I WAS IN SAN FRANCISCO, on the roustabout circuit. Jarret was in Austin, halfway through a divorce. It seemed impossibly urbane to me, a guy my same age, twenty-three, already done with his first marriage. I envied him, especially on late nights when the circus was packed and the customers were rude and my fingers got caught in the cotton candy machine. After the show was over, I’d go collapse in my tent. There was one power strip all the roustabouts drew off of. This Moroccan guy always had like nine things plugged in, a blender, a cell phone, a vibrator, a Tesla Coil that connected him directly to Allah. I’d free a plug for my laptop and then listen to his glottal-stop curses. Or maybe they were prayers. No matter what the time difference was, Jarrett always IM’d back immediately.
ME: You makin’ bacon?
JARRET: I’m watching CSI
ME: Little Rock or Boise?
JARRET: They do a sperm scan with a green light and, yup, there’s a Pollock across the sheets
ME: The killer’s always the actor with the Yugoslavian name. Zelko Ivanek. Or Bistik Vujinic
JARRET: Too bad the credits are at the end
ME: how’s things with Lara?
JARRET: There should be an emoticon for doom
ME: That bad?
JARRET: Even worse. Lawyers and imagined betrayals and screaming cinematic arguments on the front lawn in the pouring rain. While the neighbors watch, sipping bourbon.
ME: Sorry, brother
JARRET: yeah, well, you told me to leave her at the alter
ME: I did, didn’t I?
JARRET: Yup. That’s why you’re the only person in the world I trust
ME: but I was just being a dick
JARRET: Within dickishness lays difficult truths
ME: Huh. So what’s next?
JARRET: Oh, I dunno. Maybe retire on a cop’s salary. Marry an old hooker. Grow snap peas in the mountains
ME: Don’t you have to be a cop first?
JARRET: U there?
ME: sorry, fixing an airplane bottle of Jack
JARRET: and coke?
ME: straight. they never heard of ice in this parking lot
JARRET: Tough day?
ME: Crazy, actually. Beyond weird
JARRET: you make it with the bearded lady?
ME: heh. no. it was tent washing time
JARRET: oppo of weird
ME: well, the thing is, they don’t just drag it on the
JARRET: ground and?
ME: hose it down. They raise it. Fucker is like four stories tall
JARRET: I always wondered. You know, the flags snapping in the wind
ME: It takes a hundred people, all pulling ropes. They put ads in the paper to fill in the ranks. You should see who shows up for six an hour, cash
JARRET: I’ll bet
ME: all the dregs of
ME: Every drunk. Every toothless meth
ME: Yup. Anyway, I think a girl
JARRET: U there?
ME: Sorry. Re-pour and then piss. I think a girl died
JARRET: Huh? wait, what?
ME: a few hours ago, she
JARRET: Died died, or
ME: was standing right next to me
ME: after the big top goes up, they pick a team and put you in a harness. Like climbing gear
JARRET: You scale the tent?
ME: There’s ropes tied to the poles. It attaches to this deal on
JARRET: your waste
ME: Waist. you climb the vinyl. Slick as hell. It doesn’t seem all that high from the ground, but…
JARRET: Get back to the girl
ME: I am. So we’re up on top. Dude, you feel small. You can see for miles. And we got this crew of morons
JARRET: Quick aside on world population v. moron percentage: why so many? Why everywhere?
ME: you get issued a broom and this high-pressure suds thing. It’s like scaling Everest
JARRET: Tenzing Norgay
ME: That used to be a good reference, but now with the internet he might as well be David Bowie. Anyway, the climb is fucking terrifying, but it’s better than cotton candy
ME: No, selling. Did you know cotton candy comes in these gallon jugs of tiny pink crystals that are like
JARRET: Crystals, not liquid?
ME: Hard little fuckers. Dishwash detergent. You put a cap full of them in the extruder and it makes about 18 million cones at six bucks a pop. Total scam.
JARRET: Wait, you’re telling me the circus isn’t a bastion of ethics and just commerce?
ME: But the worst part is these pink strings get in your hair and face. They dry like fiberglass. Like asbestos. It tears off your skin. It’s
JARRET: whatever. Explain about the girl already
ME: the tent is so high you can see the Sierras. Big blue and yellow stripes. Makes you dizzy to look at, dizzy to look down. But here’s the crazy
JARRET: already sounds
ME: thing, they don’t let you wear shoes. You got to wear, like, these kid’s rain boots so you don’t scuff the vinyl. Like boots you wore to kindergarten. No tread, no traction
JARRET: beyond stupid
ME: it’s impossible to keep your balance. You’re dangling on this rope, steep angle, vinyl swaying in the wind
ME: There’s six of us. It’s me and the Moroccan. He’s been up there before, too. There’s this muscly French kid with a ponytail, I swear he probably dreams all night of
ME: Exactly. In the future, when you can order a clone off Amazon? Like to take tests or wait in line at the DMV or go buy toothpaste for you? This kid will spend all his time in bed, giving it to himself in the chute
JARRET: Strangely, I know a number of people who fit that description
ME: There’s also this black dude with a beard. Who’s talking to himself.
JARRET: Samuel Jackson?
ME: Snakes on a tent. Then there’s this tough hipster chick who looks like the bass player from
JARRET: The Pixies
ME: How did you know? And what’s her
JARRET: name again? Kim Deal.
ME: Freak. So it’s me, Morocco, Samuel Jackson, Poop Shoot, Kim Deal, and the dude leading the crew, this tall bald pirate sort of guy who is also one of the acrobats. He looks exactly like the lead singer for that Australian band
JARRET: Midnight Oil?
ME: God, did they suck. He’s got the earrings in each ear and everything. So Midnight Oil climbs up top, with this massive fire hose
ME: P.T. Barnum said “sometimes a hose is just a hose.” Anyway, Midnight O’s hanging onto the center pole. We each pick a panel of vinyl, suds it up, broom it, and then WHOOSH
JARRET: he soaks you down
ME: Man, in those boots? You can barely stand anyway. He lays on the hose and, shoop, you go flying
JARRET: How much they pay you again?
ME: Twelve an hour, plus meals. And a tent.
JARRET: You’re getting rooked.
ME: I was born rooked. So it’s hose and scrub, hose and scrub. We slowly go around, washing. Samuel Jackson is swearing his ass off, really cursing Midnight Oil out. I want to, too, but I need the job. Or at least enough money to fly home.
JARRET: I’ll send you some. Fly home right now.
ME: You have no money.
ME: Finally, Samuel Jackson’s had enough. He’s like “fuck this” and tosses his broom and starts rappelling down.
JARRET: good for
ME: which you can’t do! You gotta walk in a line, or it sets off a chain vibration.
JARRET: So Jules is screwing you guys over
ME: we’re getting knocked around, yelling at him to stop
JARRET: But he’s not listening, he’s decided to walk the earth like the guy from Kung Fu. He is his brother’s keeper. He
ME: Yeah, I get the Pulp Fiction references. No, he just keeps going. Then Kim Deal starts to lose it
JARRET: like, panic?
ME: I tell her to be cool. The Morroccan
JARRET: prays for her
ME: but she starts heading down anyway. Way too fast. Letting out too much rope
JARRET: And so
ME: Midnight Oil turns on the hose. I guess just to fuck with Samuel Jackson, but
JARRET: it hits Kim Deal
ME: Right in the chest. The end of her line zips through the clamp. I reach out to grab her sweater, but there’s no chance. She picks up speed all the way to the edge and all I see are these two huge, round eyes, before she goes over
ME: me and Morocco and Poop Chute get in a row and rappel down like you’re supposed to. Samuel Jackson is already on the ground, running as fast as he can. The dude is past the fence, halfway to the exit ramp
JARRET: and he’s running because?
ME: probably that Kim Deal is lying on the asphalt. One leg bent backward. In a pool of
JARRET: blood. jesus
ME: there’s these midget acrobats all surrounding her, whispering stuff and sort of petting her head
JARRET: petting. God, that’s so…creepy
ME: One of them is on this tiny little cell phone, calling an ambulance. She’s unconscious. I tried to hold her hand, but they wouldn’t let me near her. I couldn’t tell if she was breathing or
JARRET: the paramedics, they
ME: strap her in, eventually. Midnight Oil just hoses off the stain
JARRET: and then
ME: I got twenty minutes to change into my costume and get to the cotton candy booth
JARRET: that’s it?
ME: no one said a word. It was like, hey, it’s a shame, but the show
JARRET: must go
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