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Monday, November 28, 2011

I’m Gonna Run Away and Join the Carnival!

Sure, sure, there’s the phrase, the threat, the promise, “I’m gonna run away and join the carnival” but no one really follows through with that, right? I didn’t run away but I did join a few.

It was spring, my sophomore year in college just ended. I couldn’t find a job to save my life, a robust cocker spaniel’s life or even my spider plant’s life. I was going to school in a small, conservative, western Pennsylvania, coal mining town – employment opportunities for an artsy looking 19 year old, during a recession, were non-existent. I swear, I must have had a neon sign flashing on my forehead “don’t hire this chick -- she’ll scare your customers, steal your condiments and she doesn’t even shave her legs!!!”

This being 1978, I did the fashionable, trendy thing -- hopped a Greyhound bus to San Francisco, hoping it was still a cool, hippy, fun place and MAYBE I’d even find a job.

I fell in love with the city and was happily ready to stay. At that time tuition at state colleges, for California residents, was free. I had it all planned out – stay with friends until I could get my own place, establish residency and start applying to state colleges within the year.

Then came the fateful call from my older sister -- she and her new husband had joined a carnival and did I want to join them. It seemed like it could be interesting, more it could be a way to earn money for college and see more of the country. Carnivals had never sparked my imagination though, apart from “Something Wicked This Way Comes” that is. My friends talked me into it saying California would still be there when I was done with the carnival and, damn, “isn’t running away with the carnival everyone’s childhood dream?”

 I road the bus, 72 straight hours, back across the country to Pennsylvania, jumped into my brother in law’s beat to shit pick up along with him, my sister, their astoundingly, awesome baby Helen and their huge doberman (who wasn’t so much astounding as he was large and scary) and south to San Angelo, Texas we went.

We arrived at the lot/the midway, after midnight while the show was being taken down (sloughed), loaded onto the trucks for the jump to the next spot.

 My new employer strode towards us looking like a cross between Jackson Browne and a
very young, pre corpse, Keith Richards, offering me a hit from a joint the size of Long Island.

First reaction: Damn, I’m gonna like it here.
Second reaction: Goodness he’s easy on the eyes.
Third reaction: Is it always 90 degrees at midnight in Texas and what do you mean there are no bathrooms out here!?

It didn’t take long before I found that I was just as much the outsider here as I was in that little town in western Pennsylvania. Carnival women could be wives and mothers or whores -- there were no other choices and no in betweens. I made a third choice -- single, independent, smart and “Hell NO I’m not sleeping with you. Seriously man, have you bathed at all this century?” babe.

For this I was named The College Bitch. I bore that name with pride.

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