Warning Adult Content

 

Copyright 2014 Lee Bridgers

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 meter.

          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.”

 As 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 voice,

“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. “

On a 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.” 

The 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.

Skimpy 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.

“I 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?”

He 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 territory.

One of the girls had her eye on me.

God bless Martin Luther King.

God bless Abraham Lincoln.

God bless America.

We paid 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.

Grandpa 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]”

In front of the stage the heckling started.

“GOD DAMN!”

“What the fuck is this?”

“Where da girls?  We ain't here for no god damn comedian.”

“Get off the fucking stage, old man.  Bring out the WOMEN!”

The old man replied, “The girls are coming out soon, but, answer me this:  How many niggers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

It got quiet for just a moment.  Then he said, “I don't know, either.  I'm asking you guys . . . to go screw yourselves!”

The 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.”

The 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.”

The 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.

“God DAMN, woman.”

“What the FUCK was that?”

“Come ON, show us something.”

“YEAH!  Show some titties!

The 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.

“Boooooo!  BOOOOOO!”

“We didn't come here for no motherfuckin' ballet!”

“Awww, baby, come on, let's see those motherfuckin' titties.”

The men 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.

These 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 with frustration.

“You'd better show some motherfuckin' ass soon, bitch or I'm gonna rip this motherfuckin' tent down.”

“YEAH, 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 went silent.

A very 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.  ”

The 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.

Out 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.

The boys down front went completely crazy.  This was what they were here for.  This was the kind of ballet they wanted.

“Yea baby, come on.  Do it, baby!”

“Get it on, mama!”

“Girl, I'd eat yo' butt wid a spoon an' a biscuit!”

The 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.

Four 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.

Down 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.

“Let’s hear it.  Come on folks.  Let’s hear it for The Pussycat Dancers.”

We clapped and hollered, joining the fellows down front to create a frantic ruckus.  “More!  More!  More!” we chanted.

The 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 everyone.

The 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.

When 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.

The 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 the stage.

Hearts 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.

Now 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 and time?

“It’s a man’s world.”

The 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.

“MORE ASS!”

“MOOOORRRRR.” The voice of Satan roared.

The 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.

The 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.

I 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.

The violence was an effective LSD antidote.

It is indeed a man’s world.

After 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 to return.

Skimpy left for home, but I lingered behind, standing outside the tent.  When it was empty I approached the old drummer. 

“Excuse 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.”

He 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 work here.”

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 so ashamed.”

Snooks 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 night.”

I 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.”

“Marge 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.

The 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!”

All the girls laughed loudly together.  White girls don’t laugh like that, I thought.

Alsata 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.

She 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 flower.

Snooks shook his head.

“Hey, 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.

Snooks said, “He wants to play guitar with me and Junior tomorrow night.”

I asked, “I can help you draw a crowd?  I’m a pretty good blues guitar player.”

She 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 scraps.”

“That’s 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?”

She 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 . . .  please.”

“I understand.  Thank you.  I'll be back tomorrow at five.”

“Now, go away.  Don’t bother my daughters.”  She turned around and walked into the tent.

Snooks 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.”

The 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.

My 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 pantry.

I was 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. 

Grief was happening.

Snooks 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.”

It was 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.

I 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.

Snooks 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.

“But 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.

Joan 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 do.  I’m so sorry about Mister Washington.  My hometown is really fucked up, isn’t it?  I’m sorry.”

“It’s 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 go on.”

“Yes, mam.  I know.  You’re feeding a family.”

“That's 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 useful.”

She leaned into the Cadillac and whispered something to George.  I heard him barely mumble, “No depressing funeral.”

Joan 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. ”

Later, 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?”

Snooks 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.”

“They are?”

“Yeah, 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.”

“I 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 not.

“Most 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.

Eddie 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.”

“We don’t call the cops,” Snooks said.

Eddie 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 yet.

Fast 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.”

Snooks 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.”

Eddie added, “And don’t fuck with Big Eddie.  And don’t let him fuck with you.”

Snooks 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.”

That 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.

Snooks 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 or died.

I 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 clouds.

Sunday 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 country.

Once we 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.

I spent 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.”

“She 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.”

Felicia 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 listening.”

I 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 torches.

I 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.”

Rose 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.”

Felicia spoke, looking me in the eyes, smiling, confusing me, “Rosey ain't lying. Just ask anyone ‘round here.”

Rose 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 time.”

Felicia’s eyes widened, “Look, there's Ilene over there!  She gives me goosebumps.  She always shows up when somebody talks about her.  She knows.  Look.”

Ilene 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.

“See!  She's a witch or something,” Felici said.  “She was checking you out.  I’ve never seen her look at someone like that.”

“She’s 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.

Felicia 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 truth.”

I felt 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.

Rose 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.”

Felicia 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.”

While 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.”

As 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.

Fast 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 stop, okay?”

“Yeah, 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 gorillas.”

“We 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.”

I knew 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.”

The 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.”

Felicia 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.”

“You guys are good,” I complemented them on their acting.

“Speak of the Devil.”

Big 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?”

Fast 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?”

“Oh, was that him?  I thought it was a record.  He's good!  Mighty cute, too.  What's your name, cowboy?”

I answered, “Dink, and you are Big Eddie, the keeper of the gorilla that turns into a woman.”

“Damn 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.”

“I saw 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 all.”

Big 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.

“Want to meet the ape woman?” Big Eddie asked with wide eyes.

Fast 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.”

“It's okay, I can take care of myself.” I said.

“See?” Big Eddie said with a smile.  “He can take care of himself.”

I 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.”

“Oh, shit!” said Fast Eddie.

“Don't say we didn't warn you,” snapped Felicia.

“Yeah, man, don't say we didn't warn you,” Rose Marie echoed.

I 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.

Big 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?”

“I’m trying to keep an open mind,” I lied because I wanted to see that gorilla.

Snooks 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.

I thought, these folks should be in the theater, then I remembered that the carnival was as theater as theater gets.

As I 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.

As I 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.”

He led 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.

“I really want to see the gorilla,” I said. “Please, seriously.  It’s so cool to be able to meet a real live gorilla.”

“That’s 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.

“Sure.  That would be great.”

I 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.

I 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?”

“You took something I was saving for someone.”

“I will 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.”

I got 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.

When I 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.

“I ain’t black, and I let Big Eddie blow me.”

Terry’s 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.

Terry 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.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” I said.

“Are you kidding?”

“I 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.”

Terry 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 confession.

Our 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.

Fast 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.

 

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Non-Fiction short story By Lee Bridgers

 

Copyright 2014 Lee Bridgers

 

 

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