hobart logo
Hinterland Transmissions: Carnie Love photo

It must've been the late nineties. I was collecting welfare at the time. I couldn't have been more then 17. Summer vacation was coming to an end. The high school I attended was close to my apartment. It loomed there. Menacing.

But we still have some time. In the parking lot of a lavish church nearby. A traveling carnival sets up. Games. A haunted house. A pathetic looking Ferris wheel high enough to terrify me.

I walk over with my roommate. We get there mid afternoon. It's a small town. So we see everyone we know. The two of us walk up and down the midway. Def Leppard blasting over the loud speakers. One thing stuck out to me more than the rest. A young blonde. Maybe 16. Working the ring toss game. Hair pulled back. Tight blue jeans like skin. Her eyes catch mine more than once. And my cock threatens to burst each time.  

I can't move. I stand there. People walk around me. Curse me. My roommate says my name a few times. Then shakes me by the shoulder. I come out of the trance. He asks me what the hell is wrong. So I tell him.

I think I'm in love with a dirty carnie

I tell myself I have to find some reason to get me over there. Some excuse. I turn out my pockets. A grand total of sixty-four cents. So I scour the crowd. Tell my roommate I have work to do. Start approaching friendly faces.

But I can't just come on straight with the mooch. Small talk must be made. Establish the feeling of friendship. Lucky for me. Today people are in a good mood. Hard not to be when the backdrop is a fucking carnival.

When my pocket feels heavy. Bulges. I give up the begging, find a place to sit off to the side. Count the spoils of my panhandling. Shit, a little over ten dollars.


I get up quick. Make my way through the crowd. Back to her game. I bide my time. Wait off others who try their luck. Throw some rings. Walk away with small stuffed animals. Or plain old disappointment.

When I feel ready I move in. She says hello. Her eyes meet mine. I start sweating. I normally don't have the confidence for this sort of thing. But I've never been motivated like this before.

 Because this is unrivaled beauty. Unseen in this shithole town.

I play dumb. Which is easy for me. Ask her how in the hell this game works. Like it's some complicated mechanism. She laughs at my simplicity. Then explains the logistics to me slowly. Toss a ring over the bottleneck. Win a prize.

I tell her it sounds like a breeze. And ask how much. Three rings for a dollar or ten for two, she says. I step back. Think about it. Even though I know exactly what I'm going to fucking do.

So my hand goes into my pocket. Then knuckle deep in change. I don't want to look like a bum handing over nickels. So I dig around. Finger the coins. Try for a handful of larger ones while telling her with confidence I'll take ten.

I get lucky. And only have to give her a few dimes.

She laughs again. This time it really gets me. I go blank. The sound is like honey mixed with LSD. When I come to she's asking me if some kid is missing a piggy bank. My turn to laugh. I got it with change when I bought tickets for the haunted house, I lie, with a wink.

C'mon now, I say. Feeling big. Like I've already won. I haven't got all night. Other games to win. She rolls her eyes at me. It's enough. I'm feeling weak. No more boldness from me. She reaches across the bottles. I get a good look at her bent over. Her body under those tight blue jeans better than any work of art.

She passes me the rings. Her hand lingers when we touch. Soft fingers. Her eyes hold mine. I'm locked in and helpless. I do my best to stay cool. But I can't handle this sort of attention. And like a little pussy I break away first. Hating myself for it.

With one ring in hand I make a few practice tosses. I have another burst of courage. And I look in her in the eye again when I tell her she better watch. Because this is how things are done. That she should be ready with the prizes.

She bites back. Gets to me pretty easily. Right when I'm about to let go she says, I saw you over there earlier. Were you watching me? Are you some kind of dirty creep?

After that my toss goes wide. I blush. She's on to me. I'm not as sly as I think.

But I am quick with a response. I tell her I was confused. I couldn't figure it. How a girl so fucking beautiful got into this line of work. She smiles. Rewards me with fluttered eyes. She leans forward on her arms. Squishing her tits together. And tells me it's pretty fun way to make money.

I can't disagree with that.

So I ask her name. She tells me its Jeanette. I tell her mine in return. We're getting somewhere. I throw another ring. And I don't look when I do. But I hear it clang. Bounce around. Fall to the ground. She tells me I should pay attention. I tell her I can't. She's in the way.

By the time I've thrown all ten rings. We've made plans for later. When the carnival closes. She's given me her trailer number. A time to meet. Two conditions. I have to bring some friends. And some booze. For the girls who share the trailer with her.

I tell her no problem. Even though I'm worried.

I walk away tall. Like I've never felt. Because in my head I'm already up her shirt. Under her bra. Her smooth flesh in my palm. I tell myself, Steve, this must be how the good-looking, well-adjusted kids feel all the time. What a life.

But my reality is nothing like that.

I’m trying to continue to move cool. With a swagger. One that sells her on my masculinity. My virile nature. But it's tough. I feel high. Since my girlfriend dumped me I've been pretty lonely. Welfare recipient doesn’t ring sweet in the ears of high school girls. And tonight has the feeling of a great payoff in the distance.

I see a large group of people I know. Kids from school, punk rock music. Some I know more than others. But they know all about me. My roommate is there. Probably running his mouth.

So as I walk up. This guy Mitch starts mouthing off. I keep mine shut. Because he's got heavy fists. And likes to remind people from time to time. But today. For once. I've got something to shove down his big fucking mouth. I've got a date.

I wait until I get real close. Sidle up beside Mitch. Tell them most of my story. My triumph. Mitch goes silent. Nothing to say now. None of them do. They all stand there with mouths shut. They were giddy for my failure. I ruined that for them.

And there it is again. That feeling of winning.

But I remind myself that I haven't done that yet. I still need to get everything together. Find a couple buddies to tag along. Some socially awkward ones, preferably. Ones who make me look good. Ones who will have a few dollars in their pockets to chip in on alcohol.

I single in on two guys. Troy and Matt. Neither of them have much luck with girls. They say the wrong things. Aren't considered handsome. Troy has a part time job. And Matt steals from his mother's purse. A perfect son.

They both look ravenous when I tell them what's up. And nod their heads hungrily when I ask if they want to join me. I ask them how much money they have. That this isn't free. That we need to get some booze. We empty our pockets. Things are beginning to come together.

We wander the carnival. Find my friend Kurt. He's recently turned nineteen. The legal drinking age here. And happy to use his newfound adult privilege. I'm careful not to tell him our plans. He'll want to come along. So when he asks what we’re up to. I say nothing special. Just going down to the park. Drinking under the bridge.

Kurt goes into the liquor store. Comes out a few minutes later. A big brown paper bag in his hand. We walk down the block. Then I take it from him. Pull out a big bottle of whiskey. Nod my head up and down. Then pass it to Troy who slips it in his backpack. For later.

We ditch Kurt. The sun sets. We have a few hours to kill. So we go to a school near the carnival. Sit on the bleachers. Troy and Matt are running their mouths. Imagining the girls that are waiting for them. I ignore them. And think about the cool line of Jeanette's hips under her jeans. Me resting my hand there.

Before we head back to the carnival. We all have a pull from the bottle. We're young and not used to it. It burns. But we tell ourselves we're men. And we like it. And it gives us the courage to start our walk.

When we get there we skirt around the back. Just like Jeanette told me.  It's dark. No lights. No people. No movement and no sound. I should see the end coming.  But I don't

I find her trailer. Knock on the door. She answers. Hair freshly washed. A worn t-shirt and cut off denim shorts. The edges of the pockets sticking out from the bottom. They look bleached white against her tanned skin.

She invites us in. Bunk beds. A closet. Bare essentials. Nothing more than room to stand. Jeannette introduces her friends. Not bad for carnies.  But next to her. They look like beasts. And I barely give them time. Even as I introduce Troy and Matt.

So there's nowhere to move. Until Jeanette makes the first one. She sits on her bed. Smiles at me. So I plop down right beside her. The other four follow our lead. Pair off on their own tiny bunks. I pass Jeanette the whiskey. She takes a long pull. No amateur.

She hands it off to me. And puts her hand on my thigh. High up. Definitely not shy. I take a big gulp from the bottle with one hand. One part to impress her. One part to calm down.

Casually I put my other around her back. It makes me tingle. I pass the whiskey to Troy. He says something to me. But I'm lost. Floating somewhere between her hand touching me. And the way her weight feels against the crook of my shoulder.

When the whiskey comes back to Jeanette she grabs it. Drinks it down. My kind of girl. I have to guzzle more than she does. Or feel like a god damned wimp. When I'm done my throat is burning. Eyes watering. Head swimming under a fog. And she's smiling like I did the right thing.

The two of start talking just between ourselves. Ignoring our friends. Whose voices now sound distant to me. Even though they're the only other noise in this tiny trailer.

I pass her the bottle again. She takes another slug. Then gives it to Troy. After that she leans more and more of her weight against me. Her breast brushes against my chest. And before I have a chance to faint. She kisses me. My left hand finds her bare thigh. Her flesh is cool. And I think of the beach. A breeze coming in off the lake.

We break apart.

And that's when it comes. The end I should've see form the beginning. Someone bangs on the door. Police style. Three hard jabs. Troy jumps. I look at Jeanette. Then to Troy and Matt and the other girls. Jeanette passes me the bottle. Gets up. I take a drink before she makes it two steps to the door. One last one just in case.

She opens the door. I'm behind it. Can't see a thing. But there's hushed voices. She stomps her bare foot. Starts saying that it's bullshit and not fair and that they bring back girls all the time. Then more voices. Only this time they're not so hushed. And I can hear words. Like, there's going to be trouble.

From where Troy and Matt are sitting. They can see out the door. And both of them look scared shitless. Fucking pussies. This is the problem with bringing other losers. None of us are prepared to kick any fucking ass.

Jeanette grunts. Slams the door. She looks at me. Puppy dog eyes with a little bit of hate in them. Which gets my heart beating faster. She says we have to leave. That some of the other carnies have taken offence. They don't like our presence. I curse the bastards.

But it makes perfect sense. Of course. She's too beautiful. They've been watching Jeanette all summer. Dreaming. Fantasizing. Rubbing themselves while thinking of her touch. And now here I am. Ruining the illusion. So they need to posture. Piss at the edge of their territory.

Three more loud bangs on the thin aluminum door. Jeanette yells through it. Tells them to fuck off. I smile. I like her attitude. But they don't on the other side. We all hear the ragged voice of some unseen carnie. That if we're not out in thirty seconds. They're kicking the door in. So I stand up. Ready myself. No choice.

Jeanette grabs me with both arms. I pull her into me. She's tight against me. Looking up. A smile on her face. We kiss again with my hand on her ass. And I wonder if she can feel my cock throbbing against her stomach.

And then it comes. Three more bangs on the door. The trailer fucking shakes. More threats. Our end is coming.

She grabs a pen. A scrap of paper. Writes her name. A number. Tells me it's the house of an aunt she lives with. But to wait until September. When the carnival is over. And she's back home in a larger town nearby. One I often find reason to visit.

So I slide it into the watch pocket of my jeans. Safest place I can think of. Because I've never had anything that I've wanted to keep so bad.

The girl with Troy gets up. Shaking as she opens the door. Jeanette kisses me one more time. On the cheek. Matt and Troy go ahead of me. I walk around from behind the door. Look out into the night.

And Jesus Christ! There must be fifty of the motherfuckers out there. All of them looking down right mean. Busted teeth. Gnarled faces. Tattoos that have a certain done behind bars quality about them.

Now I'm not mentally stunted. And I know when I'm beat. So I walk down the three stairs from the trailer. Head still held high. I can feel about a hundred or so eyes on me. Each one filled with its own rage. Its own failures.

So when one of them grabs the bottle from Troy's hand. And says that it stays here with a fucking smile on his crooked lips. I shiver with rage. But don't do a fucking thing. No reaction. I won't give them what they're looking for. My blood won't get the taste of Jeanette off my lips tonight.

As we walk the gang of carnies parts for us. But it's more of a technique. Used to push us in the direction they want. They force us out into the carnival. The rides and games and shows are shut down.

There's no lights. No sounds. No one but us and the carnies. On their territory. I can feel the fear coming off Troy and Matt. It's like standing next to an oven cranked right up. And I begin to think that maybe this wasn't the best idea.

The carnies follow behind us as we walk. Every god damned one of them. And their voices call to us. Faggots. Pussies. Cocksuckers. Terms of endearment.

When we get just outside the entrance I stop. Turn around.  I want one last look at them. The degenerates. And I as I sweep through the crowd with my eyes the mob begin to grumble.

So I turn my back on it. Notice Troy and Matt are already six meters away. Cowering. But I don't hustle to catch up. Like earlier. With Jeanette. They're all watching me. And I can't show them how I feel. My thick fear. Not now.

Because in the end I know something. That I've got them. I've got the number. And when I call it in late September. Jeannette is excited to hear from me. We make a date for the following week. That ends up in the aunt's darkened basement. And all of my wishes coming true. 


image: Robert James Russell