A Love Story
By Bill Krebs
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
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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