Children’s faces turned from glee to grief as, one after another, their motorcycles ran over my legs. The carnival had come to town. That traveling circus of mechanical attraction. No trapeze artist, no high wire act, no lion tamer, no ring master. Plenty of clowns though, not one of them intentional. The closest thing to a talent possessed by the seedy band of outcasts who had set up shop in the back part of our local Kmart parking lot was their ability to grift a man out of his last dime at a game booth and have him enjoy the experience.
Separating a man from his money; even a so called pure artist must learn to extract payment for the result of his work, or hire an agent to do so on his behalf. An entire industry of agents, managers, producers, bookers, sycophants, interlopers, cronies, hangers-on and so on has sprung up around artists. An industry of people who’s only talent is monetizing the work of anyone even remotely inspired or what’s worse, passing off the utterly uninspired as genius. The latter being the work of publicists, ad-men and marketers. The grand manipulators, they’ll rob a man of his last dime and have him enjoy the experience.
Among the curious townspeople lined up to see what the commotion was about were my parents with myself and my younger brother in tow. The lights, the music, the cotton candy, all too exciting for boy just turned five. For my two year old brother it must have been the most stimulating moment of his life since the moment it began. Of course, we can never know because he doesn’t remember any of this. He doesn’t remember the motorcycle merry-go-round.
Among the tilt-o-whirl, the ferris wheel and game booths there was a merry-go-round of sorts. Rather than painted ponies, and other whimsical creatures to ride upon, there were motor cycles. Flickering chrome, black rubber tires, and gas tanks in green, gold, blue and red whizzed around a steel track. Each bike connected, by a long metal bar, to the spinning hub in the center. At one point in the track there was a little ramp where the bar would lift bike and rider up in the air and for a brief moment you were Evel Knievel.
I had to get on one of those things. I still feel that way when I see two wheels cruising by as I sit stuck in traffic. Even more so when a motorbike soars down the open highway. Not those obnoxious loud machines piloted by insecure sheep in wolves clothing types and not the equally pathetic neon colored angular cries for attention emitting the annoying whiz of a siren whistle, but the cool unassuming bikes that exist for the purpose of efficient and unencumbered freedom of movement rather than to boost the ego of the rider. The bike shouldn’t be cooler than the person sitting atop it. There’s a good rule of thumb for all your worldly possessions. Your clothes, your car, your house, your guitar, all that stuff. The things you own don’t make you cool, they can’t. They can be cool all on their own, and you can position yourself next to them, and you might fool a few people in the process. But anyone you really want to impress will see right through it or past it or around it. I can’t account for where everybody looks.
The most beautiful woman I ever saw was perched upon a motorcycle. Hands on the handle bars, not wrapped around some guy. I never even saw her face. She had on a little white helmet, brown leather boots rose up over her calfs, long blonde hair whipped at the wind. She rode out of the apocalypse and into my heart and ripped right out the backside as she sped on down the road. It was the perfect romance; unhindered, uncomplicated, unknown.
The woman operating the motorcycle merry-go-round wasn’t nearly as captivating, although I remember her. I can’t recall her face but I remember her being there and I remember her letting both me and my brother onto the ride. In the twentieth century people weren’t as concerned with safety restrictions, we had faith in darwinism and faith in ourselves. My brother and I wound up on shiny motorcycles opposite sides of the circle from each other. The ride started up, “Born To Be Wild” blasted out of blown out speakers, the wind blew through my hair, my little arms stretched all the way up to the handle bars, we hit the first jump and I knew that this was it for me; chrome and black. As soon as the ride was over I was going to make my parents drive me to the first tattoo parlor we could find and get a giant bald eagle on my chest. Then it all came to a complete stop.
Apparently my brother wasn’t enjoying the ride as much as I was. He was terrified. It may have had something to do with being barely two years old and finding himself out of mother’s arms and placed on top of a whizzing whirling death machine while drug fueled rock and roll pounded his ear drums. He also could have been hungry. Either way they had to stop the ride just long enough to get him off of the thing. This left me stuck on the backside wondering what the hell had just happened. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity. Impatience has plagued me my entire life so what seemed like an eternity may have only been about thirty seconds, but either way I was through with waiting around. I had to go get my first beer and a new tattoo.
I jumped down off of my hog and onto the steel track, and that’s when I learned that everything at the carnival is covered in grease. I slipped and fell right on my face just in time for the ride to start back up. “Born To Be Wild” blasted out of blown out speakers as a dozen or so motorcycles continuously ran over my little legs. Run over, over and over again. A gang of pint sized suburban Hells Angels laughed as they went around. The terror was palpable, I began to comprehend my own mortality. I worried I might lose my legs. I screamed, I cried, I forgot all about my bitchin’ eagle tattoo. I no longer wanted a motorcycle, I wanted my mommy.
After what felt like an eternity but really may have been only thirty seconds or so, again impatience, the other children realized what was happening and some of them began to cry. Eventually after a few trips past the operator’s booth they were able to get the story out, presumable only one or two words at a time. “There’s WHOOSH! a boy WHOOSH! on the WHOOSH! track!”
The ride stopped, my parents came running around to where I was. The ride’s operator close behind. My dad picked me up off the track and gave me a once over to see what kind of condition I was in. My brown corduroy pants had a huge hole in the knee and grease stains all over, but nothing was broken. A few things were bruised, mainly my ego. The woman who ran the ride felt terrible, my parents were just glad I wasn’t hurt. They didn’t get angry, nobody yelled and nobody threatened to sue. We went on more rides, lost our money in the game booths and enjoyed the experience.