Once again, I made the mistake of letting meth heads watch my children. A lot of people call it “letting your kids go to the carnival,” but I disagree with them semantically. They’re polishing a turd at best while I’m keeping it real with an accurate description of what’s actually going on.

 ***

My eldest daughter is pretty. It’s the super kind of pretty that’s acknowledged by everybody, not just her father. But she’s only thirteen. She and her friends are starting to look like women even though they’re anything but. My daughter, along with one of her precocious compatriots, went to that carnival that crops up seasonally over by the Durango rec center. I let them go alone. They paid for tickets. They boarded one of those rides that operates on the principal that going around in circles never gets old. They got off and then got back in line to get back on again. But this time, the tattooed and toothless carnie who operated the ride said that they didn’t need any tickets to ride his ride. They got on for free, but now, they were the only ones riding. The ride ran its circuit, around and around, and as it slowed, the carnie told them that they could ride for free all day, and that he wasn’t letting them off of his ride. He said they were too pretty; too pretty to get off, too pretty to pay. They got off eventually and left immediately. The creepiness bit at their heals doggedly as they speed-walked away to call me. They told me their story. My brain caught on fire and ninja stars shot out of my eyes.

So I did what any father would do. I called the carnival and told them that I’d be a paying customer the next day and that I’d be bringing my whole family. I told them that I was going to have my eldest super pretty daughter show me the forty-something year old carnie who thought it appropriate to hit on a couple of thirteen year old children. And then I told them that I was going to murder the carnie by ripping off his head and sticking it on a stale churro that I’d hold above my head as a warning to the other carnies… you know, like they did with pikes back in the good ol’ days. They understood. They fired that carnie and gave him a ride back to Phoenix before I showed up the next day with murder behind my ninja star throwing eyes. The day was uneventful.

Anyway, that was a while back, sometime in the spring. I left Durango three days ago and right now, I’m sitting in a Las Vegas hotel room with my youngest daughter. She’s seven and promises to be just as pretty as my eldest. The Cartoon Network is washing over her catatonic mind as I type this. Sure, she’s drooling and my parenting should be called into questioning if I prolong this situation, but the TV was kind enough to babysit so I could type. And I promised her a trip to the cupcake ATM if she lets me write for a while (seriously… they have a twenty-four hour cupcake ATM here) so it’s all kosher.

Las Vegas is just an enormous and slightly less ephemeral carnival than that seasonal one we have back home in Durango. Each version has two sides; the rubes and the carnies. Rubes are all the same. Sure, some of us can afford to buy more peanuts than others, but a rube is a rube and the carnies feed off of us all. And the carnies are all the same as well. Sure, the naked freaks who do triple back flips in Zumanity are higher paid and more talented than the guy who dresses up like Spiderman and busks for our bucks on the boulevard, but a carnie is a carnie and they couldn’t survive without a rube’s charity. It’s just that the clowns here in Vegas are slightly cleaner than their counterparts back home. Most of their teeth are present. Most of their tattoos are hidden. You have to look a bit closer to see their inner carnie. This is the big league for people who feed off of other people.

High Roller

I usually tie into the pieces I write a maxim, but right now, I just want to share a few observations I made regarding three specimens (people) I observed while walking through this town. The first looked like Will.I.Am on steroids. His muscles had muscles. He was wearing a beaver hat like Davy Crockett and retro swimming shorts like me in the 80s. He was confident, from his aviators to his tank top, and I envied him. The second was someone who’d we all refer to lovingly as a hood rat. She was fit and wearing a leopard print dress that was tighter than saran wrap. Her hair was oiled and so was her sneer. Two dudes walked by as I watched. She tried to flip her hair with her press-on nails much the same way an angler fish flips its lure. But her nails caught on one of her “gold” loop earrings. It fell out of her ear and bounced down her boobs like a miniature hula-hoop. I’m still laughing inside.

But the third was a woman who looked to have seen more than the rest of us combined. She was standing behind a blackjack table just after noon. Her hair was blonde and her skin was painted and old. It was hard to guess her exact age. It was kind of like looking at a tree; you know they’re old once they reach a certain height, but it’s impossible to divine an exact number without cutting it down and counting the rings. That’d be rude (for a tree or for a woman), so we’ll say that she was sixty-five. I spend most of my life making assumptions, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, so I’m pretty confident when I say that I can tell you that woman’s life story without vetting any of my assumptions.

She looked comfortable on the strip, kind of the way I imagine myself looking amongst the spruce back home in Alaska, so I’m guessing that she’s a lifelong resident of Vegas. Her boobs were fake and comically large, and she clung to the last vestiges of her youth much the same way her customers clung to their hope. She probably started off small, as a cocktail waitress, saved up for the breasts, and then made it into a show of some sort. But then age knocked her down to the blackjack table. And somewhere along the way, she saved up some stories. I’ll never know them, but I know she has them. Her wizened eyes made contact with mine briefly and I glimpsed the depth of her experience before walking away. It was like listening to time pass through the gnarled branches of an antique oak. I shuddered. Maybe she was the secret queen of the carnies because she had a look that let a passerby know that she’d never be fooled again, but that she could make a fool out of just about any passerby.

What type of life would that be? How crazy would it be to go through your one existence as a career carnie? I shrink back from the thought. I’m happy to be a rube, even though it’s a negative term given to us by the carnies (dipping into our pockets wasn’t enough; they had to be derogative as well). For the sake of this article, I’ll admit that I’m a Britney fan. In one of her songs, she says that “there’s two type of people in this world: those that perform, and those that observe” (it’s apropos that this quote comes off of her Circus album). The latter type of person is supposed to be the inferior, and I disagree vehemently (even though right now, by writing for you, I’m performing). By sitting back and watching the carnies, we only dip briefly into the pool that’s stained their souls. We can shell out our dollars, feel like a sucker for a short while just to feel something new, and then go back to our lives. The carnie has to go home knowing that tomorrow, they’ll be wading through that pool once more. Their sense of superiority is manufactured, just like everything else here in Vegas, and even at best, age will bring them back full circle to the bottom rung. Even Britney, who performs a lip-synced version of her younger years here in Vegas nightly, will eventually fade thanks to the new stars that’re being pumped out by Disney. Her end is known, just like the blackjack woman’s. But I don’t know where I’m going (and I mean that figuratively; in a while, I’ll be going back to the cupcake ATM) and neither do you. As rubes, we roll the dice as opposed to handing them out, and I think that pretty awesome.

Cupcake ATM

***

Anyway, in case you were wondering why this article was entitled “Dirty Clowns Too,” you can read the first installment here: Dirty Clowns

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