Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Any number of things come
to the fore and have kept me
busy forever: I never much
talked to my father, there
was never any real
understanding, my mother
seemed glib and unformed,
my aunts and uncles just
became the other ends of
feuds and problems. I came
from a really twisted up ward.
Neighbors and friends? Don't
get me started.When we first
moved to Avenel, those first
few years, there' d be small,
really small, traveling carnivals
that would come through town.
It was really stupid because
any other place besides Avenel
would bring in more people, have
greater grounds for the display,
and were just as easily accessible.
But for whatever reason  -  some
small-minded devotion to the dollar,
I guess  -  the local catholic church,
and then the firehouse, each would
host one. They were pretty horrid.
I do remember them however, with
just some most-faint slant towards
their nightmarish qualities. A
small-scale carnival along
Avenel Street, no matter who was
sponsoring it, was a senseless thing.
No open fields or main walkway
centers, they were each held on
their own, very small, crimped-up
little spots  -  the side-lot of a small
church, in one case, and, in the
other, the side-lot, unused and
useless too, and old house that
was the Avenel Fire Company,
when it was small and sensible.
Men at least were humble. Now
it's just punks, stalking. Strangely
intense and goofy guys, with their
fire-boots, begging at lights. The
'carnivals' themselves were so
small as to be pathetic  -  a tiny
Ferris wheel, some lame-brain
version of a roller-coaster. Hardly
even a carnival, since there was
no 'place' or referential spot to go
with it. 'Carnivals' are not, in
lore, supposed to be in boring
everyday locations. The idea of
a 'carnival' was the pro-temp,
ad-hoc, factor of a fleeting,
passing moment and place  -
when suddenly, just on the
fringes of the village or burg,
a traveling troupe would set
in the tramped-down weeds
or on a wild, untrod, field just
for the occasion. The real
joy came from just being there;
in some strange and different,
and new, place, and being
able to see and watch all the
strange, wild, odd people it
brought with it. The cars and
wagons and vehicles, in this
then 'modern-era' description,
with all their Alabama, and
'Heart of Dixie' license plates.
You'd maybe find a cage or
two of weird animals, curiosity
stuff, and the brawny, mysterious,
and crude men and women
who came along. 'Carnies' they'd
be called. They were always
around, the mechanics who
erected and dismantled, the
barkers and ticket people, etc.
I'd seen carnivals that were, in
their back lots and on the large,
open fields, regular encampments
of tents and campers. Little fires
and cook-stoves. (One time, in
1982, in Metuchen, my house
was broken into and robbed.
The cops shrugged it off, after
doing the report and the paperwork,
saying, 'Well, be careful. We've
got the report. What can I say,
the carnival's in town.' Evidently
they were known around, as well,
as local crooks. Metuchen used to
use the large fields at the old
Franklin School (gone now); a
sports area called 'Franklin Field',
down the end of my street.)...
Those traveling men and women
were something to behold. Sleeping
on the ground, or in their cars and
trucks. One of the traveling troupes
was a circus, not a carnival, in
Metuchen I mean, and they'd arrive
with their little caravan of monkeys,
an elephant or two, and one or two
large tractor-trailers with veritable
zoos packed in. They'd splash out,
all, erect their tents and booths, in
the most-early morning light, allow
spectators in to watch, move the
animals all about and, generally,
just get things started. It was 
great fun  - totally aromatic, 
noisy, and strange. There was 
an elephant guy; totally eccentric, 
stinky and weird too. All he
did was take care of two 
moderate size elephants. There
are two types of elephant  - 
one had large, floppy ears, 
I think maybe that's the
African Elephant, and there's
another, with smaller, tighter
ears. I think that's the Indian
Elephant  -  or maybe the other
way around. I don't know. He
had the floppy eared ones. And
there were these two little saddle
things with a colorful blanket 
he'd put on them, and walk 
kids around, atop the elephant  
-  on the ground he held the strap
and a sort of 'nice' whip. For a
buck and a quarter, one kid at 
a time, they'd get a slow walk,
an elephant ride, around the 
perimeter; he had a marked-out
path. The kids loved it, and I
guess it was fun, enough  -  
peanuts, the gait, the circuit.
What was weird to me, always, 
watching it, was the silence. 
The entire thing made no noise  -
neither the elephant nor the guy.
There was some crunchy straw 
they walked on, maybe. But it
was cool because of the silence.
Only background noise, the other
rides, machinery noises, kids
screaming and such, and the
compressors, for ice cream and
other treats. Just background noise.
The hurdy-gurdy guy, he had his
calliope noise, song, etc. Nothing
here. Every so often the elephant
guy would switch off elephants.
I guess they were interchangeable
and got tired.
But, back to Avenel. It was weird 
how both places  -  the church and 
the firehouse, crimped up and
jammed their carnivals into these 
tiny and pretty rancid, spots. Their
idea was, in each case, to keep it
close to home. Maybe it saved the
park rental fee or something. Just
down not so far, there was a real
nice Avenel Park, at the end of
Park Avenue, in fact. Plenty of 
room, grounds, trees, shade,
places for the carnies to camp 
and sit about. Yet, it was never 
used, and, instead, each of these 
operations used the crummiest 
imaginable format for their stuff. 
The park formats really could have
worked, but who's to expect wide
thinking from a small place?
I realized, very soon, that a 
person could either live in their 
own 'small world', and be satisfied 
witthat, or go off into the large 
world and take their chances. 
The small world outlook could
suffice, yes, but then you're just
stuck with small world ways. Here,
the carnival staffs were so small
they didn't even, as I said, get
allowances for their own, 
well-worn and streamlined, 
food service; which is probably 
where the real money was
anyway. You'd get neighbor 
guys instead, flinging the 
hot dogs and the hamburgers. 
How boring. How trite. 
Absolutely no excitement
at all. And damn,
how Avenel.

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