Sean could see the carnival lights miles away, as a bright glow. It was like coming up on a small town in the dark. Instead of crowds and barkers and food, however, it was a scene of furious activity. It was the last night of this fair, and the carnival needed to move on. They would be expected in the next town or city the next night. It was bright. The lights were shining in colors, red, yellow, green, white and blue, on every ride, and floodlights mounted on towers on top of trailers lit up the entire field.
The sign on the office trailer read: “Murphy Brothers Mile Long Pleasure Trail.” Sean asked about work and they told him to help tear down the small wheel. Sean found the ride foreman and started climbing up and taking the long multicolored fluorescent bulbs out of their sockets, so they wouldn’t break. Then each seat had to be removed and lifted onto the truck. After all the lights and seats were off, hydraulics lowered the ride slowly down into the trailer, while Sean and a few others lifted the braces out and away from the ride. After the ride was safely lowered into its trailer, they lifted each heavy brace and tucked it into the other trailer, the one that would carry the individual seats as well. When that was done, the foreman told Sean to ask the office what else he could do. When Sean told the man in the office window the wheel was finished, he looked surprised. “Look over there. See that big generator with the light tower on it? Ask for Duane. He’s the electrician. He needs help.” Sean trotted off and found Duane. Duane was a short, muscular young man, with short blond hair and a bushy mustache.
“Yeah, OK,” he said. Here. Take this speed wrench, and start pulling the wires out of these junction boxes. Leave the ones on this side that go to the generator, but take the ones off the other side. Don’t let the wrench touch two poles at the same time. Pull the wires out slow. You don’t wanna touch the sides. Got it?” Sean said, “Sure,” and went at it.
The wrench was wrapped heavily in black electrical tape. Each wire had a large one-holed lug crimped onto the end. The hole let the lug be dropped over one of the threaded poles in the junction box, and a large hex nut held it in place. Sean dutifully unscrewed the lug nuts, finding that the nut tended to stay in the wrench. When it dropped out sometimes, it fell into the box and Sean had to carefully fish it out without touching the live junction poles. He pulled the wires out carefully, but even though there was still power to each wire, the hole was insulated with a small plastic sleeve, so there wasn’t too much danger. Unfortunately, the plastic sleeves had a habit of falling off through repeated handing, and Sean had to move real slow when there was nothing but bare metal to pull the wires through. He did real well for a while, moving from each battered orange junction box to the next as fast as he could. He felt rushed by all the frantic activity around him. Sean pulled a wire slowly through a bare hole, but he slipped and let it touch the side. The wire never made it out. With a nearly blinding flash of giant sparks, the wire welded itself to the hole, and simultaneously the lights went out as Big Bertha, the giant generator, popped its main breaker. Rides still being turned or lowered shut off. There was a sudden dark silence. Sean heard curses. Duane ran over. Sean said, “Touched the side. Sorry.” Duane yanked the wire hard, away from the box and ran for the generator. He threw the breaker and that section of midway lit up again, noise blaring from rides and cheers from the workers stuck in the near dark. “Just be careful OK?” “Sure,” Sean said, relieved. He thought he’d screwed up badly already. Just after the lights had come back on he’d heard someone yell, “Hey, we got a new electrician.” He took each wire off slowly after that. He was no longer in a hurry. Later Duane had him pull the wires, bundles of three one inch copper wires, and a 3/8″ ground wire, into a trailer and coil each one, layering the coils in the truck. Sean could barely lift the hundred-foot-long bundles at first. Usually he pulled the wires over to the truck and threw one end in. From inside he could pull the wires into a neat coil. He spent the night doing that: disconnecting, pulling, coiling, back and forth all over the midway. At the end, the generators, for there were more than one, had to be turned off, and the trailers closed up in preparation for the long drive. Duane paid Sean for the work. Sean turned to go, happy to have picked up some money, but Duane stopped him. “Say, you want to work for us?” “But I shorted out the generator.” “No biggie. You’re alive, ain’t ya?” “Well, yeah.” “Well, you want a job or not?” “Yeah, sure.”
Sean wasn’t sure he really wanted to travel with a carnival. He still wanted to ride his bike to California. This would change everything. However, money was money, and Sean was looking forward to having money to buy food again. “What’s it pay?” he asked. Duane told him it was $75 a week. Good enough. Of course, Duane didn’t tell him that the carnival kept $15 every week until the season ended. Then he’d get all of that as a bonus. $60 still bought a lot of meals, even at carnival prices, so Sean was happy. If he saved some money, he could resume his trip. Next stop: Minot, North Dakota, home of the world’s largest open-pit mine, and proud of it.
“Cocaaaaine. Cocaaaaine. Here boy. Cocaaaaine.” After the carnival had reached Minot, and everything was set up again, Sean was relaxing, taking a much deserved rest after the hard electrical work, when he heard that young woman yelling. She was the Snake Girl. The caller, or mike man, played it up to the hilt, saying she’d grown up with snakes, that they were all poisonous and deadly, but only she could handle them. He was pretty funny to listen to. She sat in a trailer full of snakes, handling them, and letting them slide all over her body. Supposedly, they were all highly dangerous, venomous snakes, and people paid a couple dollars to line up and walk through the trailer gawking at her and the snakes, many hoping to see her get bitten. A pretty young woman. Sometimes, instead of being the Snake Girl in some towns, she was Devil Woman, telling her tale of drug abuse, needles and overdoses. It was a living. Right now it was too early for customers, the ‘marks’ who would flock in, gawking, eating, gambling, throwing balls and darts, riding rides, and generally parting with the most money the carnies could get without giving much in return. Snake Girl was just looking for her dog, a pure white samoyed-husky mix she named cocaine. Sean wasn’t sure she was just looking for her dog, because she did know an awful lot about all kinds of drugs. The dog looked wolf-like and fierce, so few people bothered her if the dog was with her.
Sean stepped out of the cable trailer and saw her looking around under everything, still calling for Cocaine. “Interesting name for a dog,” he ventured. She stopped. “Yeah, and he’d better turn up soon, or I’m gonna be pissed. You haven’t see ‘im have you?” “No. I haven’t seen ‘im at all. Do you need help looking?” “No, no, that’s OK. I’ll find ‘im. Well, I’ve got to get going. He’s got to be around here somewhere. I’ll talk to ya later.” She never did. She was always with one sharp-looking dude or another, usually tall and decked out in leather hats and vests, so he never got to get to know her like he hoped.
There were other women around, usually local girls would come around. Sean met a Minot girl a few days later. She was pretty cute, and also pretty young, but Sean was feeling lonely out there by himself, so he walked the carnival with her, and then they sat behind a trailer for awhile making out. Man that girl can kiss! Sean thought. After awhile they talked some more and Sean found out she lived nearby with her mom. She came by every day after that, and kissed some more and Sean was really getting excited, but she held him off easily. By the time the carnival was nearly ready to jump, she asked Sean to stay behind.
Sean might’ve done that, except that he hadn’t cut his ties to Baltimore, not just yet. He still wrote to Judy. Judy White was a young hospital technician at the same time Sean was working in the physics lab. They’d stopped seeing each other after Sean told her he loved her. Actually, he didn’t, and Judy was smart enough to know that. She told Sean they shouldn’t see each other anymore. That was after Sue had told him the same thing. Sean, was, at that point simply interested in sex. He’d been teased to the point of exploding with the Frederick woman, and he was ready. He hadn’t really known Judy very long. She was the daughter of a co-worker of Sean’s father, who had given her number to him. Sean had been really freaked out when his father had suggested he call some strange woman like that. Maybe his father thought he hadn’t had any dates? High school had been a barren time for Sean, but then there had been Kathy, and Sue, and Sharon. What Sean didn’t know was that his old roommate had called his parents once, trying to embarrass Sean, and Sean’s dad suspected Randy of having the interest in Sean that Randy did. Sean’s dad was no dummy either. Sean, well, Sean was still trying to learn social skills, and there was a lot he didn’t know about human behavior.
However, Sean had called Judy. He had no idea what a blind date would be like, but he thought it might make his father happy. Judy had turned out to a very good-looking woman, and Sean hadn’t regretted it, but he had pushed his luck too soon. It wasn’t long after that he lost he virginity with Geri, who wanted a nude model, but Geri was gone, living in a mental ward in Texas. Leah had been great for sex. She and Sean had fucked night and day. Sean sent her a few postcards on his way through Canada, but there had never been more than a sexual relationship, so there wasn’t much to say, and she couldn’t reply while he was traveling, so he had thought.
He had written a letter to Judy. Now, he could get mail back. Far enough away, she could write back without fear of encouraging the horny bastard. Sean would write often, since he was able to send Judy their schedule and mail could be delivered to the local post office at each town they stopped in. He would tell her about the sideshow fat man, who, behind the trailers, didn’t look so fat – in fact, he simply had a ton of loose skin. He would tell her about Snake Girl, and the sleazy mike men who gave money away to entice people to buy junk at inflated prices. “I’m giving away five dollars here. Who wants five dollars?” And they’d give a few people five dollars. And people would stick around and the crowd would grow as more things were given away. And sometimes you could buy something they had with the money they’d given you, plus a few bucks more. It was fun to watch. He would write to her all the time, relishing the replies. It was a connection with home, and he enjoyed that.
Minot Girl wanted him to move in with her and her mom. She was pretty, and pretty young, but it was tempting to Sean. No one had ever seemed to want him before; it had always been the other way around. Working the mines in Minot was not what Sean had in mind, however. He had a lot to see yet, a lot to do. He told her he’d think about it and maybe he’d come back later. She didn’t want that. She said he had to come with her now. Sean told her no. He looked for her on jump day, thinking she might try to come along, but he never saw her again.
At least I didn’t get her pregnant, he thought as he rode in the cable truck with Duane. Duane didn’t ask any questions. Nobody did. Carnies aren’t like that. If you want to hide out, a carnival is your best bet. No one rats you out, no one has ever seen you or heard of you. Sean would meet some interesting characters, and the stories they told….