Friday, July 22, 2011

Carnival Week

Carnival week: two words that could strike fear into the hearts of staunch, brave men.
Carnival week: always occurred the third week of July, when one could be sure of three things: high humidity, scattered or severe thunderstorms, and a visit by the mayflies.
Carnival week: a nightly, four hour self-inflicted exercise program of walking endlessly back and forth in a parking lot two blocks long, while dodging run-a-way children, clueless parents, and oblivious teens chatting endlessly on cell phones.
Carnival week: when an odiferous array of tantalizing smells assaulted the nose depending on which way the wind blew.
Carnival week: where one could find anything from cheese fries to lemonade to funnel cake to blue raspberry snocones.
Carnival week: a melancholy week of personal retrospective as the mind wandered through the aisles of the supermarket of yesterdays.

2010 earmarked my 33rd year of working with our volunteer Fire Department selling ride tickets at the annual Fireman’s Fair. I started this long tenure in the summer of 1978 when, employed as a meter maid/dispatcher/secretary/turnkey, I thought it would be good PR to be a liaison between the Police and Fire Departments.
Every year as I waited for customers, during the quiet moments in the evening, my mind traveled back to carnival weeks of years past. Like the ‘Final Three’ in the TV show Survivor who paddled along or walked the trail reflecting on those who had passed on, I too reflected on the changes I’ve seen and the people I’ve known.
From my vantage point in the center of the parking lot, I watched people saunter by. Sometimes I felt invisible. Visitors passed less than two feet away, yet if they happened to glance in my direction, they didn’t always look at me, they looked through me! It made me feel like I was a ghost floating above the living.
Oh, the changes I’ve seen over the years.
Visitors. Parents who visited in the 70’s with their babies were now part of three or four generational families. Those babies have become parents and grandparents!
Clothing. Today’s clothes have changed from skintight to extremely baggy; from being so short, buttocks showed to pants so long the pantlegs dragged on the ground. Waistbands have gone from waist level to butt level.
Body language. A handshake that once was simply a touching of palms was now either a convoluted combination of touches, taps, jabs and finger locks or a tapping of fists. Pats on the back have been replaced with heartfelt hugs or running leaps into someone else’s arms.
People’s appearance. Gone were the shoulder length hairstyles and Afros of the 70’s. Now you saw buzz cuts and shaved heads. Older men have longer hair than the young adults males. Some even sported multi-colored Mohawks! Simple make-up has given way to Goth.
People’s manners. Language was generously sprinkled with expletives and ‘the bird’ flew quite often! Yet, it seemed tempers have mellowed. People seemed to be more tolerant of others during carnival week.
Technology. I saw iPods, not transistor radios or cassette players. People no longer ran to a pay phone to call home. Everyone, it seemed, owned or was attached to a cell phone. If they weren’t talking, they were texting. How did people survive in the past without all this ‘togetherness’?
The biggest change however, was in the people themselves—people who no longer attended or were no longer alive to share in the festivities. Some were co-workers, some were friends and acquaintances, and some were people I only saw the third week of every July. Unfortunately, every year the list grew longer.

Leroy. Leroy was a fixture at the fireman’s fair. A businessman in town, he dispensed the change and moneybags with solemn authority. He was always jolly and reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock.
Doc Phil. No, not that Doc Phil, the other one, the Chiropractor Doc Phil. My parents knew his parents. He was a long time friend and even made house calls! He had a bear hug and a twinkle in his eyes.
Burnsy. When I worked with him in the early 70’s at our local bakery, he was Burnsy. In the latter 70’s when we worked together at another job, he became Chiefy. I’ll always remember his silver hair and his mischievous grin.
Rufus. He was a die-hard ‘Bama fan with a license plate to prove it! Rufus had a great sense of humor and went out of his way to help anyone who asked. He always reminded me of Bud Abbott because of his partner.
Esper. Esper was the Lou Costello half of the team and always worked daylight with Rufus. Though his real name was John, people always called him Tony. He was ‘vertically’ challenged, but like Rufus, he had a great sense of humor.
Mildred. She always came at least once during the week, and brought Jordan, her adopted grandson, along.
Sindico Giovanni. AKA Mayor John, he made it a point to visit the carnival at least once. Sometimes he brought Gypsy, his little white poodle, with him.
‘The boy with the piercing blue eyes’. I never knew his name, but he had the most gorgeous eyes. He hung out with a pack of boys, but always made it a point to say hello.
There were others who passed by my booth or table. Some came only on Wednesday’s for the parade, while others were there every night. If nothing else, they deserve a mention: Joe, Rusty, Pete, Butch, Ted, Fish, Bonnie, Irene… The list goes on. Many are no longer here, but their memory lingers.
But, as fast as the week arrived, Saturday came and the week was over. The crowd was larger and it seemed people were spending more money. There was an odd electricity in the air; as if people were trying to play as many games or ride as many rides as they could to hold them over to next year. They walked around with boxes of mis-matched glasses from the coin toss and armfuls of trinkets from the Carney games.
More firemen showed up to work on Saturday nights than the rest of the week. Like most people, they only had weekends off. Besides, the extra manpower was needed to dismantle the department’s game stands before they could leave to head to the station to count the proceeds while enjoying cold beer. Afterwards, there was usually a party at a local restaurant.
I had my money counted and the tickets tallied and waited anxiously to leave. It had been a long week and although I was invited to the party, I usually decided against attending.
As I headed home I knew the true meaning of ‘Carnival Week’.

This year, 2011, the carnival was not held in July because the Aquatorium (a stage built out onto the river with seating up the shore to the parking lot) and the parking lot are being repaired. The Fire Department will hold a 3-day Fall Festival in October. It will be cooler and I’m sure everyone will be working with it. I know I will. It’s too late to break a tradition.

1 comment:

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    Thanks for taking the time to comment.