When you’re born into the life it’s like being raised by wolves. Growing up a carny kid prepares you for no part of the real world. Not one thing about it is common. Some families in the business go back generations, to the turn of the 20th Century, and have generations of traditions unique to show-people. Other show families came along in the last couple decades or even as recently as the last season. It gets in your blood. Not everyone is wired for the life, but there are those that were raised as citizens that found “the life”.
When I was a kid, my parents would take us off the lot to shop for clothing or whatever and usually I thought of those trips as trips into the real world and that when we returned it was to the midway- wherever it was that week. As I got older, I considered the show as the real world. It was where all my family, both immediate and Show Family- which were truly family, and lifelong friends were. Fuck the rest of the world. If they wanted my time, they would have to come to my world.
We come from generations of tradition and myths, lies and manipulations, and a sense of family that many of the carnies never experienced when they lived back in Bum-Fuck Minnesota or wherever they’re from. It’s a self – contained off the grid nomadic community that is unrivaled in today’s age. Street gangs and bikers are probably the closest in the dynamics of infrastructure within the group.
We bang the occasional town-mark, but more often each other, and try not to fuck a concessionaire’s wife or daughter, but a show-owner’s women are fair game.
The green help don’t know about the old days and ways. When a carny yelled “Hey Rube!” it meant he was in trouble. You stopped what you’re doing and come running and bring a hammer or a joint brace with a hinge on the end because shit is getting real on the Midway. Everyone knew they better be in some deep shit that involved blood and some town marks before they yelled those two words.
Ours is one of the last to have a Freak Show – Snake Girl, Two Headed Woman (slept with her. Boy howdy), Wolf Boy, Sword Swallower. The canvas was painted by one of the last few carnival artists in the world, trained by a master.
The show started with just a Ferris Wheel on one end, a Jenny on the other, and a rotating kiddy airplane ride in the middle. Jonny G had an Italian and Polish sausage grab joint, Big Connie spun floss out of a tornado of a joint. Billy had a Duck Pond, and Dirty Darrel had a Shoot out the Star.
The game joints are where the money is. There was a certain knot that you had to learn to stake a joint down. There are a lot of aluminum framed joints around now days, but back in the day they were all panted and carefully pin-stripped wood and canvas stick joints held together with hinges on two-by-fours, and Kotter keys, we call them R keys. You’ll see show folks wearing them as earrings, necklaces, and on their key chains. The rides were held together with them too. It’s a symbol.