You evil, evil carnies! What do you have against us common folk? Is it our Banana Republic clothes or our Supercuts haircuts? Do you hate the fact we live in homes without wheels and sterilize our needles? Whatever the problem, there’s no reason to torture us in your deadly spinning machines. You laugh and wheeze and hack as we drool while being whipped about to the oh-so-ironic refrain of Electric Avenue–“Oh no!”
Let’s back it up. We started off the night in Edgewater, NJ at a cool, little shack of a restaurant called Tess & Joe. I’ve never been to Edgewater, and probably won’t be back soon, but there are great views of The City right across the river, and what appears to be an incredible amount of sweeping gentrification that is undoubtedly making everything in the area so absurdly expensive that the older residents are being forced into the homes of their offspring, sending “The Greatest Generation” back into the role of child, and their aging hippy children into the role of caregiver and/or resentful landlord. Ha! In any case, there was a really cool Post Office building for sale right across from the restaurant that looked like it could be easily converted into a gnarly loft space. The restaurant itself was decorated like what I’d imagine a sea captain’s basement would look like. We ate lobster and I had a nice appetizer of mussels in white wine sauce. We were the youngest people in the joint by about a lifetime. Luckily, old locals always know where the good places are. Remember what I ate, as it will come back (literally) into the story later on.
After using a forest worth of napkins trying to get the melted butter out of every crevice, we headed out for the New Jersey State Fair at the Meadowlands. Hesitation isn’t a strong enough word to describe my feelings when faced with the pukies (not my word) in the parking lot. What are pukies you might ask? Pukies leave rusting appliances on their lawns. Pukies wear shorts with work boots, wife beaters and those wrap-around, multi-color shades that are only seen at NASCAR events and Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts. They generally have a cigarette hanging free from their lip, a rockin’ mullet and have all sorts of shit hanging from the rearview mirror of their one-primer-colored-door, early-eighties Cadillacs. Anyway, the folks were scary.
Despite my initial trepidation, I decided that this would be one of the better people-watching experiences I’ve had in quite a while. So, we went to the box office and bought our ticket–and without any stupid TicketMaster charges!
And here we go with the evil carnies. We bought our tickets and jumped on the first ride we saw. Unfortunately we didn’t look at the man with the track marks, ponytail and missing teeth running the thing from his little booth. The twenty-year wake-and-bake routine in his trailer had obviously taken its toll. He started up the ride right as Eddy Grant started singing. The shit flipped and flopped. The thing spun and dropped. The lobster in my stomach started its journey back to the sea. My mussels tried to muscle their way up my esophagus. My ridemate actually drooled on me. The carny’s cackle was barely audible over the loudspeaker, but we saw his beat-red, scrunched face clearly on one of our one thousand dips past his control booth, tears of joy streaming down his cheeks as he laughed himself into a coughing fit. All the while, his riders were holding back their sausages, funnel cakes and frozen Cokes. The ride went on forever. Normally this would be a good thing, but my screams of “evil carny!” said otherwise. The carny finally composed himself long enough to stop the damn thing and we all staggered away with the taste of ocean in our mouths and hatred in our hearts.
The rest of the evening was spent riding the worst haunted house ride of all time that lasted about thirty seconds, seemed to be missing some stuff and featured a dude in a Scream mask who lazily followed the little car and I believe said “boo” at one point. Heroin is bad, folks. I noticed one ride, The Crazy Mouse, was propped up on wooden blocks. It was a roller coaster that spun around like the teacups ride, but rode the rails like a roller coaster. Certainly frightening. I still have a couple scabs on my left elbow from being thrown against the restraint bar on one of the turns. Gee, I’m really glad the asshole carny told me not to put on the seatbelt. We saw “the world’s tallest horse” for fifty cents. We expected a stuffed equine, but the thing was real–and he was damn tall! The tallest in the world? I didn’t bring my tape measure or almanac (or wherever they keep stats on big animals), but it was certainly the tallest horse I had ever seen. I suppose most people hanging out at the Meadowlands don’t have a ton of experience with farm animals–which was evident by the freaked out children in the petting zoo. There was a point where we started hatching a plan to free all the poor, imprisoned animals (including the ancient, very sad-looking elephant), but decided that being beaten by a bunch of drug-addled, nomadic carnies wasn’t on the menu for that evening. We passed on “the world’s smallest horse” but did enjoy the patter: “See the world’s smallest horse! A cup of water and a handful of straw is a mighty meal for Tiny Tim, a horse so small not even a baby can ride him!” Now, that’s a carnival classic.
Needless to say, we probably won’t be back at the State Fair until, well, at least next year, but I will always remember our carny friend with the broken leg in the golf cart with what I can only call a super-mullet, and his sidekick with the broken arm and tattoo of a mermaid that took up her entire back. I wanted so badly to ask them on which ride they messed themselves up, but I don’t speak freak.