Carnival – Episodic Creative Non-Fiction or Five Belles Lettres

The Faded Photograph or Always Fold Your Money Like This and You Shall Always Have Money

There is an old photograph I saw somewhere of my great grandmother at the carnival, holding my mother’s hand on a boardwalk. The picture is black and white and faded, folded, with writing on the front in the corner. My mother was small, wearing some kind of coat, which is strange, because it’s a summer carnival, but not completely peculiar because it is late in season that those fairgrounds open and perhaps it was a coldish if not cold day. It made me think of time, which brings all things and takes also away. The older lady is long gone of course, and I can’t remember too much about her, though she used to give us kids money. At that time there were two-dollar bills. She used to give out these two-dollar bills and sometimes five-dollar bills and fold them in weird way by creasing the bill right across the centre horizontally and then the other way. She said as she handed the money, ‘If you fold your money like this, you will always have money.’ Such things are thought, even secretly by the giver, to be fun, in jest, nonsensical. But somehow, there are hidden truths to many things like that, truths we overlook or disbelieve with our modernity and lack of the mystical, of cosmic magic, of hidden laws. The carnival existed perhaps before the great grandmother, and afterwards. For this, the carnival can be likened to the world in microcosm, because the world exists before we us and after us, ours being a finite physical journey, even though we don’t like to think of it on the sunny carnival days of happy forgetting or even on the more pensive fairground nights when we sit and watch the giant wheel lighted in the sky spin its rounds and the early autumn wind and air sings in from the invisible lake beyond.

The Dog Tags and Name and Address Please

My other grandparents took me there all the time. They liked it for some reason. The world was fairer then. I can see that now. More of a middle class. And at the carnival, they gave out many free items and samples, while prices were reasonable for what you had to pay for. Among the first words I learned were, ‘Inexpensive,’ because they uttered it a lot. I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked, and someone, thinking they were helping me, exclaimed, ‘It means “cheap,” but I didn’t know that word either, so I just nodded because each conversation in all worlds at any time in any language has not only a certain energy to it, but an underlying beginning and end, – when it will arise, and when it will blossom, and when it will subside. That one was inchoate, nascent, – not meant to go anywhere, which is fine sometimes. Those hidden laws remember. We used to go there on the streetcars. There was a kiosk and purchased for me was a toy dog tag, though metal, or aluminum, and they put my name and address on it. I liked it for it, but also for what it represented. The aesthetic of it, – shining sometimes for it would catch the sunlight and I had a piece of the fairgrounds with me, plus an identity. They weren’t big on gifts and I wasn’t some brat who wanted this or that, and don’t remember asking for it. I wonder what possessed them, but I have an idea. When I was born, I had a different name, and came from a different strange place and person, – but was destined to be with them. So, my name was in time changed and of course my address. Maybe having a new name and address is more important, and marking such gains significance, like if you travel somewhere and bring back a shell or stone, a post card or token of the faraway land. I was a traveler and my token or gift was my name. Those unseen forces could have been at work, urging one or both of them to buy me the tag. Or they were feeling sorry for a lost soul. Or, – just being nice, which is completely possible. I recently found the actual item and it’s no different than the day it was made and purchased and worn. It no longer has a chain, – so I will have to get a chain and perhaps wear it. If someone asks me what it means, I will tell them, and they will shy away, for the world does not become involved in stories of any length or significance any longer, – oral or written. The world thinks it knows better than to listen to small things. But there are no small things, and everything is important if seen correctly.

David Bowie, Beer, and Entering the Larger World

Sasha had a jeep. That is significant to a teenager no matter how non-materialistic or poetic one professes to be. A jeep is a jeep and it meant an open top and freedom and infinite possibilities. Later, we crashed the jeep on a country road it rolled, and we almost died, yet that is another story. Sasha invited me to see David Bowie. It was called the Spider Tour, and it was in the grandstands on the carnival grounds. I drank before and during a lot of beer and was feeling warm in a good way. It made the good world perfect. That edge that bothers is gone. It was my first concert though Sasha had gone to many. I loved the music and I loved David Bowie, plus just being there in the open air with no responsibilities. In the distance was the carnival. I would have liked to also go there, but we did not before or after, as that is not cool at that point. David Bowie was cool at that place and time. But I would have liked to also have been not cool, or reversed cool, – and gone to see the sights and sounds also of the fairgrounds, for by then it was in my blood and aura, and I resonated with it. It’s the only kitsch thing I liked and like. The history, the photograph, the faux dog tags, and more. But it was time to, if not be an adult, then not be a child. Of course, I didn’t wear the dog tags, but if I could go back, I would. I would celebrate existence more, and not be such an outsider.

Wholesome and We Have to Find Seats for Lunch

What became of Sasha I don’t know. There were more concerts, and good times had. But it was time to go there in the light day again, for a new generation had arrived. Grandma, the kids, the wife, and the whole thing. Osho Rajneesh says to remember a nice phenomenon, which is that when the child is born, so is the mother. And it’s true. The mother was born, the father, the grandparents. He also said that existence favors the new, as it should. This is true. So we went around there at least once a year, for many years. Great scents of food in the air, the music and sounds of the rides, the rides and games and displays themselves. Soulful vendor booths from all countries of the word selling jewelry, clothing, blankets, talismans, amulets, rocks, posters, sunglasses, towels, books, even kitchen supplies or tools. There was hardly anything you would not be able to find there. That is regular life, – life in the day, and is a great thing, though seemingly prosaic. We have to find seats for lunch, for everyone is hungry by now, and maybe we will buy a giant pizza, or hamburgers, – who is to know? All are happy and if anyone is tired, it is a good type of tired, framed by healthy excursions into the world and family members. In that time, nonduality or the magic of the ordinary reigns. A gift is not what it is later. A gift then is ‘amazing’ whatever it is, because it is new, and appreciated. Like the identification tags that glistened just so in the sun against my black t-shirt once upon a time. Oh, look, they are leaving, – that whole series of seats just opened up. And what is said by anyone in the world then? ‘You go grab those seats before someone else takes them and we will worry about the food after. I or you can watch our things and we can even have time to decide what everyone wants to eat!’

Return at Night and Summation of Cycles under the Carnival Barker’s Light

It’s later. Years later. We haven’t gone. We should go. Let’s go and see the lights at night and all that they entail. And we do. The wheel is there, the great spinning wheel with bulbs and they throw a glow into the dark air that mixes with the calls of the riders and the sounds of the other rides near and distant. The main ride, called The Polar Express, is on the ground and turns backwards. They still play rock and roll music, and everyone seems to like it. There are always people gathered there day and night. Just when you thought certain music or old rides would have become anachronistic or forgotten, there they are, only ending when some higher cosmic law says so, and those unseen forces that bring us and it and take us away, have dictated that the time is not come for the old carnival to fold up and go to some carnival heaven in the sky. The game people, the carnival barkers yell out the same things, ‘Win a prize.’ ‘Take a free practice try.’ ‘It’s easy.’ And of course, most things are rigged but once you know that it’s all okay, just the world, in which most things outside the carnival are also just a racket, sometimes easy to spot, sometimes not. Some old lady sells nachos and popcorn and says the jalapenos ‘…will be yummy in your tummy…’ She writes down orders all day and night on a notebook and then scratches them out. She is incredibly old, and I like something about her, – I choose her in my mind then as the mystic or poet, the seer, the sagacious one of the fairgrounds and its entire mise-en-scene. People must see her as just some old lady selling food, or not see her at all,- but if one stops to think about it, she probably knows more than the psychologists who had their nose in a book in some lecture hall, when it comes to actual human psychology. There is nothing that can compare to experience. She has met everyone and heard it all. Then a strange thing happens when a lady approaches another and pretends to strike up an innocent conversation. They look like everyone else. But then the lady who approached says, ‘Do you want to buy some good coke?’ and the first one literally takes half a step back in her proxemics and says, ‘Oh. You have me wrong. I am not interested in anything like that. Sorry to cut you off,’ and she takes her man’s hand and motions for him to walk away with her. Listen to your woman. She knows. There must be several thousand stories hidden inside the carnival gates, imprinted upon the gears of the rides and even of time. We have not won the world, as some good book says, and thank goodness, for we have in a sense lived through the cycles and can say we have won ourselves, our earned our dog tags.

Photography Credits: All photographs, Brian Michael Barbeito

Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer and photographer. Recent work appears at Fiction International.