Archive for February, 2011

The Lost Summer

The summer before my last year in college, I went to work in various carnivals throughout New York. Had I stayed at college, I would have partied all summer with my friends and worked some low-stress menial job for spending money. Instead, I drove far away to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week with no partying of any kind. This was a huge mistake.

When I tell people that I was a carnie, they usually laugh and ask me if I smelled like cabbage (thank you, Austin Powers). Once they stop laughing, they get serious and talk about how it must have been a good life experience full of wild adventures (it wasn’t). Then they ask whether I have any stories from that summer. As a matter of fact, I do have one small story that pretty much sums up what I have come to describe as The Lost Summer.

I was in some field in upstate New York, working on a game that involved throwing dimes onto a large checkerboard. A person would win if he or she threw a dime and had it stop in one of the black squares, with black completely surrounding the dime. No one ever won – not because the game was fixed, but because it was really difficult. I was working the game alone that day, and there was a steady stream of people ready to spend a number of dimes in a vain quest for a cheap coffee mug.

To get to this show from the last one, I had driven overnight (after working all day) from Long Island in an old pickup truck. The truck was pulling the trailer that served as my living quarters and as a result couldn’t go much more than 40 miles per hour (on the Long Island Expressway, with cars honking and flashing their lights at me the entire time). As an added bonus, the truck backfired about every mile, and each backfire sounded like someone was firing a shotgun next to my ear. The sound physically hurt my ear, and I would wince in pain every time it happened.

In the passenger seat next to me was an older woman who also worked for my game owner – let’s call her Sally. Sally, too deaf to be bothered by the backfires, had a voice like tinfoil being dragged over pavement. She had to shout to hear herself talk, but loved the sound of her own voice so much that it annoyed her to have to pause for breathing. Trying to interrupt her was pointless, because she couldn’t hear me, and to be fair, didn’t care about what I might have to say. That night, Sally set about telling me, in excruciating detail, the day to day drama of working a carnival poker machine game. Between Sally’s nattering and the never-ending shotgun blasts, I was numb by the time the sun peeked over the horizon and we arrived in upstate New York.

Trips like that had begun to eat away at my enthusiasm for the job. If I should at some point be condemned to eternal damnation, I fully expect Sally to be waiting for me in that white pickup truck. But, I digress.

On the day in question, I was standing in the checkerboard game – watching carefully aimed dimes bounce onto the ground – when I felt a certain pressure in my lower abdomen. This was a clear signal that, at some point in the near future, I was going to have to make my way to a seat in a nearby restroom. No problem, I thought. The checkerboard game was not usually very popular, so I was confident that the few remaining “clients” would soon drift away and allow me to close the game.

But, those people did not drift away. In fact, like inconvenient magnets, they attracted more people. Soon, the checkerboard game had a loud crowd surrounding it, and I ran back and forth making change for people and thanking them through clenched teeth as dimes flew past my head. No one was actually winning anything, but this did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm.

The cramps became more urgent, and sweat began to pop out of my forehead as I looked around for some method of escape. In retrospect, I should have just told everyone that the game was closed and gone off to take care of business. At the time, though, I felt guilty because this game that never really made money was suddenly popular – plus, I feared that the crowd might make off with the dimes and coffee mugs if I left my post. But, if I didn’t leave my post – well, let’s just say that I did not want to experience a code brown in public.

I tried to wait it out, but it didn’t work. While I hopped from foot to foot and took deep breaths, more and more people wandered over to try their luck at the impossible checkerboard game.

Just as I felt like I might pass out, I saw Mike – who had been hired that morning by the game owner – walk up to the booth. Mike’s primary qualification was that he had wandered onto the fair grounds looking for work. He had not been properly certified on the finer points of the checkerboard game, but none of that mattered now. I grabbed him, thrust the dime-filled apron into his arms, and told him to cover the game. He stood there, slack-jawed, as I sprinted off toward the lavatory.

I crashed through the bathroom door and was on my way toward the sweet relief of the single stall when I was stopped in my tracks. Feet! Noooooo!

Waiting for the feet to finish up seemed like the polite thing to do, but each second seemed precious. The minutes ticked by, and the sweat poured from my forehead, but the person in the stall made no indication that he might be close to finished. Through the stall door I heard the rustling of a newspaper. I gave up and ran out the door and – with no other options – headed for my trailer.

I had to run in a crouched-over fashion, using very small steps as I made my way through the fair and toward the row of trailers. My speed was also poor, because most of my energy was being used for clenching. For some reason, there were a number of people walking along the dirt path of trailer row. I had to weave through them as they turned to stare at the guy in shorts running like Quasimodo. My trailer was, of course, at the end of the row. But, I was almost there…just a bit further…

I didn’t make it. What a rotten summer that was.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 25 Feb 2011 No Comments

Enough with the Winter, Already

I was standing at the end of my driveway, grumbling to myself as I shoveled away the remnants of the sky’s latest bounty (the sky has been quite generous lately) when I heard a truck rev its engine as it climbed the hill toward my house. I couldn’t actually see the truck – or anything for that matter – due to the gigantic pile of snow next to my driveway. However, after listening for a moment, I knew the source of that muffler-free noise to be the ride of my old friend, Rick O’Shea.

He parked his truck so that it blocked my driveway, creaked open the driver’s door, and hopped out. He looked at me for a second. “Is that your gutter I see in the side yard?”

Yeah. It liberated itself from my house yesterday, and thoughtfully left a piece of itself hanging on the power line. The power company had to come out and remove it.

“Is that the gutter that you had been meaning to get replaced?”

No, I did replace that gutter with a new one. As you can see, it’s the one that is now bent by the effort of supporting that incredible amount of ice hanging over my driveway. The one that fell was the ‘good’ gutter on the other side of the house. I guess that gutter just couldn’t handle any more of the weather and leapt to its death. Who knew that gutters got depressed?

“I’m sure you could have saved the poor thing if you had hauled yourself up and broken up some of the ice.”

If I had tried to do that, I would be lying shattered in my side yard next to the gutter, waiting for the spring melt before someone comes to retrieve me.

“I see that you made the effort with your shed. The roof looks like you shoveled it off. That decision just smacks of favoritism – you must like your shed more than your gutters.”

My shed houses the most important tool I own – the snow blower – so it gets preferential treatment. I had to wade through the hip-deep snow with a ladder, balance the ladder on packed snow and scrape about 3 feet of snow and ice off of the roof. I’m glad my life insurance company didn’t find out about it.

“Why didn’t you just clamber up onto the roof and shovel it like a normal person?”

Two reasons: First, I am not the size of a normal person. The shed roof already had 3 feet of wet snow up there, I wasn’t confident that it could handle the additional load of my bulk. Second, clambering is not in my arsenal. I had visions of sliding off of the roof and impaling myself on the fence.

“It’s a bad winter when you have to choose between your shed and your gutters.”

This winter is just amazing. Everyone I run into has a worn down and frightened look – as if people are afraid that the snow might not stop before it’s destroyed us all. This week it was almost a relief that we were only getting one storm for about 2-4 inches. When I see the weather people predicting new and awful storms every week, I actually get upset. That hasn’t happened to me before.

“You might need to toughen up a bit. Either that, or move to a warmer climate.”

Perhaps, but I like the fact that the cold weather means that I don’t have to check my shoes in the summer for poisonous beasties. I like to think I’m a little tougher than the beasties, but this winter is making me question that idea.

Also, this weather is starting to impact my view of the world. I was previously on the fence about the whole global warming thing, but I hear that one of the symptoms is more water vapor in the air. With all of the rain and now with this winter, I think I’m coming around on that one.

“Well, you should def – BEEEEEEP!”

Rick’s point was cut off by the horn of a car. The car was unable to get around Rick’s truck and the driver was unwilling to wait for a natural end to our conversation. (For two cars to pass one another on my street, one must either merge with a snow bank or duck into a driveway. It’s like a game of chicken) Rick waved apologetically to the other driver, and in a moment his truck rattled out of sight behind a wall of snow.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 11 Feb 2011 No Comments