost in the thick swamp, audible only to the few slaves that had been paid extra for their assistance. The evening became still when her bastard son was delivered into the world, and the superstitious slaves could only display horror when they set their eyes on him. It was obvious their prophecy had come true, and while the exhausted woman moaned in agony as death sought to remove her spirit, they discussed the fate of the baby they believed to be the spawn of the Devil. However, it was not the vibrant child they threw into the river, but rather the body of his dead mother, her shameful secret following her to the watery grave and never spoken of again.

Wrapped in a white cotton sheet, the baby was sold to a small circus that had been more than happy to take him into their already odd family. The Carnies made sure he received the best care possible, often putting him on display should they be in need of some extra cash to do just that. Levi remained an attraction for only a year before the Carny folk no longer wished to exhibit him as a freak, even though they had many people with birth defects and disfigurements that kept the curious public coming back for more. They never treated him any differently than the rest of those that worked hard to pitch the tent and raise the banner line. He was brought up among the rest of the children born into their strange Family, and while they never looked upon him the way the locals did when they happened to pass by while the children were playing, he was quite aware of the fact that he was not like others. The most obvious signs were his extremely pale skin and troubled vision, being both far-sighted and sensitive to light—which led him to constantly wearing glasses with tinted lenses during the day—as well as being able to see the tips of his white eyelashes. No one in his Family seemed to make a big deal out of it, and so Levi learned to appreciate his unique appearance. He had nearly been startled the first time he saw himself in the mirror, a strapping young lad in his teens with snow white hair and brilliant blue eyes offset by red pupils. The reflection was one he had not been prepared for, but at the same time, he was fascinated by the features that certainly set him apart from everyone else. Levi easily fell into place as one of the rousties, spending long hours swinging a sledge to drive stakes and ensuring the canvas was in the air by night fall. He sat with the other Carnies at every meal, but remained quiet while they engaged in conversation. His gift of gab was discovered one evening when he got up on the empty stage in the sideshow tent and delivered the pitch he had heard from the talker dozens of times. There was an audience of one who stood unnoticed in the back of that tent, and the Boss decided it would be a sin to waste such a presence. After that, Levi found himself on the outside of the tent, always dressed in the finest suits as he worked his charm.

* * *

WITH the dwindling blunt gripped tightly in his teeth, Levi buttoned up a crisp pink shirt, leaving the last few undone to enjoy whatever cool air existed, and slipped into the jacket. He stood in front of the mirror to inspect the final result as he combed white locks into a sleek style. He used a bit of grease paint to darken his brows, lashes and sideburns, completing the illusion with a dark blue bowler. It was something he always did before heading into town, having no need or want for any uninvited attention, as show time was over. Instead he desired to return to the bar and find a new face that was not yet privy to his hustle. There was usually someone he came across that would have lots of money but was low on intelligence, and he had not been in the city of his birth for several weeks while the circus was on tour. Levi certainly hoped that there would be fresh marks waiting to be fleeced.

Ditching the roach in a glass ashtray, Levi exited the tent and stepped out into the muggy evening, tilting the brim of his hat down. There were a few Carnies that were still awake as he crossed the dark midway—they chatted in the cook tent while enjoying a cold brew, but made no notice of his quiet exit. While the circus was asleep for the evening, New Orleans was still wide awake, with plenty of people packed in the bars, drinking to their heart’s content. Lushes rubbed elbows with the twenty-somethings losing all inhibition with every pint or shot; pheromone fueled lust and a desire for the attractive woman across the room. Drunken voices collided together and laughter added to the discord that echoed out on the street where he stood, contemplating as to which establishment would have the patrons with the fattest pockets. He casually smoked a cigarette and strolled along, peering into every place as he walked past to check out the scene, and his attention was drawn to a red-lit lounge that promised live, exotic girls.

Curiosity begged for a glimpse of those curvaceous forms in barely-there sequined costumes, even though he had been in attendance during the hootchie-cootchie shows more times than he cared to remember. Not so much because he was there to ogle the women as the rest of those flesh hungry wolves did, but rather a presence to ensure that none became overzealous and made an attempt to grab one of the girls. He had no desire for them, mostly due to the fact that he worked with them and considered them to be a part of his Family. However, he was not standing in a sweat-filled tent, unsure what kind of show that lounge had to offer. Levi watched several men go in as he mulled over a decision, taking note of the fact the men were all well-dressed, which obviously meant that they were wealthy. Suddenly he was warming up to the idea of entering into the unknown, delighted by the fact that those men would not only be drunk, but also distracted by the women who danced for their pleasure, making it that much easier for him to take their money. Wiping a bit of dirt off the tip of his blue alligator skin boots, he paused a moment to make sure his attire was in proper order, securing the bowler so that none of his white hair would be visible. He approached the entrance with confidence, presenting the man at the door with a few bills, which easily gained him access to the seedy environment that lay just beyond the heavy wooden door, lights dancing on its black lacquered surface as it swung open.

There were tables clustered around an oval-shaped stage trimmed with large round lights, dozens of men drinking and smoking, some engaged in a game of cards. It was so much more than he expected. However, that was not going to stop him from finding a table to sit at in order to enjoy a game. The bar was where Levi situated himself though, requesting a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass as he slid a twenty to the tender. From his perch on a black leather stool, he could easily observe the several hands of poker being played, carefully studying each man to learn his strength, weakness and tell.

When the lights in the room were dimmed and the ones on the stage bathed it in a red glow, strange music filled the air and all eyes were directed to the sultry silhouette poised behind brightly colored silk scarves being held taught by what was supposed to be harem girls, their naked bodies visible through the sheer costumes they wore. Applause erupted in the lounge as the music swelled and the scarves were dropped, revealing a beautiful woman that was wrapped in the coils of an albino python. Her blond curls had been gathered in an elaborate up-do accented by jewels that dangled from the veil which hid most of her face. In fact, it seemed as though her body glittered under those lights while she moved across the stage, rhinestones sewn in just the right places on the opaque fabric that desperately clung to her curves. She caressed the underside of the snake’s head, its bulky body draped across her shoulders with careful balance, its length wound around her chest, waist, and hips; the tail held fast to her leg. How seductively she moved despite the weight of the serpent she carried with her, each pose fluidly transitioning to the next in what could very well be a deadly ballet. Levi knew that python was capable of crushing her to death should it so desire—and yet she handled it with grace as though sharing an intimate dance with a lover. Showing no fear, she brought its powerful head towards her lips, allowing the head to enter her mouth in a rather suggestive manner, earning a round of cheers and catcalls from the men as silver coins rained onto the stage with a clatter that lasted for several minutes.

There was no interest in the next woman that flaunted herself for the approval of those men, her feathered costume evidently meant to be falling down in front as she shook back and forth. Levi abandoned his post as well as his intentions of hustling those easily distracted hound dogs. He had been so entranced by the snake charmer (something the sideshow lacked) that he not only desired to learn her name, but also ached for a glimpse of the face that had been hidden by the jeweled veil. He made his way across the lounge, doing his best to avoid the men that clamored over one another to be close to the half nude woman that sat on the edge of the stage, collecting tips between her heavy breasts. Levi easily turned away from it all as he slipped into the dimly lit hallway lined with numerous doors. The apprehension settled in when he passed the doors (many of which had something hanging from the knobs to indicate those inside were not to be disturbed), for he had an idea as to what was going on. The cleverly disguised brothel had him fooled, and he reluctantly admitted that his usual knack for uncovering such a farce was severely lacking. Either that was a result of the vast amount of whiskey he had just consumed, or the spell he felt had been cast upon him by the serpentine enchantress.

A strong perfume crept up his nose, tingling senses as it was eagerly inhaled and sent a chill through him when he slowly exhaled. It was a subtle blend of roses, vanilla and something else that he could not identify thrown in for good measure. The scent was not some cheap oil meant to be slathered on skin in order to make it smell sweet despite the noticeable odors that lingered from long hours of sex. No whore had good taste in things of that sort, nor did they bother to purchase an exotic blend such as the one which enticed the carnal pleasures in his brain as he continued down the hallway, ignoring squeaking bed springs and the occasional moan forced from the lips of a whore or her client. There was a light that spilled under the door at the very end, soft music crackling from a record player. Levi hesitated for a moment, his head now swimming in the scent, almost as though it intoxicated him more than those shots of whiskey. His hand trembled as it reached for the glass knob and wondered exactly what he was doing.

Did he have something to say to that radiant goddess, the woman who was so mysterious she had him fighting off nerves as he dared to enter the room uninvited? Would he even he able to form words when he laid his eyes upon her, not as a casual observer struggling to see her from across a smoke-filled room, but rather face-to-face as an admirer? He tightly gripped the multifaceted glass, his palm sweating terribly and heart beating so fast he could feel the pulse through his entire body. Taking a deep breath, he slowly pushed the door open, still not quite certain of what would greet him on the other side as it silently pivoted on its hinges.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this riveting tale!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tales From the Road

A continuation of the feature introduced last month, in which I opened up the proverbial journal vault of things I wrote while traveling with an authentic 10-in-1 sideshow on the carnival circuit. To briefly recap, I found the opportunity via Sideshow World, packed my bags and drove out to Bedford, PA. There I met a couple who owned a menagerie, i.e. farm animals, and had spent fifteen years exhibiting them all across the country. Some names have been changed out of respect for privacy.

July 22, 2005 - Hard working Carnies

It was massively humid late in the morning. So hot that everyone was sweating just doing light chores. The only mild inconvenience experienced thus far is having to walk down to the bathroom, but a little exercise is never bad. Took claim on the sleeping quarters—which is essentially a box of sorts built over the cab of an International tractor [used for hauling the bunkhouse around]—and proceeded to move in the luggage. Items that would be needed or used on a daily basis unpacked, and the rest staying put. A trip was made into town for food and few other things such as water, ice and a cooler, as well as a folding chair scored from the dollar store.

The crew right now consists of myself, the Manager [who is an old school Carny that used to travel back in the day], this guy who will be doing magic and mentalist tricks, and this guy that has worked for the Boss for a year. [Noted here that my ex at the time was also present, omitted from the text for personal reasons.]

We were put to work, bringing the components for the stage into the tent—which we would be sharing with the menagerie—and setting it up. Having animals to play with is a good way to eat up time. The goats are great, even if their eyes are a bit creepy, and the horses are pretty sweet—one of them is quite affectionate.

It has not all been fun and games though, but I knew there would be plenty of work. After all, you do not perform without spilling some sweat. Assembled the aforementioned stage, working in the late afternoon so as not the expend energy under the hot sun. Next we were taught how to put up the banner line. Driving those stakes into the ground does not happen by magic, just in case people are unaware of the fact it takes man power. Believe me, watching the men swing that sledge with grimaces on their faces tells you how hard that is. Would have taken my turn, but the general feeling said it was something to be done by the men. How useless did I feel? No matter, the job was done and then the painted signs had to be hung, so I made up for my lack of participation on the stake-driving by carrying as many signs as possible.

Since there was not much else for me to do, I was told that I could take a shower—the first since arriving. Once all squeaky clean, headed into town for dinner, relieved to be done for the day. The remainder of the evening was spent cutting up jackpots, learning the lingo and what it really means to travel with a carnival. Eventually, around two in the a.m., climbed into bed—which was slightly more comfortable than the first—and promptly passed out.

July 23, 2005 - Receiving the proverbial torch

The morning I woke up to was a beautiful one, as the humidity that had us panting yesterday has been replaced by a very pleasant breeze, which made spending time outside much better.

Now seems like a good time to introduce the crew a bit more. Brock hails from Chicago and does a mentalist act, bending forks out of shape with the power of his mind. He can also forecast one’s past, present or future with Tarot cards and does blindfold work. Our Manager and Boss are very friendly and keep us laughing while making sure all work gets done. Reg is the resident handyman and scapegoat, often on the receiving end of many jokes. In fact, we all bust each others balls, but it is all in good fun. This guy came along while we were setting up the banner line and was welcomed into the crew as an all-purpose worker. The Boss calls him Elvis due to the black hair and heavy Southern accent. It’s one strange Family alright.

Hit town for lunch then sat and played cards since there was not much else to do. Our banners had not arrived yet, and everything else has already been taken care of. Talk of a BBQ had us eager for some good food, and I decided to make an alcohol run. The local liquor store had the green label Jack Daniels, which is not seen in Jersey, and so insisted upon purchasing it. Now the same size bottle retails for about $24 in the Dirty, but I paid $18—damn good if you ask me. A bottle of Smirnoff vodka was only ten bucks. In any event, pleased with the acquisition, a stop was made for the appropriate mixer and a bag of ice.

It was getting late by the time I returned to the spot, and despite the fun we had exchanging stories and jokes, the crew was desiring BBQ. Had to play chauffeur to Boss Jr.’s girlfriend Garnet in order for the food to appear, but I did not mind. Needless to say, the hungry Carnies were happy for our return, and the meat started cooking. Everything was set up in the tent buffet style, with everyone grabbing a paper plate and plastic utensils to help themselves. For a variety of reasons, the Bosses and their ladies do not eat pork or beef, so the sausage and burgers were turkey. The sausage was great, but I did not care much for the burger. Thankfully Jack and Coke along with a screwdriver aided in washing that down, as did the watermelon and cantaloupe.

With stomach full and definitely slightly buzzed, it was time to get in bed. However, had a surprise visit from Reg, smoking a bowl and chatting about the crew. [Must say here that I am relieved someone smokes pot around here.] It is difficult to have a detailed opinion of people that you just met, though certain personality traits often surface quickly, particularly when one speaks highly of themselves. If I am going to trust anyone, it most certainly would be the Carnies who have been doing this long enough to make those snap judgments. Such as the Deadheads that seem like trouble.

The couple had come up to say hello, and the girl wound up being invited on as the Bally Bitch. Her duty will entail standing on the bally stage [in a skimpy costume] and wave the tip in. The boyfriend works down at the bingo tent, and they have a darling mixed breed puppy that always accompanies them. Did not get a good feeling from them initially, and it has stuck with me the more they open their mouths, fixated on scoring weed and talking about it way too much. It seems they are more in need of a ride than anything, and hey, if they can make some money, might as well. The guy had commented he wanted to bring his younger brother along, but did not say a word about that to Mab [the Boss’s wife]. Well, Carnies certainly are not stupid, and I am sure they are keeping an eye on everyone. However, something is to be said by Reg and sharing a bowl. It was also good to know that my assumptions of certain individuals have been picked up by someone else who just happens to have that ability to read people.

Aside from all that, Reg explained that it was important for us to learn all we can about what it takes to put on a show. Not only so that we have a greater appreciation for this, but also that we understand the business should there be a desire to frame our own show. Just as there are those who are ensuring the sideshow acts are kept alive by teaching a new generation, so too are these people ensuring that the classic 10-in-1 sideshow will have a future. It is a great honor, and I certainly have learned that a lot of hard work goes into this, but worth some sweat and sore muscles for the reward that is yielded.

Reg bid good night, and with stomach full, buzzed and high, sleep was welcomed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Making No Apologies

There have been a lot of events in my life that have helped shaped me into the person I am today. Some of them will always be cherished, while others I desperately wish to rid from my brain once and for all.

For whatever reason, I have spent a lot of time supporting others and being the person they perceive me to be. Within relationships, I have compromised to make someone else happy. In rare circumstances, I stopped being myself out of fear of rejection.

While I am certainly pleased with my ability to act [I am a Carny after all], denying my true self is a lie that eats me up inside.

People make assumptions about me all the time, and even more so, really enjoy talking shit. There's been plenty of posts that are dedicated to making fun of me. Which is touching and all, seeing as how random anonymous individuals can pass judgment on someone they have never met, nor even tried talking to. It takes minimal effort to converse with me, and I talk way more than given credit for. Ask me the right questions, and I can ramble. Bring something interesting to the table, and I am sure that we can chat for hours.

In the past week, I've had two people get angry enough to say "Go fuck yourself". Am I really that much of an awful human being that I do not even deserve to be spoken to with respect?

It occurs that perhaps I am not the problem, despite what some people may want me to believe. I can be a total sweetheart or a complete asshole. To be honest, it really depends on how you approach me. Some times I am not in the mood to talk, and tho I understand this can give the wrong impression, if you want to make assumptions about me, I don't want to know you.

There are plenty of reasons I have for not wanting to interact with people. Tho I have given freely of myself in many ways, kindness has often been taken advantage of. Caring too much about others has led me to neglect myself, and I am tired of being treated like a doormat. Perhaps I am also too trusting and open with my feelings, but I was raised to communicate and not hold anything back.

I would rather be hated for who I am than be loved for who I am not. People tell me they understand, but they sure turn tail and run when things get rough. I can be very emotional, and not everyone knows how to deal with that. However, I do not ask people to care or whatever. If you take that upon yourself, you need to accept the fact that I am not a fucking plastic doll; I have an opinion and I am not afraid to express it.

There is not a lot I ask of those who wish to be my friends [or engage in a more meaningful relationship]. Do not lie to me, steal from me, cheat on me or otherwise fuck me over, and I will show you the same respect. It seems very simple to me, but people act like I'm asking for the moon and stars. Do not tell me that you care and then not show it. Talk is cheap; actions speaks volumes of your character, and the truth always surfaces sooner or later.

I have spent way too much time trying to 'do the right thing' for the sake of satisfying someone else's needs. I have compromised and made changes [to my benefit on a few occasions] only to be tossed aside like a used napkin.

That ends now.

There is endless pride in being myself and not trying to 'fit in'. I do not need to be stereotyped or lumped into a genre; they're all quite teeming with drama and bullshit, which I want no part of. Once upon a time I was appreciated for what I was worth, and loved every minute of it. I miss being that person and wonder why I have allowed myself to be convinced that was a bad thing.

If you cannot deal with who I am, then please, do not waste my time with lies and bullshit. Do not tell me you are my friend and then walk all over me. Do not tell me you care but do little to show it. Do not take advantage of my kindness and trust, then turn around and throw it in my face.

Never again will I apologize for being me, and I am taking great caution with who I trust and call my friend. It will be an honor reserved for those who prove they are worthy of the title. Everyone else can kindly fuck off.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Prose Inspired by Coney Island

Going through the journal I have kept for about a decade now, I really miss having the opportunity to drive out to Coney Island any time I wanted to. There are a lot of thoughts I have about my adventures, which I certainly plan on documenting in this space, much like the recent post I made. Reading about how much this place meant really brings back those happy memories. It has been three years since I last set foot on the Island, when I had the chance to perform at the Rockabilly Festival and took the stage at Cha Cha's. For me, it was a moment to bring a long-standing fantasy to life. Knowing that the amusement area will never be the same [not that it ever was after the Golden Age] brings me much pain. However, I will always cherish the memories I have, and hope that others are encouraged to do the same.

Drowning in the black water below
Turning in the surging tide
Rotting beyond the sandy shore
Torn from the polluted womb
Of the neon-lit Mecca
Transformed by age and land-lusty politicians
Life thrown away in the gutter
Disgarded among the ramparts
The last remains of a glorious empire
Now reduced to faded memories
History buried 'neath the sand
Strewn amongst the rubble and glitter
A kingdom of fire that doesn't burn as bright
Haunted by the ghosts of days passed
A victim of greed and control
Stood as a silent witness to the demise
Uttered a final cry as it too was murdered
A secret taken to that amusement park in the sky
Lost amongst the chilidsh shouts of joy
And time continues to go forward
Without so much as shedding a tear
Such is the fate of Sodom by the Sea

Coney Island Suicide

The lights have all gone out
The laughter has been silenced
The Wonder Wheel turns no more
The Cyclone has been put to bed
In the shadow of the tower
I stand in contemplation
Cigarette in one hand
Loaded gun in the other
While the moon is full and bright
By the midnite hour
I stand in hesitation
The only thing to keep me warm
Would be a bullet thru my head
Boards creak beneath my feet
A drunken man passes me by
Paranoia starts to set in
A cacophony of voices floating in my head
In the shadow of the tower
I stand in contemplation
Kissing the barrel of a gun
Waiting for the right moment
The final stage of my life
By the midnite hour
I stand in hesitation
One pull of the trigger
And I'd choke on hot lead
The lights are flashing red and blue
The sirens scream late at nite
The corener takes photographs
Of the bullet thru my head
In the shadow of the tower
They gater in confusion
Asking questions of 'why'
But getting no answers
Body lays bleeding on the boars
There is no illusion
Death claimed His victory over me
One sweet kiss struck me dead

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Carny Philosophy - Man Eating Chicken

[Originally written 1.22.2004]

Was watching A&E for no particular reason, and my attention was gained by the mention of Lobster Boy. It was an entire hour on the death of Grady Stiles, and I found myself glued to screen as footage of Gibtown, Florida was shown.

One of these days I shall have to take a visit to that place. There are rides and games and animals and other cool carnival things right out in the open, all year long. The people that live there who aren't carny folk enjoy it as well. They see the freaks as friends and neighbors who just happen to have made a living from the sideshow.

That's the kind of place I wanna live in; a never ending carnival.

To this day, I still remember the episode of Jerry Springer where hole Stiles family made an appearance. Apparently, Jerry was trying to get them to make peace.

On Sunday, I happen to catch a program on the History Channel that focused entirely on circus freaks and sideshows. It was basically a visual time-line of how they came to be. It started with P.T. Barnum's dime museum that bloomed into a traveling show, and eventually sideshows became a common sight in Coney Island and other places.

Despite the fact that some people may think the freaks were exploited and treated poorly, they made a damn good living. Tom Thumb [the world's smallest man at one point] died a millionaire. Ain't that some shit?

The sideshow gave those with physical deformities a home and an income, while the rest of society would rather shut them away in the dark. When the activists came out of the woodwork to complain, it was the freaks who spoke out against them and told them to fuck off. They enjoyed what they did, and who else would hire someone with three legs or a parasitic twin?

Now for the point of the entry. Referring to the program about Lobster Boy, a gentleman that was interviewed in Gibtown said something which I have now adopted as one of my many mantras. Carnies always keep an optimistic attitude. They may have a terrible week where they earn little or nothing, but they don't let it get them down. Instead, they believe that they will do better next week, because you never know what can happen, and you have to keep a positive outlook.

A new phrase popped into my head while watching this terrible fascinating program. During the trial, a tape was submitted to prove that he was abusive to his family. There was no sound, so the tape showed what looked like a rather aggressive wrestling match between Grady and his son. The jury fully sympathized, until a second tape was submitted, with sound this time. Since the voices were now fully audible, what seemed like abuse turned out to just be playful wrestling, with Grady's wife giving pointers to her son.

This is a clear case of Man Eating Chicken. If you have seen the HBO series Carnivale, then you know what I'm talking about. For those who have not, it's quite simple.

In one episode of Carnivale [and in real life sideshows], there was a banner that simple said Man Eating Chicken with a picture of a giant chicken. Now, taken the wrong way, one would assume they were going to see a chicken eating a man, when in fact they saw exactly what the banner said they would. Of course this angered all the people who paid to be fooled. "Tell your friends," you say, "so they have to pay as well, and the joke will be on them."

That is the basis of Man Eating Chicken.

Thus concludes today's lesson.

Coney Island - the Addiction

There are many well written books on the subject of Coney Island, numerous films that depict beautiful images of what once was, and millions of people who have walked across its sandy beaches. It draws you into the history and allows appreciation of the fact that it even existed in the first place. Truly it was a wonder of its time, long before there were theme parks and advances in technology to allow for competition of bigger, taller, faster and the most extreme.

At one point in my life, I was constantly making the 18 mile journey from where I lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey to a place where all your dreams could come true. No matter if the amusement area was open for business or not, there was something that constantly drew me to the Island. On a few very special occasions, I had an unforgettable adventure, and I certainly enjoyed photographing various objects as much as possible.

Figured that I might as well share all the thoughts and feelings I have documented over the years. Perhaps a part of me still wants people to know just how serious the dedication to my lifestyle is. While other treat it like the latest fashion trend, and constantly make a profit while proclaiming 'love of the art', obviously my position has not changed over the years, and most likely it never will.

[Originally written on 10.17.2003]

I see photos of a place that I dream about and long to be there. Every time I go, I never want to leave. Of course I'm talking about Coney Island.

I fell in love with the place the first time I went [three years ago], and ever since, I can't seem to keep myself away. I am addicted; drawn in by the being that is. I could read about the history of Coney Island for days on end and never grow bored. There's just so much about it that I find terribly fascinating. It has taken over me. It is inside of me...and it refuses to get out.

It took me awhile to figure out what I want to do with my life. The first time I saw the mind was made up. I live for it now. I was born with sawdust in my veins, and I was meant to do this. Right now, I am doing as much as I possibly can to be successful at it.

To be honest, I don't think anyone understands how I feel, unless they love the Island just as much as I do. It is not something that you can just put down in words, though many have tried with brilliant works. There's just something about the Island that reaches out and grabs you. Once you are hooked, it's like you can't live without being there. It is the end of America where millions upon millions of people have passed before. It is something man could not handle. It is truly unique, and there will never be anything like it again.

There's a certain feeling that washes over you when you're there. The sea is what calls out to me. The Island has had a rocky history since it was spawned, and yet it still exists, while other things are long gone. There is history all around you there, and you are a part of it. I have been there at almost every time of day. From early afternoon to the evening to sunset to sunrise. Beautiful blue skies uninterrupted by any clouds, and I have even seen the beach blanketed by snow.

One of my fondest memories has to be watching the sun rise. Of all the times I paid a visit to the Island, I had never stayed to see this. When I did, something happened to me. Maybe I was just in awe of what I was witnessing, or perhaps overjoyed I could share the experience with someone who means the world to me.

The moment was as perfect as it could get. A sort of bliss settled over me. There were no worries, bills to pay or traffic to be annoyed by. No television or radio. No distractions at all. No ignorant people. No drama. No bullshit. Just the sea. I could sit on that beach and listen to the sea for hours. The thought has entered my mind on a number of occasions to just say 'fuck it' and live by the sea.

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ode to My Fucked Up Knee

There is no such thing as "medical coverage" in the circus world. If something goes wrong, you are responsible to take care of yourself.

Q. What do you get when you put 32 carnies together?
A. A full set off teeth.

::rim shot::

There were people I worked with who had bad things happen to them. Our manager went to the hospital with chest pain. Mild stroke I believe that was. He left at the third spot.

The mentalist had diabetes. He had to store insulin, but had no refrigerator. There were times I thought he was going to keel right over. He left at the third spot as well.

The bally girl/Miss Electra...won the crown for Drama Queen. Where to begin? She wore these vinyl shoes on her first day, high heeled disasters from you-know-where. She tripped down the stairs and "sprained" her ankle. At one point ever one passed around a cold; a.k.a. the Carny Flu. She milked the shit out of having it. Left one spot to re-cooperate at home. Wound up leaving the last place early. Her "falling off the stage" [which actually happened more than once] was nothing short of a performance.

One fellow I worked with was getting off stage when he fell off, landing on the pavement below. It was frightening. Why did it happen? A malfunction of great Carny Engineering. The BWB* was implemented in making this set of steel steps 'level' with the stage [which was pretty high off the ground.] They slipped every time someone used them, which obviously was often. Watching something like this happen, and in front of an audience no less, makes you thankful that there was not a serious injury.

When you enter a new environment, it takes some time to adapt to it, such as having to climb up steel steps to get into my 'sleeping quarters'. Once I slipped and hit my knee on edge of said steps. That was only the first spot. At the fourth one, there was this small square of asphalt missing that just happened to be in the area we were setting up. Jerry stepped in it and I laughed. Wound up doing the same thing later, and landed on the knee again. Then, while hanging up the side wall, the weak ladder shifted under me and I fell, hitting the same knee on the metal leg. Thankfully I caught myself, or I would have busted my ass.

This is where it gets good. The Halloween spot we did was in this beautiful park out in Pennsylvania was in close proximity of a creek. It rained four days in a row one week. We had to clear the important items out of the tent in case of flooding. And boy did it flood. Had to wade through ankle deep water in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Yea...just like camping, only under a bigger tent. Well, trenches were dug around the animal tent to keep the critters inside as dry as possible. Being that we were in the woods, with trees shedding leaves, and not much light...I stumbled into the trench on many occasions, usually while high. Of course this aggravated the knee more. When the tent came down, it was harder to remember where the trench was, and I managed to catch myself in it, landing on the knee once again.

It was pretty sore for a while after that, but eventually it settled down.

Perhaps I am just really that clumsy, but all of this damage still leaves me with pain that comes and goes whenever it wants. While my injury certainly is not as severe as some others can be, it is indeed a testament to the fact that life on the road is not without cost.

*BWB - Big Wooden Block; a device with multipurpose use.