Monday, January 13, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 1

August 1999

            “You can’t mean it,” Bill sobbed.  “Aren’t you the one who always says, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’?  Well, I’ve got the will so there must be a way!”
His hurt expression made him look more like a child than a man well past fifty but Bill, better known as “Big Top” or “BT” Magill’s heart was breaking. 
            “C’mon BT, don’t look at me like that.  That was my father’s favorite saying, not mine.  If there was a way, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  You know I love the place as much as you do but, let’s face it, it’s long past due.  Kids today want a Game Boy or that Playstation.  They want to surf the web.  They don’t want to go to an olde-timey carnival like we did in the old days. They don’t stick baseball cards in the spokes of their bicycles and ride through town to play stick ball with their friends anymore.  They don’t go anywhere. Not just because the streets aren’t safe either.  They wanna sit in front of their TV’s and play video games or go on the computer.  Why would they want to watch clowns hosing each other with seltzer water when they can shoot virtual lasers and blow stuff up on the screen?  They watch their lives through Windows.”   
Mason chuckled at his play on words but he knew the old man wouldn’t catch the reference; he still thought of Windows as a pane of glass anchored in a wall not a computer operating system.  Big Top was from a different generation and the kids today just didn’t make sense to him.  In his eyes, the “kid” behind the desk was just as confusing.  It didn’t help that Mason had inherited the book keeper’s position.  The elder Mason Burke had been the one who helped BT launch his dream nearly thirty years ago.  Even with his diploma framed and hanging over the desk, Big Top still saw Mason, Jr. as a little boy not a man with a Master’s Degree in Finance. 
            “Besides, a man your age should be enjoying his golden years not slaving away at a nickel and dime carnival and certainly not squandering what’s left from a lifetime of hard work.  Retire now….before you lose every penny to the bank.”   
            “You used to love the clowns, Mason.” BT muttered sadly.  “I remember the first time your daddy took you to one of our shows.  You told me when you grew up you wanted to be a clown in my carnival.” 
Big Top’s eyes grew misty; they always did when he reminisced.  He waved off Mason’s apologies and shuffled toward the door.  His mind was elsewhere, in a happier time when his business was booming and children all over the country were thrilled to see Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival come to town. 
      That evening, BT had gathered his employees to give them the bad news.  He looked out over the eclectic gathering, sequin bedecked acrobats, painted clowns, animal trainers, amusement ride operators, ticket-takers, game managers and everyone who, over the years, had made his dream possible.  His loyal staffers looked up at him with growing unease; nervous whispers tittered through the room. 
            “I’m sure you all know why I’ve called this little meeting,” Bill ‘Big Top’ Magill’s normally jovial, booming voice sounded thin and defeated.  “I’ve just come from the accountant’s office and he said…” The old man’s voice cracked.  He cleared this throat and tried again.  “That is, he’s recommended….”
BT couldn’t go on.  His large frame shook with heart-wrenching sobs.  He’d let his family down.  His loyal friends and companions who had become closer than blood, what would become of them?  Fat tears streamed down his cheeks, inside his broken heart shattered even more.  GoGo the Clown rushed up and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket.  He took the handkerchief and as he did, another pulled from GoGo’s pocket. In seconds, a rainbow of colors trailed from BT’s nose down to the clown’s pocket.  The old scarf trick brought a wan smile to the old man’s face.  He took a deep breath and relayed the sad news…the carnival would be closing but this time for good.  Time seemed to slow down and then, as if someone had pressed the fast-forward button, BT was in his trailer alone.  His only companion a bottle of Jack that he’d picked up on the way back from Mason’s office.
            “Fifteen years on the wagon and for what?” He scoffed bitterly, pouring his drink. 
His hands trembled as he lifted the glass to his lips.  Just then, his dearest companions burst through the door.  Before he could voice his objection, Tina the Tumbler snatched the glass from his hand and downed it in one gulp.  Clairvoyant Clara grabbed the bottle and tossed it to GoGo. Manny Muscles, the strong man, gripped BT in a bear hug and held him tight as the others poured what remained in the bottle down the drain.  They had been prepared to incur BT’s wrath but were pleasantly surprised when the big man sat down without a word.
            “I guess I should thank you.”  BT muttered, finally breaking the silence. 
            “You know we couldn’t stand by and let you flush fifteen years down the toilet,” Manny insisted.  “You’ve worked too hard to throw it all away now.”
            “Speaking of…”Clara interjected.  “After you left, the rest of us had discussion and we want to help you rebuild the carnival to its glory days.  We have a plan, if you’re willing to let us give it a try, that is.  Give us three months and if you’re not back on top we’ll go with Plan B, closing for good.” 
BT agreed to allow his staff, beloved members of his carnival family to ‘give it the old college try’. 
“Clown College, that is.”  GoGo quipped. 

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