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Carney, A Love Story
By Bill Krebs

"Did you know the Carnival Ride Operator was the inventor of the toothbrush?" my uncle once deadpanned. "If it were invented by anyone else, it would've been called the TEETHbrush!" Everyone at my grandmother's funeral struggled with recent sips of coffee as the laughter took hold. My delayed reaction intimated a need for clarification. Did the punchline arrive with the obvious jab at toothless mutants, or did the laughs begin at the formal title, "Carnival Ride Operator," merely an implication that prerequisite training and licensing had been fulfilled? Clearly, nobody present ever bothered to listen to the fulfilled heart of our family's matriarch. Now she permanently rests within earshot, silenced, leaving me to contemplate the prospect of divine resurrection and how opportune it would be to give Grandma a final chance to defend her mustachioed veterans of amusement. "They're much more than simple ride technicians," she'd admirably gasp. In fact, if my grandmother's motionless mouth had a second life, she'd set the record straight, "They're Carnies!"

Long before mindless followers trailed the likes of The Grateful Dead, Phish, and Oprah, my grandma fashioned herself as one of the original Carney groupies. Enchanted by years of touring the countryside in search of regional fairs, Carney groupies, like my grandmother, relished the seductive lure of the transient carnival worker. The attraction went far beyond infatuation; it was a paralyzing addiction, threatening marital bliss coast-to-coast. My grandfather christened the devastating affliction "Disneyland Penis." Being a husband, my grandma claimed he could never fully understand.

Part gypsy, salesman, philosopher, pedophile, and entertainer, The Carney, I'm told, is a recessive hybrid, standing evidence that even Darwin probably fudged a few calculations. The stereotype is often misunderstood, dismissing The Carney as a walking hair-do, spitting vulgarities at town girls while rolling packs of Winstons in thrift store shirtsleeves. That profile, although technically accurate, only sugar coats the personality. "It's all show" my grandmother often lamented, stroking the tattooed outline of frolicking Carousel Horses, penned by the weathered hands of a nearly forgotten Tilt-a-Whirl operator. "Sure they'd get in your pants with the sweet talkin', but get their minds off the rides and they'd slip up, talkin' about book smarts this, book smarts that." My grandma often carried on for hours about the nebbish, cerebral alter ego sleeping slightly beneath the sun-stained skin of virtually every person capable of piecing a Ferris Wheel together.

I could almost feel her glow as she recalled the first time she indulged herself in the men of the road. "The academic side came out in fits, like a case of shingles. But, once they'd drop their guard spouting off about Algebra this, Astrology that, or here's the latest lost Mayan language, it made cheatin' on your grandpa like eatin' cotton candy." In our family tree, this branch grew from what we now know as The Birth of Grandma's Sexual Odyssey. No matter how many times she told the story, tears inevitably took hold as she whispered those first lyrical words heard decades ago. "Shit, Ma'am, your bar won't come undone; you ain't gone need it you'll be spinning so fast. Isaac fuckin' Einstein rode this here shit-trap himself some two days ago." His poetic charm deflowered her long before the two ever hit the burlap sack under the candy apple cart. Grandma was hooked.

Every Thanksgiving my grandmother led the blessing of the food in her usual alcohol-induced way, "Lord, it's hard to find a good Carney these days…" My grandfather simply buried his head in defeat, painful recognition of the man he'd never be. "Aww, Mom," my Dad would console, "there'll be other fairs." We would raise our heads collectively, "Amen." Dad was right; there was always another fair. From Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Flemingsburg, Kentucky, to DuBois, Pennsylvania, my grandma jumped from town to town like a bumper car fueled with unlimited electricity. In hindsight, Grandpa was a real trooper. As an Oxford trained Noble Laureate of astrophysics, he had to analyze everything. "I think your grandmother sleeps with despicable vagrants in an attempt to fill the void consumed by her hopeless, pathetic, insecure, vain existence." He cared for her so much, examining the situation from a rational perspective undoubtedly made him powerless. Instead, he let love rule. "Good, I'm glad that tramp left again. I hope her Herpes infects the whole Goddamn lot of 'em!"

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