The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming ‘Letters From Peckerneck: What the School Board Don’t Wantcha To Know!” published by the Greater Peckerneck Historical Society. Prior to the construction of Crinkum’s Bump Amusement Park, Peckerneck was a popular stop on the Midwestern carnival trails. This is from the Historical Society’s archives.
Lucy and I met back when we were both working for the carnival. We were young and in love and life was wonderful. I would guess the ages of fat people and she would guess the weight of old people. When we were wrong, and we always were (she’d guess too high, I’d guess too low), we’d give away key chains or whistles or those little boxes you’d hold up to the light and see a picture of a clown. Cheap trinkets for sure, but they warmed up the marks for the hawkers and barkers and shills of the midway and that was our job.
Because we were young, and Lucy was an albino, we only worked rainy days, which tended to be slow. We didn’t make much that season, but who needs money when you have love. On sunny days, we’d sit in the shade of the midway among the motor homes and dream big dreams. One day we’d have our own RV and not a tent next to the llamas. We’d work bigger carnivals, shows that stayed in a town for more than a couple days. Why maybe, one day, we’d catch on at an amusement park, the permanent kind with real rides, dental plans and shade, wonderful shade. Silly dreams, but we were just kids. At night we’d wander the midway until the crowds thinned, enjoying the smells of cotton candy and corn dogs, the sounds of rickety rides and screaming kids. Right before the gates closed, we’d ride the Ferris Wheel. We’d take the last ride of the night, watching the red glow of taillights fade into the dark, listening to Procol Harum, holding hands.
It was heaven. A tramping caravan of joy.
Until Tilt-a-Whirl Johnny came along.
Johnny appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the season to run the most popular ride on the midway, the Tilt-a-Whirl. He was tall for a carnie, maybe five- seven or so, rail thin, and held his shoulders back, not stooped, like he still had some pride. Johnny’s three front teeth glinted a dull yellow against his leathery, sunburnt face. He reeked of Lucky Strikes and sweat. He oozed danger and sex. Women loved him. And sadly, so did my pale pretty princess.
We were in Peckerneck, Oklahoma and it had rained all weekend. Since going to the carnival was the only thing to do in Peckerneck, rain or shine, Lucy and I cleaned up. That Monday, I woke up late to find the sun shining and my Lucy missing. Frantic, I searched the tent. No Lucy. I went out into the sun, calling her name, running from patch of shade to patch of shade, going out of my mind with fear. Still, no Lucy. Out of shade and out of breath, I collapsed at the foot of the giant slide that marked the start of the midway. No, I thought, not here. Not in the sun.
Then I heard a giggle, her giggle, coming from the direction of the Tilt-a-Whirl. This couldn’t be, I thought. Why would she be out here….in broad daylight….with…..OH NO!!! I got up out of the dirt and pushed through the crowds of the midway. Past the corn doggers and cotton candiliers. Past the barkers and hawkers. Past the milling marks until, finally, I saw it with my own eyes. My Lucy on his arm. I watched in horror as her nearly translucent hand traced the prison tats that crawled up his forearms and under his t-shirt. She unrolled a pack of cigarettes from his sleeve and handed them to Johnny. He shook out a pair and when she declined, smoked them both. I was crushed.
Later that night, she told me she was leaving me for Johnny. I pleaded with her to reconsider. ‘What about the amusement parks….the shade?’ I asked. She laughed. Johnny had an RV. Who needed shade when she could travel indoors. In style. Plus, he gave her things. Nice things. Things that had spun from the pockets of the Tilt-a-Whirlers. I had only love, and love, it seems, was not enough for my darling albino.
The next day, they left.
Where to, no one knew. The other carnies did what they could to cheer me up. The Fat Lady sang, the midgets danced and did tricks. Tojo and Pog, the Siamese twins, told me Johnny was a bad man, a man on the run. He killed a guy in Reno! He kidnapped the Lindberg baby! Did Johnny really do those things? Maybe, but I didn’t care. All I knew was that one day he was here, where he hadn’t been before and would never be again, and then he was gone, taking with him the love of my life.
I quit the carnival at the end of the season, moved away and started over. I’m married now. I have a family. My wife is beautiful, my children are smart and wonderful and I am a happy man. But still, there are days. Days when the clouds gather and the sky darkens and the rains fall that I am reminded of the past and of the life I had shared with my one true love. Lucy, the carnie albino.