On a cool Friday
evening in September of 1971 Skimpy and I dropped
acid at the Wayne County Fair. We rode a rocking
and rolling and rattling contraption called The
Twister and a screaming, back firing, spinning,
rotating futuristic hot rod spaceship Ferris wheel,
The Bullet. I think I vomited, but it might have
been somebody else.
After the violent joy rides, we drifted through the tents on the outer
perimeter, the sideshows. I saw a live goat with five legs and
visited with the “Wild Boy,” a freckle faced kid wearing a funky wig
penned up in a plexiglass fish tank. I gave him the thumbs up and he
smiled at me. I saw a girl who turned into a gorilla behind a
curtain, expecting a comic hoax, but it was a real gorilla. In the
Sexual Oddities tent a flirtatious wink and a serious come on from a
tall thin hermaphrodite with long black hair tested my yin yang sex
I regarded her soft skin and his square jaw, her legs and his hips,
her hair falling on his shoulders, and his beard sprouting below her
lips. She wore a lacy black dress that he opened to display her penis
and his vagina. She was a man that was a beautiful woman or a woman
who was a very handsome man, depending on your personal sex dial. A
thousand years ago they'd build a temple, put him in it, ask him
questions and pay him to pray. In 1971, she was just a freak, a
strangely beautiful, dark, horny, sexy freak.
Frankenstein Nookie was the high point of the Sexual Oddities show,
another test of the sexual buttons. Here was a transsexual Marine, a
veteran of the Pacific campaign in World War II who pulled up his
dress and said, “If there are any doctors in the house, please feel
free to step up and examine me more closely, and I will also see you
back stage, if you would like an even more thorough examination.”
Then he spread the soft delicate lips of his scientific creation and
added, “I fought the battle of Iwo Jima and now I have a pretty
pussy. God bless America.”
night delivered us further into the Weird we were distracted by a
driving drumbeat coming from across the fairgrounds. Entranced, drawn
to the sound though the throngs of night wanderers and bright lights,
we walked toward the throbbing jungle funk blues beat. Soon the
pulsing bass and drums were joined by a hoarse, gravely, amplified
“YEEEOOOOWW! LIVE GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS. STEP RIGHT UP, FOLKS. THE
SHOW IS ABOUT TO BEGIN. WE GOT MORE PUSSY THAN THE S.P.C.A.
MEEEYOWWW! WE GOT MORE LEGS THAN COLONEL SANDERS. BUCK, BUCK,
BUCCAIIII! GIRLS. LIVE GIRLS. COME AND GET IT! STEP RIGHT UP FOR
GEORGE WASHINGTON'S PUSSYCAT DANCERS. “
stage six feet off the ground five sexy black goddesses were lined up
doing a slinky hypnotic snake dance in unison, parading across the
platform in an air hump jazz sex palsy. Behind them, a massive yellow
canvas facade with black silhouettes of naked African women
advertised, “GEORGE WASHINGTON'S PUSSYCAT DANCERS. EROTIC AFRICAN
DANCE. LIVE MUSIC.”
barker was a bearded white guy who sounded like an old black preacher,
preaching the Gospel of Smut in an elevated pulpit on the side of the
stage. He wore a black leather jacket, black shirt with a priest’s
white collar, dark glasses and a gangster hat. The barker was stage
right, the girls in the middle and on the other end a lanky teenager
in a white shirt was thumping on a cheap electric bass. Next to him a
scrawnier old man in a white shirt was kicking and slapping drums like
he’d been somewhere.
and I stood under the pulpit watching as Grandpa snapped and popped
the beat and Junior's dime store bass farted through the public
address system. The barker, was on fire, microphone pressed to his
teeth, riffing sex blues madness from behind dark glasses.
AIN'T SUPERSTITIOUSsss aah, but I cross myself just in case. I AIN'T
RELIGIOUSsss aah, but I pray for a piece. I AIN'T CONTAGIOSsss aah,
but I got a disease. I’m a SEXAHOLIC. Step right up to the altar
folks, PLEASEssss aah. We know what is in your pants, AND WE KNOW
WHAT IT WANTSssss aah. THE PUSSYCAT DANCERS ARE GOING TO TAKE YOU TO
HEAVEN FOR JUST THREE DOLLARSssss aah. FIVE DOLLARSsss aah FOR A
COUPLE. MY FRIENDSsss aah, WE HAVE LIVE WOMEN TAKING THEIR CLOTHES
OFF RIGHT HERE aahh. ARTISTS OF THE DANCEsss aah. MASTERS OF THE
STRIP TEASEsss aah. THE PUSSYCAT DANCERSss aah, DIRECT FROM MIAMI,
FLORIDAaaa. SHOW STARTS IN TEN MINUTESsss aah . . . IF YOU ARE A
COUPLE IT'S JUST ONE PICTURE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. ARE YOU READY FOR
GEORGE WASHINGTON’S PUSSYCAT DANCERS?”
pulled the microphone from his lips, looked directly at me and Skimpy,
kneeled down and said, off the record, “You guys like black girls,
huh? Come on in. Have some fun,” like he knew we were tripping. We
did stick out in a crowd. Skimpy had a huge Lebanese afro. I hadn’t
shaved or cut my hair in four years. We were the new breed of
redneck, the white niggers, low down and dirty freaks so carefree we
didn’t think twice about tripping into an all black strip show in KKK
the girls had her eye on me.
bless Martin Luther King.
bless Abraham Lincoln.
a very nice lady at the entrance, walked through the tent and took our
seats in the back row, the white section, all two of us. Within
minutes there was standing room only. It was couples night and
couples filled the seats around us. There was a single white couple
standing next to the entrance, holding cups of beer, like if it got
too scary in there, they could run out. A group of young men were
raising hell below the stage.
drummer entered stage right, sat down behind a snare drum and a high
hat, and started the show with a pitiful, plagiarized comedy routine,
punctuated with snare drum rolls and cymbal crashes. “Two old women,
laying in bed, [rim shot] one rolled over, and the other one
said, [rim shot]. . . LSMFT! LSMFT! LSMFT! [drum
roll, rim shot]. . . . . . . Let's Stop, My Finger's Tired! [bass
drum and cymbol]”
front of the stage the heckling started.
the fuck is this?”
da girls? We ain't here for no god damn comedian.”
off the fucking stage, old man. Bring out the WOMEN!”
man replied, “The girls are coming out soon, but, answer me this: How
many niggers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
quiet for just a moment. Then he said, “I don't know, either. I'm
asking you guys . . . to go screw yourselves!”
rowdies down front started to pound on the stage. Someone threw a
drink in a cup. The barker entered stage right, microphone in hand,
“Ladies and gentlemen. Please have a seat, gentlemen, please. The
girls will be out here as soon as you are in your seats.”
group up front settled down and the barker continued, “Thank you for
coming to our show, ladies and gentlemen. It is my privilege to
welcome you to an evening of erotic dance. Please welcome with your
applause, all the way from an engagement at the Pussycat Lounge in
Miami Beach, Florida, George Washington’s Pussycat Dancers.”
crowd was more than generous as the girls walked on stage in red capes
and leotards, hit their marks and launched into an embarrassingly
stiff modern dance to a highly percussive Art Blakey jazz piece. If
you wanted to completely dispel the stereotype that black people were
BORN with rhythm, here was proof. It was horrible, off from the start
and within a minute four of the girls left the stage in frustration,
leaving the most delicate dancer alone in front of the audience, like
it was her fault. This routine was obviously her idea and now she had
to finish up the Blakey thing solo. She was skinny as a rail,
delicate and probably underage. She looked desperate and scared as
she jumped up and down and threw her arms here and there while
spinning, hopping and flopping around. When it ended with her on the
floor crumpled like a wad of paper, the place was quiet. Then a few
claps and a collective moan from the peanut gallery.
the FUCK was that?”
ON, show us something.”
Show some titties!
girls reappeared on the stage in funky red devil outfits made out of
long underwear. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring?! Oh my God, a
horribly clumsy attempt at art, frighteningly out of place and not at
all what the audience had in mind. It was embarrassing to watch.
They obviously hadn't rehearsed this number much, either. And it went
on forever. The guys down front became the show for us in back. At
first they were having fun, making a joke of the spectacle before
them, but as the dance wore on and on and on, they began to jeer.
didn't come here for no motherfuckin' ballet!”
baby, come on, let's see those motherfuckin' titties.”
in the gang down front were trying to outdo one another, leaning onto
the stage, grabbing at the girls, screaming out horrible insults.
They rained cups of beer and coke, flicked lit cigarettes and tossed
boxes of popcorn. One guy threw a baloney sandwich. Then another guy
threw a baloney sandwich, then another. The entire group under the
stage had baloney sandwiches that were soon scattered around the stage
in pieces. The aged drummer/comedian jumped out from behind the
curtain and picked up the bread, baloney, slivers of cheese, cups and
napkins as the choreography fell apart in a panic. The young skinny
girl ran off stage in tears, followed by the two pretty girls looking
equally shamed, leaving the two “mature” larger girls to take the heat
and deliver the goods.
two girls had bootie to spare and dangerous neck breaking bosoms, like
their outfits were stuffed with black balloons. They began to bounce
about free form, bumping butts, humping and jumping to Stravinsky's
Rite of Spring.
Stravinsky took a dump and vacated the building when the needle on the
record was angrily jerked off in a screeching zoom and dropped like a
boulder onto new vinyl and James Brown chanted, “Say it loud, I'm
black and I'm proud,” but it was too late. The heckling overpowered
the public address system as the troublemakers down front exploded
better show some motherfuckin' ass soon, bitch or I'm gonna rip this
motherfuckin' tent down.”
bitch. Show somethin’!”
“PUSSY! PUSSY! PUSSSSYYYYY! Show me some PUSSY!”
Somebody turned James Brown up to ten as the girls retreated to the
back of the stage behind a mass of groping arms, heads and lunging
torsos. The gang of drunken lunatics below the stage went out of
control with their own version of black pride and suddenly, the PA
large man in a bright gold suit and hat, like he was Pope of the
Pimps, stomped from stage right, shouting into a microphone, “SIT
DOWN, PLEASE!” Do NOT touch the girls! If you touch the girls, you
will be escorted out.” The golden Pimp bent over the edge of the
stage to speak directly to the troublemakers. “You fellas gotta
understand this is a show. You don't start a fire with a flame
thrower. All good things happen in good time. The girls are just
warming up. Have a seat. Be patient. You will not regret it. ”
gang down front quieted down, cowering beneath golden George
Washington. As he left the stage, one of the pretty yellow girls
trotted out in glittering red shorts and feathers to jerk around to
James Brown's Hot Pants. She was truly beautiful, not just
pretty or attractive or hot, but strikingly different and perfect like
a statue, an example of what people will look like in a future utopia
after all the races have mixed. She shed her feathers during the
funky dance like she was plucking a chicken, then as the guys down
front started to boo and scream, she ran off, still in her hot pants
and bikini top.
came a big girl in a very sheer negligee over red hot pants and
pasties. This girl could really dance and she soon shed the negligee
and worked at stressing and stretching those red hot pants until they
could barely contain her bottom. The glittering red pasties swirled
around like ships in a whirlpool. She bumped and humped around the
stage bouncing her massive boobs and buttocks and the smell of sex
came out of the speakers, shamelessly funking everything within range.
boys down front went completely crazy. This was what they were here
for. This was the kind of ballet they wanted.
baby, come on. Do it, baby!”
I'd eat yo' butt wid a spoon an' a biscuit!”
girl went into a rear end display that went on for a full minute like
two elephants fighting to get out of her pants. Then the even larger
girl came out, stood next to her and shook her ass like a bowl of
Jello, one upping her friend.
elephants were fighting to get out of a pair of hot pants. Then they
tore off the pants in one swift motion. Then there were the four
brown horses galloping into the sunset. Between the horses, bright
red G strings parted the mountains and marked the gorge at the bottom.
front wild men yelled hysterically, cheering, throwing back their
heads, licking the air, laughing, pushing, punching, taunting one
other, daring somebody to do something fucked up and stupid. An
alcoholic blue balled walled up gallon of drunken aimless sperm was
ready to spew and I began to fear for the girls’ safety, then they
both ran off the stage and George Washington came out all spry and
grinning. The men down front hollered and hammered.
hear it. Come on folks. Let’s hear it for The Pussycat Dancers.”
clapped and hollered, joining the fellows down front to create a
frantic ruckus. “More! More! More!” we chanted.
girls trotted out, now wearing matching black and yellow bathrobes.
The yellow girls were in yellow and the black girls were in black,
bowing and throwing kisses like it had been a religious experience for
gang up front remained turbulent, seething with frustrated angst,
riding a wave of horny enthusiasm in the crowd behind them.
Expectations of every kind were in the air when another James Brown
song rolled out of the speakers like a welcome mat at the gates of
hell. It was not one of those new songs, the wildly popular funk
ditties James Brown pumped out every month or so, but a work of fine
art, “It’s a Man’s World,” his crowning achievement, the slow, naked
ode to chauvinism, a portrait of a hell, three minutes of ugly clarity
that broke everybody’s heart. The song created a perfect moment of
LSD relief for me when I realized that James Brown, the Showman from
down the road apiece, understood the world I lived in.
the violins dropped into his emphatic statement, “This is a man’s
world,” the girls began the slinky snake dance that drew everyone to
the show in the first place, something they’d practiced and
perfected. It was their sleazy signature, the Pussycat Dancer brand,
choreographed down to lip and eyebrow movement, surprisingly
professional considering the disaster we’d just witnessed. Every
slinky move was made four times like an Indian prayer with hips, lips
and symmetry, throwing it this way and that, moving together like they
were on a string; left, then right, then around and around, always
together, effortless and smooth, smooth, smooth.
princesses in yellow moved to the sides of the stage, flanking the
buxom pair in black. Everyone was anticipating, but no one was ready
when James Brown sang it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a
girl, and the bathrobes dropped and the four icons of lust in G
strings and pasties stepped over their discarded robes dangerously
close to the drunken meat hooks of the baloney tossers at the edge of
stopped and started. Blood rushed to penises and away from brains,
causing drunken seizures and bad behavior. I remembered a frame from
my Superman comics of the 50’s, my lustful violent rewards for getting
a shot or having a tooth filled when I was just a kid. Superman had
his hand on Lana Lamore’s perfect ass. It was simply a few lines,
some curves and dots in three colors, but at the time that image made
me hump the floor and I didn’t know why.
that I knew why, I stared at the girl on the left who made eye contact
with me and held it while she rotated and I thought, what kind of
world is this where God lets something so perfect be revealed in such
a way, in front of such unworthy eyes, in such a ridiculous situation
golden sisters became undulating pillars of flame, rippling with fire,
licking, pulsing, burning on either side of the big black voodoo girls
riding demons, roasting in juices of passion and overabundant bootie,
grinding away in circles and curves and shifting cleavages. The
promise of sex with an angel of light warmed my guts and scorched my
heart. These girls had a power that lifted them from the kitchens and
laundry rooms of the South onto this pedestal of funk and not even
James Brown could put them back in their place. The pussycats were
out of the bag.
“MOOOORRRRR.” The voice of Satan roared.
rules collapsed. Borders folded. With drunken spastic men on the
stage grabbing and groping, George Washington ran out and guarded the
yellow girls as they desperately bowed and exited stage right. I
could barely hear James Brown singing about man’s loneliness and
bitterness over the shouts and cheers.
dark girls, the show closers, obviously trying to stick to the
choreography, set about satisfying the crowd with their bodies amid
the noise and confusion. In the chaos on the edge of the pit of hell
one of the girls cocked a leg, pulled the G string aside and spread
her vagina open toward the men down front then both girls rocketed off
behind the curtains. A fistfight started under the stage and all hell
broke loose in a mass of swinging arms and fists. A dam of roaring
rage and lust was breached and a tsunami of violence carried it onto
the stage, then back into the audience.
wondered what they would do for an encore, but within seconds four
cops came through the front entrance, nightsticks flailing. They’d
obviously been waiting outside the tent, ready to break skulls. Men
were cussing, shouting, and punching, crying out like wounded dogs and
the clonks and thuds of hardwood on bone put a funky period on
things. Skimpy and I moved into the darkness at the back of the tent
with everyone else and watched the cops haul the six or seven rowdies
out, bloodied, holding their cracked and bleeding skulls, whimpering.
violence was an effective LSD antidote.
indeed a man’s world.
the drunken demons were exorcized, hauled off in a paddy wagon, the
old man drummer stepped onto the stage to break a numbing silence,
“That's all for tonight, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming.
The next show’s at ten tomorrow night. We hope to see you again.”
Then he walked to the exit and shook the hand of each and every person
leaving the tent, apologizing for the difficulties, encouraging them
left for home, but I lingered behind, standing outside the tent. When
it was empty I approached the old drummer.
me. I really like the way you play drums. I was wondering if I could
join you tomorrow night. I play blues guitar. I can improvise over
what you’re doin’ and draw a crowd.”
offered his hand. It was rough and gentle at the same time, just like
his drumming, and his eyes twinkled with alcohol. “They call me
Snooks 'round here. Come on back and you can ask the boss. I just
Backstage, the girl who finished the show with the vaginal display was
sobbing in the arms of her sisters, “I can't do this no more. I feel
guided me past them, saying quietly, “The girls go through this shit
every time. It's a hard way to make a living. They do what they do.
Then they feel ashamed. Same thing last night. Be that way tomorrow
replied, “They shouldn’t be ashamed. They’re goddesses. That old
marine in the oddities show displayed his pussy and was incredibly
proud of it, and his pussy was awesome. He was no treat for the eyes,
but his pussy was damn pretty and he was not one bit ashamed to show
it to everyone.”
is a fucking pervert,” someone said on the other side of the canvas,
then girls laughing. I walked through the backstage exit into the
open air, and there they were, the golden sisters, giggling over what
they just heard me say. They scooted past and joined the girls
consoling the vagina flasher.
most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, said, “That white boy said you
didn't do nothin’ to be 'shamed of,” and she giggled. “He said . . .
,” and she giggled again, “Marge shows her pussy every night and is
proud of it. He said that Marine Marge’s pussy is . . . very
pretty,” and she giggled again. “He said it was AWESOME!”
girls laughed loudly together. White girls don’t laugh like that,
Felicia. Oh my god. Marie introduced her like her name was in bright
lights on a billboard a mile high, “This is my beautiful little
sister, ALSATA FELICIA. My name is Rose Marie,” like she was plain as
paper. She was not. Rose Marie was as lovely as her sister, but
Alsata Felicia had the classic Playboy cover girl figure sculpted from
pure gold. Alsata Felicia was a multi cultural icon, a standard of
beauty anyone could recognize, but a golden idyll in plain view
attracts envy and lust. She was too pretty, I thought.
smiled at me differently now and I knew she wanted me. It was written
all over her and the girls collectively rolled their eyes as she used
her body to flirt, a little dance just for me, a twist to the side,
head down, lips out, eyes on mine. Then her smile opened like a
shook his head.
white fella, you shouldn't be back here.” It was Joan, the cashier, a
short and serious woman, the golden pimp's wife. With skin the color
of coffee and cream and dark blonde hair of nearly the same color, she
was a unique beauty, like each of the girls. Her eyes were a strange
other worldly shade of green and she radiated a warm and friendly
vibe. She must have been hot as hell at some point in time, but now
she was all business.
said, “He wants to play guitar with me and Junior tomorrow night.”
asked, “I can help you draw a crowd? I’m a pretty good blues guitar
looked at me with serious eyes, “First, you have to know we’re family
here. This is a family business and I don’t like outsiders
disrespecting my daughters, hanging around like dogs waiting for
not me you’re talking about,” I pleaded. “If only for one night I'd
love to play with Snooks and the kid. What do you think?”
studied me up and down and said, “That ‘kid’ is George Junior, my
son. Come back tomorrow afternoon at five o'clock. Bring your
guitar. My husband makes all the decisions ‘round here. He's in town
right now, dealing with the mess. Now, get out of here . . .
understand. Thank you. I'll be back tomorrow at five.”
go away. Don’t bother my daughters.” She turned around and walked
into the tent.
said, “She’s the boss around here. Don't let her fool you.
Make that woman happy and things will go well for all of us.”
next morning I was awakened by the local news on my clock radio:
Multiple rapes, assaults and a robbery at the fair grounds and the
owner of an erotic dance company had been badly beaten, shot multiple
times and left for dead.
heart was sucked into a vacuum as a combination of chills and dread
ran through my body. I’d made an investment and felt connected
somehow, but I was in that funky period when the acid wears off and
you become disappointed with reality. As soon as I felt strong enough
to take on whatever bad news was to be, I drove to the carnival
grounds in my little Toyota truck with a beat up Gibson SG Junior
guitar and a ragged Fender amp. Just in case, I brought along a
toothbrush, extra clothes and a box of canned stew from my parent’s
surprised to see everyone there, including George Washington, who was
sitting crucified upright in the back seat of his gold Cadillac, white
as alabaster in a body cast with both arms in braces straight out from
the shoulders, forearms forward at right angles. It was quiet and a
cold drizzling rain fell.
was inside the tent, sitting at his drum kit, drinking liquor from a
bottle. One end of the tent was open and a bleak light from the
overcast sky filled it with gray. Snooks described what had
happened: George, after a night spent in surgery, refusal to stay in
the hospital. Two girls, Carmen and Alicia, the big girls in the
troupe, were still in town. Joan and Junior were in the Cadillac with
George. Felicia and Rose Marie were sleeping in a camper on the back
of a truck. Catherine, the tiny girl, the shy fragile one, was
sleeping in the front seat. Their armed assailants had gotten away,
but the worst of it was that they got away with all their money and
jewelry, too. George was shot twice and they cut and beat him badly,
breaking many bones. Young Catherine had escaped the worst of it, but
witnessed it all. Carmen and Alicia fought to protect Felicia and
Rose Marie, so they got cut and beat up. Alsata Felicia and Rose
Marie were the focus of the gang’s attention. Snooks’ voice broke as
he said with tears rolling down his cheeks, “You know they all want a
piece of them.”
a dead quiet afternoon. All around the grounds people were
sheltering, lying in, on and under their vehicles, the lucky ones
resting in campers or tents and I was just beginning to understand the
hard life on the brink of disaster that these people endured.
carried my guitar and amp into the tent and Snooks started up a gas
powered generator. I plugged in and started playing right off,
settling into a slow A minor one four five pattern, playing with soft
harmonics that sounded like little birds crying, then I sang and
played Stormy Monday straight. Snooks sat down at the drum kit
and patted out a slow shuffling beat with his hands on the snare.
Junior came into the tent with is beat up bass, head down, refusing to
make eye contact.
began to sing and I shut up as he wailed, “Lord have mercy,” and
Junior tucked in with a steady thump of the bass. Snooks and Junior
knew the song well, walking the bass, shuffling the snare, providing
all the support I needed to shine. In just a couple of minutes Snooks
seemed to wither, so he just laid back and patted the snare,
listening. The tent was starting to fill up with people I recognized
from the other sideshows and vender booths. I played until it was
useless to continue then joined Snooks for a snort of Jim Beam.
will you stick around?” asked Snooks as he led me out of the tent.
Joan was standing in the open door of the Cadillac twenty feet away.
Junior was in the front seat feeding George pain pills and juice from
a straw. I wondered how he went to the bathroom.
motioned for me to join her beside the Cadillac and the first thing I
noticed was that the fire was gone from her eyes. She looked like she
was sleepwalking, but she was holding it all together, orchestrating
the triage. She explained, “We see a lot of guys hanging around and
all they want is attention from the girls. We will be watching you.
Do you understand?”
I’m so sorry about Mister Washington. My hometown is really fucked
up, isn’t it? I’m sorry.”
fucked up, alright, and we’ll never come back here again if I have
anything to say about it, but there’s another fucked up town we have
to go to tomorrow. Do you understand? We cannot stop. The show must
mam. I know. You’re feeding a family.”
exactly right. We have to make enough money during the season to get
by on the road and take us through the rest of the year at home in
Florida, or we end up picking cotton. I suggest you make yourself
leaned into the Cadillac and whispered something to George. I heard
him barely mumble, “No depressing funeral.”
slid across the seat and looked at me, “We were listening. George
says your blues are too sad. We need something more upbeat, but you
are a very good player and you’re welcome to join us. We’ll work on
it. Snooks likes you. As you can see, I have work to do. You will
be expected to help with raising and striking the tent and stages and
other chores. Don’t be shy. Snooks will tell you how things work
around here. Pull your weight. It isn’t just us. If you join the
show, you join the carnival. You have a lot to learn. We'll talk
money later, if we need to, but you won’t last. I won’t waste anymore
of my time. ”
after a depressing can of cold stew in the truck, Fast Eddie the
barker approached and I complimented him on his barking and he said,
angrily, “Never call anyone who does what I do for a living, a
'barker.' It’s very disrespectful. It’s an insult to call a Carney
that. I’m a Master of Ceremonies, an M C. Got it?”
heard Eddie scolding me and walked over to us to help Eddie read me
the riot act. Eddie said, “If you are just here to fuck Felicia, you
need to go away right now. If you are serious about her and you treat
her right, it’s okay. These girls deserve someone who will treat them
with respect, hopefully someone who will stick around and protect
them. They aren’t just pretty girls man. These are my sisters.”
I’m adopted. These goodhearted, generous people took me in when I had
nowhere else to go. Just look at them, man. They have to move on
from this mess. I’m just saying, Felicia does not need more hit and
run, especially after last night. If you cannot love her, then keep
your fucking hands off of her. Get the picture, buddy? If you hurt
her, I will cut you deep.”
understand.” I did. I understood Fast Eddie would cut me. And I
understood that Felicia was a real woman, not the Greek goddess I saw
during my acid trip. The illusion was untouchable, Alsata Felicia was
people here in this carnival are good folks, but there’s a couple who
can and will hurt you if they think you are not trustworthy,” Snooks
said, “Or they don’t like the way you look. It is a code around
here. We take care of our own, so try not to look like an outsider.”
don’t call the cops,” Snooks said.
almost whispered, “George broke the rules when he called the cops last
night. Those guys came back and shot him and raped his girls and some
people around here think it’s his fault.”
“They’re wrong,” said Snooks as his eyes moved to George, thirty feet
away, being tended to by his young son who hadn’t said a word to me
Eddie replied, “There might be a lot more people hurt ‘round here if
we tried to take care of those troublemakers ourselves. It was a call
that only George could make. Of all the people here, George is the
one who comes down hardest on dangerous townies, but these guys were
more dangerous than the usual dickheads. They were fuckin’ crazy.”
He looked at me and continued, “There are people around here who will
fuck with you. I’m just warning you. Come to me or Snooks if you
have any problems.”
said, “Watch out for the white strippers, son. Those bitches are
crazy lesbians. They just as soon cut your dick off as talk to you.”
added, “And don’t fuck with Big Eddie. And don’t let him fuck with
winced, “No shit. Be careful around Big Eddie, and watch out for that
crazy white girl, too. They’re both dangerous. Big Eddie is a
faggot, the worst kind of queer, too. Stay away from him, if you have
any brains at all. That white girl turns into something like a
gorilla. She really does. I see you looking at me like I’m crazy.
You’ll find out.”
evening the weather grew worse and Snooks and Junior went missing. I
had to do the one man band thing under a tarp. What remained of the
dance troupe, Rose Marie, Alsata Felicia and little Catherine, stood
out front as I tried to replicate the rhythm of the funky snake dance,
playing my white boy blues in the rain, solo. The girls swayed, sadly
to my sad minor blues and we drew a tiny crowd of lonely white
hippies, guitar fans from town. I recognized a couple of faces in the
crowd and none of them were black. Drunken rednecks wandered past
thinking bad things about hippies and niggers. Alicia and Carmen came
back from the hospital, cut and bruised in stitches and thick makeup
just in time to do the show for half a dozen people.
was drunk as a skunk and his jokes remained incredibly unfunny. The
bruised and battered girls danced about like meat puppets on a string
for a half hour, the same horrible routine, but this time much
shorter, with no fire, no heart in it whatsoever. Carmen and Alicia
did the angry elephant ass routine, all bruises, stitches, and bloody
band aids and the show went on as Fast Eddie took over George’s
duties, and it appeared this was how it would be until George healed
folded chairs beside the Cadillac with George sitting in the middle of
the back seat, shaped like an anchor in his rigid body cast, a huge
white pretzel, a crucified dough boy with a black face and a golden
halo, and I wondered what was going on under that dapper hat with the
gold ribbon resting on top of his bandaged and plastered, braced
head. I helped Snooks, Fast Eddie and Junior pull down and fold the
tent canvas and place it onto a flatbed truck, then I slept alone in
the plywood camper shell I’d constructed on the back of a little
Japanese pickup truck. I felt alone and out of place, but when I fell
asleep I dreamt of Alsata Felicia, that we were married and had little
golden children and they danced like angels in a ballet on top of the
morning at sunrise I followed the massive entourage to Raleigh. I
told no one I was leaving town. I had less than forty dollars and a
Gulf oil credit card good at Holiday Inns and Gulf stations around the
were staked and wired into the Raleigh fairgrounds, I wandered around
to meet the carnies. The community was as mixed as it gets: freaks,
fags, cretins, white trash, redskins, niggers, mixed bloods from
Panama and Puerto Rico, cracker rednecks, clowns, grifters and
oddballs, sleeping under trucks, in cars and tents and crammed into
tiny campers and trailers. I’d never seen so many different kinds of
people so closely knit, living like a huge family in what I can only
describe as harmony. The ease with which they took me in was
surprising. Strength in numbers, I presumed.
hours with Snooks and Junior, jamming in the tent, creating a new
primal blues funk for the show. When Snooks noticed how I avoided
Felicia, he said, “Most young fellas are only interested in the
girls. Aren't you interested in Felicia? She really likes you. You
should at least speak to her. Don’t tell her I told you, but she
asked me to tell you this.”
just got raped. You told me to be respectful, right? And Fast Eddie
is going to cut me if I do this the wrong way. So right now, I'm into
the music and I am taking it all in.”
was always nearby, only yards away making herself available, but when
she smiled at me a fear rose in my chest, a kind of vertigo, and
neither one of us made the move. We were hot and frozen at the same
time. Rose Marie spoke to her loud enough for me to hear, “Why don't
you just tell him you want him? He wants you, too. I can tell. He’s
just a shy white boy. Go ahead. He's right there watching and
should have just walked over to her at that moment and asked her to
marry me in front of everybody. It would have been the most romantic
moment in history, but that is not how this story goes. Where I came
from the Klu Klux Klan routinely killed mixed couples, wrapped them in
old rugs, soaked them in gasoline and burned them alive to be found on
the side of the road as a warning. It was a fact of life. There was
a huge billboard out on the highway nearby with horsemen in white
sheets and pointy hats galloping out of the sun carrying a massive
Confederate flag. I was walking on the edge of a very sharp knife
when I fantasized about taking Felicia to a Holiday Inn, making sweet
love to her, spoiling her with room service, putting it all on my
credit card and riding off into the southern sunset just ahead of the
four KKK horsemen of the Apocalypse wearing sheets, brandishing
invited Snooks, Felicia and Rose Marie to dinner on the tailgate of my
truck. We sat and talked about carnival life as I warmed canned stew
and tea over a tiny camp stove. Felicia said, “There’s a lot of
deception on the midway. There’s slight of hand and downright obvious
bullshit. Stevie over there is The Wild Boy. His mom and dad run the
show. Stevie’s retarded, but he’s not stupid and he’s a really good
kid. They dress him up in a wig and torn up clothes, and put him in
glass case and voila, he’s the Wild Boy. He actually likes to be in
that display case.”
Marie said, “Billy Jean, the hermaphrodite, she’s for real, and Marine
Marge is real enough, too. The bearded lady, the fat lady, the human
skeleton, they're jus' folks can't have a normal life, so they put
themselves on display or run a concession or take tickets. There’s
one bona fide freak here though, the only one in this entire outfit
that does not friend up with anybody. She’s Big Eddie's white girl,
the ape woman, Ilene. She’s for real, man. She really does turn into
a gorilla, or something like a gorilla.”
spoke, looking me in the eyes, smiling, confusing me, “Rosey ain't
lying. Just ask anyone ‘round here.”
Marie continued, “Sometimes I go into Big Eddie's tent and there’s a
gorilla in the cage. And sometimes there’s nothing in the cage but
straw. We all see Ilene walking around and we’ve all seen the
gorilla. But, I swear to God, nobody seen both of them at the same
Felicia’s eyes widened, “Look, there's Ilene over there! She gives me
goosebumps. She always shows up when somebody talks about her. She
was gothic, pale and thin with long dark hair and light blue eyes.
She slinked toward us with a thin smile on her dark lips, her hands in
the pockets of a Navy pea coat. She looked directly at me and smiled
sly and sexy, then her expression changed and she nervously turned and
veered away at a brisk trot.
She's a witch or something,” Felici said. “She was checking you out.
I’ve never seen her look at someone like that.”
attractive and . . . skittish.” I thought Ilene was just a hippie
girl. Maybe she’d been abused as a kid or had some sort of chemical
imbalance that made her less than social.
shivered, “She scares the living shit out of me. Big Eddie says she's
dangerous and not to go near his tent when he ain't around, because he
doesn’t know what she might do. No bullshit, man. I’m telling you
the smiles behind my back and thought, how could they treat me like
such an idiot? I was a bit disappointed in Felicia for making fun of
me when I was so obviously falling for her.
Marie said, “Once I went into Big Eddie's tent to take him and Ilene
some pizza and beer, as a gift . . . just a good neighbor thing. It
was Big Eddie's birthday, but Eddie and Ilene won’t there. I was like
you. I didn’t believe any of this bullshit. There was a tarp over
the gorilla's cage, so I figured it was asleep. I wanted to see it up
close, so I peaked under the tarp and there won't nothin' in there at
all. I got the willies big time.”
was looking at me like I looked at her. I tried not to stare, but
then I would and I’d get caught. She was doing it, too. I smiled at
her and touched her arm with the backs of my fingers and Rose Marie
slapped my hand away, gave me a mean look and didn’t skip a beat, “I
know one thing; it ain't no motherfuckin’ gorilla suit! It has big
teeth and gnarly hands and dark mean eyes. Shit, it’s about three or
four times the size of Ilene. I was standin' there scared outa my
head, thinkin' the gorilla was loose, and in comes Big Eddie and
Ilene. Ilene was really scary looking, too. She didn’t say a word.
She just stared at me. I think she's deaf and dumb. I do. No one
here has ever heard her say anything. Eddie told me to git outa there
‘fore she turned into a gorilla and attacked me, so I ran.”
the girls were telling me about Big Eddie, Fast Eddie pulled up a
folding chair, sat next to us and popped open a beer. He added, in
his showman voice, “It’s all true. Ilene is a skin walker. I used to
think Big Eddie just enjoyed pulling my leg, but Ilene's for real,
man. She's an animal of some kind that can look like a woman. I
don’t think it’s the other way around.” He nodded toward Big Eddie’s
Gorilla Woman tent and added, “Strange shit goes on in that tent.
Just look at her, there she goes over there, heading for her cage.”
Ilene walked down the fairway, people retreated as she approached. It
was definitely weird. I wondered if everyone in the carnival was
trying to pull my leg in concert.
Eddie caught my attention, “As long as you don't pay attention to her,
she’s fine, but if you approach her or even think about her, she
really puts out the vibe, man. She scares me half to death now. I’m
not kidding. I’m getting goosebumps just talking about her. Let’s
pull the other one,” I said. “Come on, she smiled at me. Did you see
that? That gives it away. She’s just a shy hippy girl. I got the
look from her. If she’s a gorilla, she wants to make little
ain't kiddin', man!” Fast Eddie insisted, “Stay away from Ilene and
Big Eddie! You could get us all in big trouble. I really think she
could kill somebody.”
that once I gave in to their story they would all bust out laughing,
so I changed the subject. “Eddie, have you ever thought of singing
the blues? Your voice is really something, like Muddy Waters or
Howling Wolf or Captain Beefheart.”
compliment annoyed him. “Let me tell you something. I'm a master of
ceremonies, a rapper, an entertainer. I can’t carry a tune in a
bucket. And just in case you're wondrin', we ain't putting you on
about Big Eddie's ape woman. Ilene’s not the one you got to worry
about. She likes you. I’ve seen her act like that before. She did
it to me until I finally figured out she is incapable of anything but
that look she gives you.”
grabbed my hand. “We're just trying to educate you, honey. If you
are going to live with us, you have to know the dangers, and some
things are not what you would expect.”
guys are good,” I complemented them on their acting.
of the Devil.”
Eddie approached us from across the grounds, swishing like a
basketball fashion model. He was pitch black, over six and a half
feet tall, thin and muscular, and blatantly, unashamedly effeminate.
As he got nearer he looked me up and down, and spoke with a flaming
lisp, “Hi, ladies and gentleman. Well, what have we here? New meat?”
Eddie rose and stood between us. “Watch it Eddie. He's with us.
He's our new guitar player. Haven't you heard him yet?”
was that him? I thought it was a record. He's good! Mighty cute,
too. What's your name, cowboy?”
answered, “Dink, and you are Big Eddie, the keeper of the gorilla that
turns into a woman.”
right, sweetheart, the only one of her kind, too. I guess they've
told you she's for real, not like all the other fake freaks and birth
defects around here. She’s a natural wonder, a magic fairy.”
the show,” I said. “I saw the gorilla. I’ve seen gorillas in zoos.
You have a gorilla in there. I’m surprised they let you have one at
Eddie just smiled. He seemed harmless, sympathetic and charming and I
found it refreshing he chose to be a flaming queer in front of people
who ridiculed him. His swishy manners quickly made me forget his
stature and I found myself wanting to defend him against the obvious
bad vibe homophobic prejudice everyone was throwing his way. He was
used to it, though. It certainly didn’t slow him down.
to meet the ape woman?” Big Eddie asked with wide eyes.
Eddie jumped between us again, and reached up to put a hand on Big
Eddie's massive chest. “Listen you disgusting faggot, don't do this,
okay? He's new here. Leave him alone.”
okay, I can take care of myself.” I said.
Big Eddie said with a smile. “He can take care of himself.”
couldn't help myself. I wanted to show them I considered Big Eddie as
worthy as anyone and shut them up about the ape girl. Most of all I
wanted to see and communicate with a live gorilla. “I'd love to see
your ape woman, Big Eddie.”
shit!” said Fast Eddie.
say we didn't warn you,” snapped Felicia.
man, don't say we didn't warn you,” Rose Marie echoed.
ignored them all. They were pulling my leg so hard it was getting
bruised. They were just making fun of me and picking on the faggot.
Everyone needs a social outcast to look down on, even if the faggot
was six and a half feet tall and black people, who should know better,
were doing the looking.
Eddie restated his case in complete seriousness, contradicting my
understanding, “I want to warn you, though. She really turns into
whatever she is that looks a lot like a gorilla. She's not human.
She's a shape shifter. Ever heard of that?”
trying to keep an open mind,” I lied because I wanted to see that
said, “An open mind ain't gonna save you from that faggot. Ilene
ain’t gonna hurt you. She’s got a crush on you and the real gorilla
is standing right there.” He nodded at Big Eddy who looked like a
gigantic sissy child.
thought, these folks should be in the theater, then I
remembered that the carnival was as theater as theater gets.
walked next to the black tree that was Big Eddie I totally expected to
unmask the farce in no time at all. I’d seen his show. I knew the
gorilla was real and that’s exactly what I expected: a gorilla in a
cage, and I could get close to it and maybe make friends with it.
entered Big Eddie's tent he said, “Ilene is out right now. We can sit
and listen to music for a while. She can't maintain a human
appearance for more than a couple of hours. She'll be back shortly .
. . and you should be gone before then. She doesn’t want anyone to
see her change.”
me into the show space and pointed at the empty cage on the stage,
“See, she’s not here at all.” I imagined he had another cage behind
the curtain at the back of the stage.
really want to see the gorilla,” I said. “Please, seriously. It’s so
cool to be able to meet a real live gorilla.”
what I thought. It is not unusual to be curious. You just don't get
it, but Ilene is not here right now. There’s no gorilla. There’s
only Ilene. Come and see. Come into my room. Do you want to smoke a
joint?” asked Big Eddie cordially.
That would be great.”
followed him behind the stage and the cage and he parted the dangling
canvas partition to reveal a living space with beautiful carpets on
the ground and antique ape girl sideshow canvas billboards hanging
like tapestries. A couple of soft mattresses with carpets and quilts
and large pillows offered rare comfort for sheik Big Eddie. A small
stereo system rested on an ornate and colorful inlaid coffee table
that was also a chest.
walked into his tent home and sat on a mattress, taking it all in.
The old painted banners of gorillas in front of temples and mosques
were the most interesting thing I had seen in the entire carnival. He
pushed a button on the stereo and “Magic Carpet Ride” blasted from the
small speakers. He sat beside me on the mattress, lit a joint, handed
it to me and within seconds he reached over and began unbuttoning my
fly. “I noticed you have a nice cock. It makes an impression.
Advertising is fifty percent of your business, you know?”
I was a
fly in his web. He held me down, wrapped me up in silk threads and
sucked the life out of me. Then he said, “I’m sorry. I’m a very
lonely man. I promise I will not do this again, unless you ask me to,
but I don’t think you will. Will you?”
took something I was saving for someone.”
pay you back for not putting up a fight. There are a lot of mean
rednecks around here, but everyone in this camp is afraid of me. I
can defend you from the carnies, but I cannot protect you from Ilene.
She is going to be mad at me. She’s been watching you. She wants
you, and frankly, I don’t think you want to go where she wants to take
you. She isn’t human.”
up off the couch and walked briskly back to the George Washington show
tent with Big Eddie following, sporting a huge damp spot on his
crotch, the writing on the wall. Snooks took one look at him and gave
me an awful drunken stare. Fast Eddie ignored me, drinking beer, also
drunk. Everyone was drunk. Drinking started at about noon and now it
was three. Alsata Felicia was plastered, as well. I had joined the
family and now it was starting to act like one. Big Eddie was
drinking with Fast Eddie and he made a total ass of himself. No one
would speak to me. Felicia was disappointed. I was ashamed, but too
scared and proud to talk to her about it. Suddenly I’d become Big
Eddie’s boyfriend and it pissed me off, so I started drinking, too.
had some whiskey in me, Big Eddie took me over to the white stripper
tent to introduce me to the rest of the gay contingent in the
carnival. One of the girls, Terry, a very small, muscular and fit
modern dancer, took a shine to me and instantly invited me to have sex
with her and her girlfriend. I told her I was lovesick for Felicia
and that I already had two strikes against me.
ain’t black, and I let Big Eddie blow me.”
face went slack and she looked like she was going to cry as I gave her
the details of what had just happened and how Eddie made a show out of
it in front of Felicia.
marched over to Big Eddie, jumped up, punched him right on the chin,
kicked him in the shin and chased him away, screaming, though she was
one third his size, “You fucking asshole. Leave this boy alone or
I’ll rip you a new asshole.”
wasn’t that bad,” I said.
don’t know. I really didn’t resist much. He’s a sweet guy, a little
scary for a moment there, but it was more of a mercy situation.”
took me to where she slept under a big flatbed truck and we smoked a
joint and told each other our stories and had a long cry together.
While she told me about her black belt in karate and the porn films
she was making for two hundred dollars a pop, I was thinking of
Felicia and that this life changing, bonding conversation should have
been with her. Eddie had stolen the momentum. Terry stole the
first show in Raleigh started at eight o’clock. At seven I set up
the amps and drums on the platform and waited. It started to rain, so
I threw a tarp over the instruments and waited some more. Snooks was
so drunk he couldn’t stand up. Junior and Joan were taking care of
George in the Cadillac parked behind the tent, worried about him to
the point of near panic. I was left to play guitar in the rain
depressingly alone, again.
Eddie was drunk, too, but present and accounted for. We stretched a
tarp over the bandstand and I started to play my sad white boy blues
and feedback. I wondered where the girls were. There were only just
a few people walking the fairway. The games were doing well, though.
Everyone loves the games when it rains.