Sasha the aerialist was concerned about Bing-Bong the Clown’s attention of Kira. Sasha had met Kira when both of their troupes became members of the Cirque D’ Ascend. That was about 4 months ago. Sasha and his family The Flying Gorobets were all nimble, graceful with rope like muscles coursing through arms, legs and necks. Kira who descended from a long line of animal trainers liked to tease and control her subjects. She was known for her agility with a bullwhip and her skill in getting a booming double crack sound from it. With a knowing smile and a confident stride Kira’s authority was never a question. When Sasha first encountered Kira he was both in awe and shaken. He was attracted to her and yet felt tense around her. Sasha’s cousin Oola warned Sasha to balance his emotions and not tumble. Many had been, and were intoxicated by Kira. Sasha remembers one night at the Blind Cock Pub in White Hills overhearing Loopie, Ari and Herbert discuss Kira. They mentioned the names of other performers who had been “close” to Kira. One familiar name was a clown named Jolly Wally who one day changed his act and name to Woeful Wally. Gone were the belly laughs, now replaced by a performance of introspective irony. All three nodded in agreement that after Kira and Wally parted – so did his Jolly. Sasha believed at the time that they were all sour because of Kira’s billing in the show. [Loopie did a drunk tight rope act and Ari and Herbert, both heavily muscled, did an intense human balancing act. For example Ari would lie on his back, extend one leg into the air and the larger Herbert would stand upon Ari’s foot while Ari lifted him up and down. There were also many whispers about their relationship].
No one remembers the last time they saw Bing-Bong without his make-up. Few even knew his real name; some believed it was Max, others thought Clotaire. When asked for his real name he would sternly say- “It is Bing-Bong!” His face was a dense layer upon layer of make-up. His pants shiny and stained. Never did his wig leave his head. The gloves a permanent second skin upon his hands. Bing-Bong’s philosophy was that a clown was a superman among men. Bing-Bong believed that, felt that and became that. A clown is royalty. A clown is all you want or nothing you want. A clown could make you laugh, cry and want to protect him. You could be tricked, confused and outraged by him. Or seduced by him. A clown controls.
Sasha’s suspicions of Bing-Bong’s intentions were confirmed one evening during a very intense part of the trapeze act he performed with his cousin Vasily.
Jace lived in perpetual state of anger. Everything annoyed him. It could be something as inconsequential as receiving his neighbors mail by mistake or as serious as being rear ended when leaving the deli. It all had the same importance and level of seething frustration. He found it impossible to relax. He was a kettle always boiling. He tried herbal teas, but the mellow and sunshine demeanor of the health food store staff set him on edge. His incessant and quickly accelerating finger tapping on the check-out counter brought on a request to chill. But telling a guy like Jace to chill only has the opposite effect. Bellowing “who are you telling to CHILL!” was met by wide eyed bewilderment and a request to never return. He worked out at a gym to try and ease his temper. Tense scene were created by Jace’s bitter mumbling, grunting and irked slamming of weights. The plus was he did make friends with some very large and just slightly less angry people.
Therapy was tried. But as each week’s session neared ending the therapist would peek at his watch. At first Jace tried to ignore it. Each week the expectant glance at the watch ate away at him. Jace tried deep breathing exercises to distract himself, but this only made him breath heavier and focus even more on the “looking at the watch”. At what was ultimately his last session, Jace brought in an alarm clock and hurled it at his therapist.
Cora always seemed to be crying. It did not matter if it was an upsetting memory, a great joke or spicey food. Sad tears, happy tears, laughing tears, pained tears, and tears that could not be understood. Remembrances of late family members or commercials for animal shelter would cause misty watering eyes. Good times with friends celebrating career advancements, her nieces and nephews’ graduations, weddings, favorite sit-coms, and videos of chihuahuas with little sombreros brought joyous tears. Her close friends expected Cora’s tears and always brought along extra tissues for her.
Saturday night at The Bella Terra Dinner and Dance Club. Cora was there to celebrate her little sister Carla’s birthday . Sittings at the bar waiting, sweet memories of Carla as a little girl came to her. Her eyes moistened. Cora then thought of her late father. He would have been so happy to see how grown-up Carla became. She was only 12 when he passed away. Moistened eyes now led to trails of running tears.
Jace was also at The Bella Terra to dine and share peeves with his weightlifting pals. His was early and went to the bar to get a drink. All the seats were taken which exasperated him. Trying to get the bar tender Billy’s attention, he wound up standing behind Cora . The music was loud which further irritated him. He started to wave his arms to get service. The tender at the other end the bar nodded at him, but kept talking on his phone. Now Jace was wildly gesturing. Finally the bartender came over. He mistook the rage in Jace’s eyes for being intoxicated. Jace yelled out, “I want a Negroni!”. The barman replied. “A Martini?, on ice?” “No!”, burst Jace. “A Negron!”. “All right, a Zombie no ice.” was the distracted reply along with a mutter of “jerk”. Jace’s temper was really erupting now. Enraged eyes, muscles tightened, hot blood speeding through veins and arms gesticulating in a frenzy. Cora did not notice this. She was lost in her memories. And crying.
Jace’s frantic gyrations started to draw attention. Depending on where one stood, it was not clear what was exactly was going on. Some saw an upsetting scene of a furious angry man yelling at a crying woman. Others, like Mimi and her friends only saw Jace and mistook his movements for cool dance moves. Inspired, they copied them.
No one was sure of the name.
It was old, worn and nondescript. A dark rectangular shape, with an exterior battered in thick grime. Was it brick? Concrete? It was impossible to tell without scrapping off years of grime. There was one entrance and a long window which allowed a hazy dim view of the interior. If this structure had a personality, it would be considered sullen. It was the exact opposite of what laid across and around it – a panorama of amusement rides, surf, sunshine, and brightly colored foods. Salt and mustard floated in the air. Squinting eyes adjusting to piercing sun rays. The sudden explosion of sounds, colors, aromas, and excitement of what laid in front further blotted out this large, cheerless shoebox. Embedded under the multi-level subway station at Culver Beach, it made an extreme contrast to the shops around it. While nearby were cheerful vibrantly hued beach balls and radiant sweet treats, here sat this solitary, gloomy loner.
After years of sea air, layers of paint and neglect, the sign above the door led to various interpretations. Some called it Mike’s. Others said no, it was Mick’s. One old timer said it was Stan’s. Wafting through the door was the mix of stale cigarette smoke and sour, very sour, beer. Mike’s/Mick’s/Stan’s was a bar that while unnoticeable, really stood out because it seemed so out of place. Why was it there? Why did it remain while all around it grew and changed? It was like an uninvited guest who takes their place on the couch and never leaves. Through the smoky haze, dim bulbs outlined hunched figures. No matter the time of day or night, there they were. Early morning, dusk, night, no matter. Figures like melting candles, moving slowly, if moving at all. A lone pale figure, in extreme contrast to the crowd of tanned bodies, would on occasion, emerge. Time too seemed to stall at Mike’s/Mick’s/Stan’s as nothing about it ever changed. Holidays and seasons did not matter. It was not lost in time but existed in its own stagnant time.
Abel was hoping that his constant headaches would ease. Symptoms ranged from a dull thud to a head gripping intensity. The only way to ignore it was to drink and sit in the bar’s cool shadows. It was his therapeutic routine. He felt he was understood by the others who too, were treating their various conditions. The somber mood was broken by the lurching energy of Blue. Blue’s real name was Irv but was nicknamed Blue because of his fondness for the color and the tint to his dyed black hair. Blue liked to laugh, hug, “dance” and sing and was oblivious to the moods around him. He knew everyone in the bar and believed he was enjoyed by all. He could not wait to see his friends and spend day into night with them. Abel was having an especially painful episode. Upsetting memories began to seep into his mind and he began to shake. It was not unusual for Abel to shake. Some would cry, some nodded out, others mumbled to themselves. Blue saw his buddy Abel, leaned on him, wrapped his arms around him and with a loud, exuberant laugh said, “Hey! How’s it going! Next ones on me!”
Off to the side Ida began to drift off while talking to a mummified looking Vince and muttered, “my past does not define me.” Blue heard this and yelled “Good one, Ida! You are so funny!”
Jocelyn was smart enough to realize the value of Derrick’s stupidity and anger. And he dressed very well. If you are going to play with jerks, at least make it a well-dressed jerk. Derrick was the kind of guy who went along with it, whether it made sense or not. This made him the perfect ploy/accomplice. He felt he was getting something out of it, while that something was inconsequential to Jocelyn. She was very focused in these matters. The phone number exchange had to not only be timed right, but at the proper angle with the correct lighting. The scene created had to get its point across in a flash. It would be an image that would remain active in an unsuspecting mind. It would be reviewed and analyzed again and again. The viewer would question:” Did I really see that”? The images would stick and become the scene that would never end. The eternal late night re-run. It was at times like this that Jocelyn identified with the great German silent film directors.
Derrick is always ready; his hands reflexing into a fist almost as often as his blinks. The thought of anything going wrong never enters Derrick’s mind. He has no time for that. Derrick feels that “Losers worry about things going wrong. So what if something goes wrong. Just walk away. Keeping walking and it is way behind you. History. There are people like Ed who like to worry about things going wrong. “Let ‘em. Those are the ones who like to keep going over things in their head. What a waste of time. It distracts so much that they can’t think of important things like eating. Or going to Crescent Bay to play the slots. Or driving fast. Or what a fine ass Jocelyn has. And how I am gonna help her out and maybe get something in return. Actually not maybe, definitely. I am just being polite.”
Rich deserts have a special place not only in Ted’s stomach, but his heart. Ted studies deserts the way an architect studies his designs. He thinks the average desert lover only cares about the flavor. The statement “it tasted better than it looked” offends him. Deserts have a fundamental aesthetic that must be adhered to. It needs to look good. It must have balance and a firm foundation. It needs to have delectable colors. It needs to make a statement. It needs to have a mysterious energy that sets it apart from other treats. And it needs to have a berry or cherry. Preferably on top of delectable cream. However, others do not appreciate Ted’s passion. He is snickered at. And in his quest to be quickly exposed to many deserts, he usually stains his clothes. He has found that to truly savior deserts, he must do it in private. Like out by the pool the night of Mickey’s birthday party. But the joy of digesting his potpourri of sweets was interrupted. It was the image. “Could I be wrong? Maybe I am wrong but it sure looked that way” “What if I am not wrong?” “What if I think I am so right that if I tell someone they would say, that can’t be, “You are wrong.”
Ted can have his desserts, thinks his brother Ed. For him exotic cocktails accessorized with little umbrellas are worth the calories. It is like sending your mouth and mind on a tropical adventure. The enticing blending of flavors…the intense colors….the crisp sensations extinguishing a warm weather thirst. And the names of the beverages! A Rumble Rum Eruption, a Poco Loco, a Wayward Schooner and his favorite: a Bali Veri Hai. Jocelyn never shared, as Ted called it, “the lure of the tropical drink“. But she could mix a great one. It was funny that she never tried one. She said that the umbrellas, custom swizzle sticks and fruit riding the glass rim made it difficult for her to smoke and drink at the same time. Many a night she would light up, pour herself some red wine and would then create a cocktail for Ed. And then another one. And then ….another. Soon the soft hum of the air conditioner became the sound of a gentle lapping ocean and the couch became a hammock .And then before he knew it, it was morning and waking up in the living room. Friends could not understand the connection between Ed and Jocelyn. But he knew she was all right. Whenever he woke up after too many of Jocelyn’s cocktails the apartment would be empty. But a few hours later she would arrive with bagels.
For Mickey’s party Jocelyn insisted on making pitcher after pitcher of fantastic concoctions. It was a great party. Boy, Mickey knows lots of people Ed thought as he sat caressing a frosty Casa Coco Rico adorned with a teal umbrella and fluorescent green mixing stick topped with an octopus. He was feeling marvelous even though he could not stand. He smugly chuckled to himself. Jocelyn looked as gorgeous as ever tonight. While he was not the best looking guy on the block, and never lost the weight he had gained after Junior High, he was smart and knew how to make money. By adding TVs and snack bars to his chain of laundries, business had gone up by 39%. He turned to give Jocelyn a kiss but she was gone. She had just been right next to him. “I must have nodded out for a few minutes. Ahhh the lure of the tropical drink he giggled. Hey Ted! Hey Ted! Come over here. Sit down next to your big brother. Hey…what’s with the look? You feeling sick? You got to lay off those deserts. Come on, come on, sit down, have a drink and tell me what‘s new.”
After three seasons on the road, the Enchanted Amusements Traveling Carnival troupe grew irritated with each other. Working long hours and forced to live in compact, strained conditions was a combustible formula. Traits once charming and attractive became ugly and selfish. You could only hear the same story, complaint or crush and tales of subsequent heartbreak so many times. While audiences saw joyful faces, resentment was the truth. The old joke that the knife thrower was not a show’s only back stabber, had a prick of truth. You never know who to trust or confined in. Night into another night. Small towns blending into medium small towns and cities. Costumes from a distant looking glittery, sexy and heroic were really worn and sourly pungent. But like everything else, only when you are in it, living and breathing the life, did you know it. Viewed from the stands it was all fantasy and courage. The handsome, beautiful and brave. The agile, clever and seductive. Week nights, three performances on Saturdays and two on Sundays, then pack and travel on.
The hours after an evening’s last spectacle, before hitting the road, brought out the worse in these merry performers. It was time to unwind, become real and try and drop the act. Morgan was visibility upset. Heavy tears swam down colorful cheeks. Morgan had peeked around the Loony Balloon and Dastardly Dart stall and saw Syndee in intimate conversation with Todd. Syndee relished all attention and enjoyed the game. Good or bad, her objective was to be noticed and to hold and twist that attention. Todd, the handsome egoistical lead rider in the Globe of Death was very willing. Syndee was a versatile performer who seductively inhabited her costume. Whether scooping at the Creamy Treat cart or pitching in at the Tent of Terror, she drew a response. Her favorite role was as Countess Syndella, Predictor of Fortunes. This grand title allowed her an opportunity to be creative and toy with drunken minds. Insincerity… an exhilarating feeling and a quality she was keenly proud of. Morgan was cowed by Syndee. Morgan had believed there was a connection with Todd after some tequila enhanced flirting. Seeing them now tightly together was painful. Morgan felt like a gullible fool.
Van the Escape Artist always saw himself as a peace maker, sensitive to all. When stress was high, his calming manner and little jokes were a relief. One of his favorite bits was to pretend he was locked inside a bathroom stall and cry out “Help, I am trapped!” Seeing Morgan upset, he offered drinks and cheer. But the tears kept streaming. Coleman, gripping his “medicine”, wobbled by on rubbery legs. Van yelled to Coleman to lend a hand comforting Morgan. Coleman, the eternal huckster with a bloodshot bally pitch. He had been in character for so long, the original Coleman evaporated. A true veteran of the midway – name it, he did it – even kootch shows. Now Coleman ran the petting zoo during by day and the popular Dirty Disco Challenge (over 18’s only) late on Saturday nights. But he never lost his sense of humor. He glanced at Van and kept on stumbling. Van hollered to Coleman “Got some time for a drink and to cheer up a pal “. Without hesitation, “I have had seen it all before, and I am not interested in seeing anymore” bellowed Coleman. He self-congratulatory snickered, and continued staggering away.
It seemed to Erica that she was constantly being invited to parties. Endless spinning rooms of faces, crudités and clothing patterns. Plaid, polka dot, stripes, shiny vinyl, paisley, animal prints and celery stalks dizzyingly floated around Erica. With each soiree, her enthusiasm and willingness to socialize evaporated. She found less people to be interested in, and less people interested in her. No matter the event or party theme. There was her cousin Kate’s engagement party. Kate’s work friends were all clustered together gossiping about work, especially about someone named Andre. Erica stood nearby with a pained smile and tried to act interested. After a round of giggles and raised eyebrows regarding Andre, Erica attempted to join the happy group by breezily asking, “Whose Andre?”. “You don’t want to know” came the reply as the group shuttered down, thus ending any further exchange. The group all looked at Erica and like a dandelion facing a breeze, slowly floated away. Erica stood for minutes not knowing where to go.
In January she went to a party for Kevin, who was one of her best friends in High School. They took the same art classes and hated the same teachers. She periodically stayed in touch with Kevin. In their early 20’s they went to museums, galleries and free outdoor concerts together along with a rotating cast of others who appeared like guest stars. In particular there was Kurt. Erica thought Kurt was interesting, thoughtful and attractive. He worked doing fund raising for not-for-profits, enjoyed lite jazz fusion and was an avid bike rider. They spent one night together after exploring used bookstores and having dinner at a hip Japanese/Cajun fusion restaurant. Kurt promised to call her once he got back from his cross country bike ride. She never heard from him again. Kevin told her that Kurt sent him a card stating that he had several enlightening experiences during his journey and decided not to return and to never bike again. Erica was disappointed yet understood. In a way she wished she could journey to someplace where it was not a strain to be social. Where people would “get” her and share similar interests.
The party for Kevin was to celebrate a job promotion to district something or another. Kevin was a dear friend, yet Erica felt that the qualities, lifestyle and interests they shared were slowly melting away. She was introduced to what Kevin referred to as the cool people he worked with. Kevin whispered to Erica that these folks were “crazeee”, into the arts and she would love them. The conversation turned to film. It was an animated conversation with names of movies that she had only heard of on TV commercials and seen in the Young Adult Fiction section of bookstores. Lots of excited cooing about Aliens, Killers, Terminal Illness and Affairs. Burt who shared an office with Kevin asked Erica if she had seen any good flicks. “Yes!” said Erica. I really loved “Le Cri du Coeur Adolescent Effrayé”*! Is that Spanish someone asked? I think it’s a Italian cop comedy another said. “ I don’t like movies where I can’t understand the language”, Burt said. “Except for kung-fu movies! Getting smacked around sounds the same in any language.” Everyone cracked up except for a puzzled Erica.
It was at Janet’s 10th annual holiday get-together that Erica truly felt isolated from those around her. Being that it was the 10th year, Janet went all out and rented Roxanne’s Lair and invited everyone she knew and to bring friends. Janet invited Erica who she did not really understand but respected her as an independent thinker. Janet felt that knowing Erica reflected well on her. Many times, friends would ask Janet, “Who was that quite woman who seems very smart? How do you know her?” Roxanne’s had been a hot club a few years back but was now lukewarm. It still had a powerful sound system which was great for dancing but not for talking. Not that anyone wanted to talk. They wanted to drink, dance, feel good and dance some more. It was a bombastic frenzy of whirling arms and legs. Everyone was having a fantastic time. Everyone except for one lone figure who found the music tedious, the inability to carry on a conversation because of the volume annoying, and the short attention span of those spastically pirouetting around her irritating. As the fervor increased Erica receded. She could not relate to the crowd. She needed to make a change. It was not fair to blame others if they did not enjoy her company and see her as she saw herself. It was at this point Erica thought that she might take up bike riding and plan a very long ride.
*"The Cry of the Frightened Adolescent Heart".