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.

Prose Inspired by the Carnival

By now it should be obvious that there is no shortage of things related to circus and sideshow that I enjoy writing about. While mostly I stick to fiction, such as a short story about an albino and snake charmer who find love, or the novel I have been working on for the past several years, there are also thoughts that are put together in some sort of poetic fashion. Honestly, I dislike putting labels on anything I write, as the words just come as they want to.

At some point in the future, I will go into more detail about the previously mentioned novel, and certainly am entertaining the idea of posting the short story as well. In the meantime, here are a few things that were composed while traveling with the carnival in 2005. These were also published in Issue 1 of Alive On the Inside.


In that iron cage you ruled
The gathered crowd was fooled
Aiming and pitching their best
To see you in water up to your chest
From that platform you would holler
Made them part with that dollar
Insulting people you’d hardly know
The worse it was, the harder they’d throw
Hit the target and in the water you fell
When you didn’t they said “Go to hell!”
During a break you went to the bathroom
Saw those marks, thought you were doomed
Recognized as the foul-mouthed clown
They had tried so hard earlier to drown


With the head of a beautiful woman
And the body of an ugly snake

They say Angel is her name
An ancient illusion of fame
Only a dollar to enter
Closely inspect the cage
She’s resting on a table
Exactly as described
And yet…

That snake body is fake
And the girl seems to be as well!
Someone cried

Rest assured she is alive
Tho does not speak as advertised
People leave with disappointment
Missing the simple illusion
In the end it doesn’t matter
No refunds for the ignorant

Come inside and see Angel
Beautiful woman and serpent of evil


‘Even a handful of hay and a cupful of water are a mighty big meal for Tiny Tim’

Tiny Tim is the World’s Smallest Horse
He’s housed in a barn across the midway
Plastic barn painted red and white
His name visible from every side
People pay their dollar to see Tim
All day he stays in that barn
And I hear how small he is
It’s starting to infect my brain
The madness turns thoughts deadly
A plot of insanity to kidnap him
Turn him into glue for my hair
Jell-o that I happily slurp down
Food for my hungry dogs
That damn horse deserves it!

At the end of the carnival
When the rides are dark
Everyone in tear down mode
There is Tiny Tim
No bigger than a tractor’s tire
He’s not such a bad guy
It was the grind—
The looping tape from Hell

You know what a Geek is don't you?

Red and yellow canvas tent
Pitched behind the sideshow
Crowd gathered in curiosity
One dollar gets you inside
Packed against sweaty bodies
Air reeking of cheap beer

Eyes stare at the oddities
Nature’s cruel mistakes
Live freaks put on display
Extra attraction is sold to the marks
They push forward in eagerness
Anticipation saturates the air

With a mad grin he steps into the light
Takes a survey of the curious faces
Politely bows for the captive audience
Holds a clucking bird by its feet
Brings it closer to his mouth
Women are screaming in the rear

He’s a geek, self-made freak
Robbing chickens of their heads
He’s a geek, self-made freak
Likes them raw not cooked instead
See the geek, take a peak
Just a dollar for the show
Why he does it—no one knows!
He’s alive; on the inside
So c’mon in and see him now!

Stand in line to have a turn
Observe the advertised tattoo d man
Brightly colored ink embedded into skin
Detailed designs cover him from head to toe
Even in places which cannot be seen
Dressed too fine for street trash
Clothes fit enough for a King
Walks with confidence purpose attitude
Eyes caught by the beauty of a Queen

Raven hair tumbling in curls
Pale-skinned face penetrated by metal
Heavily tattoo d body supple with curves
Draped in a vintage lace dress
Intense eyes fixed on him as lips smile
She is actually real—not a dream

She’s a geek, self-made freak
Eats insects like tasty snacks
She’s a geek, self-made freak
Listens to their bodies crack
See the geek, take a peak
Just a dollar for the show
See the freak, take a peak
Why she does it—no one knows!
She’s alive; on the inside
So c’mon in and see her now!

As the casual observer knows
Boy meets girl and they fall in love
Taking a ride on the carousel
Joined for eternity by the Carny law
Automaton calliope playing loud
As around and around it goes!

Drawing crowds into their shows
Building the tip on the pally stage
He delivers the smooth pitch
She’s wrapped in the coils of snakes
Inside they share the spotlight
A tube that he drinks from—
Out her mouth from in her nose!

Then into another pitch he flows
An extra dollar will gain access
To something gruesome
That comes with warning
And curiosity funnels them into line
Bodies packed in the blow-off tent
What they saw—
Well…what do you suppose?

He’s a geek, self-made freak
She’s a geek, self-made freak
See the geeks, take a peak
Just a dollar for the show
See the geeks, take a peak
Why they do it—no one knows!
They’re alive; on the inside
So c’mon in and see them now!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Circus Family

There is a theory I have about how the Circus is like the Mafia.

Seriously. Think about it for a minute. When an old school circus set up in a lot, there was a main boss, sub-bosses and variety of workers. The games are crooked, there's likely pick-pockets wandering about, and if you're lucky, you get to be a mark. In case you did not know, that means you are gullible and flashing around your money. Don't worry, we a have nice safe spot for it in our pockets.

There are few rules in the Circus [I am using the term to generalize, so this includes carnivals, sideshow, burlesque, etc.]. Should you be an unfortunate townie that happens to break one of them, well then you're in store for some good old fashioned Carny Justice. And if you think that's just something out of a television show, you obviously have never seen the wooden bats hidden amongst plush toys at a game booth.

One of the most important rules is: you do not fuck with the Carnies. Much in the same vein as you do not fuck with the Mafia. There are dire consequences for doing so, and I'm not talking about the shit you see in Hollywood movies.

Like the Mafia, the traditions of Circus are passed from one generation to the next. If you fail to see the connection at this point, you should just stop reading and waste your time elsewhere.

Taking this one step further, as silly as it may sound [and this is just in my humble opinion], when it comes to the whole of sideshow in Philadelphia, Red Stuart is at the top of the game. He is the oldest living sword swallower, holds multiple Guinness Book records, has traveled across the country numerous times, and has done more tent shows than anyone I know of. Suffice to say that he is, indeed, the Godfather.

It seems that many performers have a better-than-thou attitude when it comes to certain things. While at first it is comforting to know that they have so much confidence, it gets to a point where one cannot help but wonder why they strut around like their shit doesn't stink. They are not the end-all and be-all of sideshow, though certainly desire to corner the market on as much as they can. Is it to bring a dying form of entertainment to those who may not otherwise have seen it? No my friends. They are doing it for the almighty dollar, and that is a blow to each and everyone of us who have slaved to pitch a tent.

Obviously one can expect some sort of compensation for entertaining audiences. However, in the old days, just having this opportunity was enough to satisfy. There were many moments when each penny was scraped together, just so that everyone could have a decent meal. Animals were more important than the humans who cared for them, because it was far easier to replace a roustie than it was to get another lion. Of course there's also those stories about how people would get tossed off the train in the middle of the night if they were considered to be dead weight.

Perhaps my head has been clouded by visions of what it must have been like in the early days of Circus, when everyone pitched in and worked their hardest in order to give the best performance possibly. The sheer joy evident on the faces that surrounded you as applause filled a canvas tent was something that others could only fantasize about. It's something that you either understand or you don't, and if you fit into the latter category, perhaps you should take some time to learn a little something called history. People lived and died for the Circus, but I do not see the same commitment from those who dare say they are carrying on the same traditions.

Certainly there are plenty of movies, television shows and even books that are full of common misconceptions. Going back to the original comparison of Circus and Mafia, do no let anyone fool you into believing that neither one of these are highly organized businesses which deal with large volumes of cash. Stereotypes exist, and unfortunately are played into any time the media picks up on a negative aspect. However, in my heart I believe that some people truly get it, and will forever remain with it.

The theory of having a Family composed from a variety of individuals who all work together for a common purpose seems to elude many. In the end, everyone will do whatever they want and there's no use in trying to change that. Instead, I am will always remain loyal to what I know and love, because Family is all I have.

Tales From the Road

Introducing a monthly feature that explores life on the road traveling with the carnival. For some, it is the thrill of the open road, the opportunity to see the sights and meet interesting people along the way that makes the journey worth it. By no means is it any sort of dream world filled with glitz and glamor; you are tired and dirty and hard worked pretty much every day. While I can only speak for myself, what makes doing this worth the effort, is having the ability to interact with the public. There is no better job in the world than being yourself and making money from it.

Starting things off with my own experience, and encourage others to submit their own stories:


In 2005, I had the opportunity to travel with one of the last remaining 10-in-1 sideshows in America. The owners had toured carnival circuits for about 15 years with a menagerie that carried a full banner line and canvas tent. Eventually they expanded into sideshow, though at times had considered sticking with the menagerie [for various reasons]. The story that follows was written during those five months, slightly edited for content and grammar, as well as changing names to keep the people slightly anonymous.

July 21, 2005 - Heading West

Packing is a strange thing. You have to find room for everything you want to take while making sure you will be able to remember where it is later on. Well, I managed to fit all of my clothes in two suitcases, utilizing the smallest one for my shoes. That’s right, just for shoes. Also had enough space for all of those small and yet very important items. No matter what, you are always thinking of something else you need, because the last thing you want is to be far from home and realize that you forgot something. You can buy stuff on the road, but it is better to have something so you do not have to spend money.

When organizing the luggage is all said and done, it is time to put it in the car. Packing a car is a fine art, tell you what. It is a long process, but when done right, it is a satisfying feeling.

Received well wishes before departing, which was touching.

Picked up a few provisions and gas, then was on the way from New Jersey into the depths of Pennsyltucky.

The drive was long and I knew this before I even started. There was not much scenery along the way, aside from farms and woods. Two stops were made to get out and stretch the legs, as well as to put some food in the stomach.

When I finally reached town, that was when things went wrong. Wound up driving around in circles for a few hours, attempting to find the fairground in Bedford, PA. Long story short, was glad to finally arrive, eager to meet everyone and get some sleep. Could tell that my boss, his wife, son and the son’s girlfriend were good people. We stood around to bullshit for a while, listening to some funny stories about being on the road. When someone is in this business for such a long time, there is an endless vault of information. By the way, these people are totally not the kind of Carnies one often hears about, so I am wondering where the bad reputation and negative stereotype comes from.

Certainly could have listen to them talk all night, however, the need for rest was too much. Spent the night sleeping on a mattress in the back of the spook house, as the other quarters had not been cleared out yet. It was not that bad, actually, just higher off the ground than what I am used to. Slept just fine, for the first time on a carnival lot.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Alive On the Inside - Issue 1

December 30 2005, on my 25th birthday, I self-published a circus and sideshow magazine that was distributed amongst friends and traveled to various points around the globe. It was my attempt to pull together assorted pieces of history from the past and connect them with the present.

The first edition of Issue 1 was limited to 50 copies, all of which found their place in someone's hands. The second printing was limited to 30 copies, and again, those were given to anyone who showed interest in the contents. There have been no other prints made since then, but I have decided to edit the entire issue and release it as an exclusive edition in the near future.


Welcome to the other side of the canvas wall, where few have been fortunate enough to gain access to. This is one woman's perspective of the American Circus culture, which has been a part of my life since I was a child. There were a lot of things that interested me about the carnival that magically appeared every May outside the windows of my Catholic grade school. It was amazing to me that people lived in these mobile trailers, which allowed them to go any place they wanted to, bringing along this unique form of entertainment.

While early exposure to live circus performance is hard to remember, I do know that I was not very fond of the clowns, mostly due to the fact they made some loud noises which were not friendly to sensitive ears. However, there was always a fascination that filled me when I watched people do amazing things. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment I wanted to be one of these people, but there was definitely a yearning to know what it was like. Not so much because I felt the need to be the center of attention, but more so due to the fact that what they did seemed magical, and the audience loved them for it.

Things certainly became even more interesting when I discovered strange things on the midway of a carnival my parents brought me to. At the time, I had no idea what sideshow was, or that there was such a thing as a gaffe. The vivid illustrations certainly caught one's attention and got the imagination stirring. Natural curiosity wanted to know exactly what was on the inside of these strange metal trailers. Some of them were more rewarding than others, but in the end, satisfaction was found.

The years passed and eventually I found my way to Coney Island, where I saw my first real sideshow, and marked the beginning of a new obsession. There was a constant craving for knowledge of history and any information I could find about this magical place. Part of me could take that step back in time, and know what it was like to see thousands of incandescent bulbs burning through the darkness. An electric Eden that many saw instead of the welcoming torch held high by the Statue of Liberty. Imagination was easily sparked, and truly I felt a connection to the Island.

All of this has helped shape me into the person I am today, along with countless adventures and experiences that some people only dream about. There were moments when I wondered how I had become so fortunate as to walk in the footsteps of those I once admired. In many ways, I feel as though I have carried on the traditions of Amercian Circus, which I feel is important to preserve as much as possible, particularly now that we have become a digital-obsessed society. Everything needs to be instant gratification, and then quickly move on to the next thrill, as though there is an addiction.

The contents of this blog are purely meant to document the events that have occured over the course of my life to serve as education for anyone interested enough to read this. From my time spent traveling with an authtentic 10-in-1 sideshow and late night exploits on the Island to living in city that gave birth to American Circus and joining the ranks of sword swallowers world wide. Some opinions may not be suitable for all audiences, but I have always stayed true to myself and believe in the ability of free speech.

With that said, please enjoy this assorted collection and appreciate the rare opportunity presented here.