Stoned at The Fair



Rasta cartoon smoking

I was 17 when I decided to hitch hike from Boston to California. I don’t remember why I wanted to leave. Perhaps I was trying to find myself. Maybe I was running away from something. Or perhaps, just maybe, I was running to something. I am not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know the complexities of the mind and why we do the things we do – though I do ponder the whys sometimes. And though that time in my life is over it helped shape who I am today.

This is a story about a boy who thought himself a man and was on a quest.

Aah yes, that’s it.

A Quest.

I started walking down a country-town road, a road in a town just north of Plymouth. A road I had walked and rode my bicycle on many times. I headed towards the highway, thumb out, duffel-bag in tow and was barely out of Massachusetts when I ran out of money.

I left home with only 40 dollars in my pocket (I didn’t think this venture through enough) and I needed to find a way to eat. I could rob a gas station I mused, but I knew I could never go through with it. No, no, my money making scheme had to be somewhat legit.

I got a ride here and a ride there, but as I was hitchhiking through the countryside nearing New York, a driver picked me up. He was an elderly looking gentleman, perhaps in his sixties.  And as he listened to my sad, pathetic tale of leaving home and having no money, he took pity on me.

He told me about a fair in a small town called Great Barrington. He said they were always looking for help and I should check it out.

There was nothing really great about this town. It was a small town. Imagine the neighborhood that you saw in the old black and white TV shows Leave it to Beaver  or The Andy Griffith Show and you’d be close. There were actually people driving up to convenient stores on their tractors and other farm equipment… and I thought that I lived in the country!

But the fair was quite the attraction and people came from miles around.

There were about ten of us that made up The Help and our duties were pretty straightforward. They had some of us parking cars in the morning and I made a few tips from the men that wore big hats and spent a lot of money betting on the horses.

Watch my car, here’s ten bucks. Pocketing the cash, I would watch his car for about thirty seconds and then move on. In the afternoon, I walked around picking up trash and keeping the place orderly. They also had me doing little odds and ends for those in the hierarchy. “Take this over to the office…” or “Pick up that horse-shit over there.

When the fair closed at the end of the day, we swept up the garbage. Nothing like the smell of fair garbage at the end of the day. Instead of chanting, Get your hot dogs here! We would all cry out, Get your garbage here! and laugh. Only we thought it was funny though.

One day, the Head Grunt said he wanted me to work the horse track.

Woah! The Track!

 I thought of it as a bit of a promotion. No more parking cars and no more garbage! The work was simple enough. The track was shaped like the lower case letter b. The stem of the b is where the horse gate was. That is where the horses were loaded up to get ready to race. Our job was to pull a special gate across the stem so that the horses only saw an O. They didn’t want the horses to round the circle and then take a right back up the stem, so the gate was there to prevent that. After we pulled the gate across, we had to take rakes and smooth out the dirt – where the horses had just run – and then get the hell out of the way, because by that time, the horses had already started making their way around the track and were heading right toward us. An easy enough job. Each race I worked about three minutes with my partner and then we chilled out until the next race was ready to start.

My partner was this manly woman named Jill. She was great. A kind of Flower Child Lesbian. I was a skinny, seventeen year old going on thirty, she was thirty and took me under her wing. We worked together pulling out the gate and smoothing out the dirt, that was our job.

Pull gate. Rake dirt. Pull gate. Rake dirt.

The first part of the week this job was interesting and even a bit exciting. That wore off quickly. The job became monotonous. Everyday for six hours it was the same thing. At first we had lots to talk about and got to know each other pretty well. But after a few days, we just kind of did our work and then stared up at the sky until it was time to go to work for three minutes again.

One day, Jill asked me if I wanted to smoke a little weed with her. She told me it was great stuff and would knock my socks off for sure. She also said that it might make our job a little more interesting.

I quickly agreed.

We lit up right there. A big wide open space. She lit a cigarette as well and away we smoked. We got nice and stoned in front of a few thousand spectators and not one of them knew, although in retrospect, there were people with binoculars, perhaps they did see us but doubtful they would have known or cared.

We finished the joint, sat on the grass and watched the horses get into the gates. This usually takes a little while because some of the horses don’t want to get into the gates. Horses love to run and be free, and now here they were being crammed into this little metal box until the bell went off. Getting the horses in the start gate could be very amusing. Sometimes a horse would simply refuse to go in. They were yelled at, tugged at, pushed, threatened, sworn at, bribed.

Well, as luck would have it, for this race, the Number Four horse refused to go into the gate. They tried everything. Jill and I, high as kites, were laughing our asses off. My side hurt and the back of my skull was aching. Jill was in tears. The Number 4 horse was kicking and bucking. They tried using food, a big stick, and other methods including about ten people all around the horse trying to push and pull it to get in the start box… to no avail.

Number Four’s ears were flat back. It looked really pissed off. They delayed the race and decided to pull the horse to the owner’s chagrin. Then we heard this little Japanese looking guy, “No, No No!” he yelled. “No race… No money! No money… No eat! We put horse in gate! I help!” He began cooing and blabbering something in his language that no one seemed to understand but Jill and I.

“Jill,” I said, “can you understand what he is saying, too?”
“I told you this was good shit!” she laughed.

A few more minutes went by and the Japanese jockey had coaxed the horse into the box. He stroked the horses face and kept whispering in its ear. Jill and I were over by the gate, waiting to work, but laying down in the grass. We were both comfortable and no one seemed to notice us. We heard the warning buzz signaling the start of the race.

A second and a half later we heard the bell and the announcer over the loud speaker announce “Aaaaaand they’re off!”

Jill and I watched as the horses, in slow motion, burst from the gate and speed down the track. We watched in awe as they got farther and farther down the track going into the first turn.

I heard Jill say, “Can you hear it?”
“Hear what?” I asked over the din of the crowd cheering.
“The patter of their hooves as they run.” she answered.
I listened and watched as they rounded into the second turn. “Yes, I can hear their hooves. Wow!”

I could hear everything, and smell everything. My senses were so keen I thought I could even hear the horses thinking. This was very good weed. Too good. They sped towards the third turn. The pit pat of their hooves became louder and more real as they neared us. We watched them run. They were so beautiful. I rooted for Number Four. The horses passed us and rounded the last turn and headed for the straight-away where the winner would be determined.

We both sat up.

“Go Number Four!” I yelled.
“Come on white horse with the black spots!” Jill blurted out.

I looked at her. “That was quite a mouthful,” I said.

She ignored me.

“GO! GO!” she yelled.
“Come on!” I screamed.

And then the race was over.

It was a photo finish and we would have to wait a moment for the result of the race. It was between the Number Four horse and the Number Six horse. Jill swore. “Dammit! I thought for sure the white horse with the black spots would have won!” She wiped a tear from her eye, “but that was beautiful wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was. That was the most beautiful race I had ever seen.” I replied.
We laid back down in the grass and looked up at the sky. We both let out a long sigh and waited for the results of the race.

“Hey, can you hear footsteps?” asked Jill.
“Yes, I can,” I replied.
“This stuff makes you so aware doesn’t it?” she asked.
“Yes it does,” I agreed.

The footsteps got closer and closer and got louder and louder.
The ground vibrated.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TWO DOING?” It was the Head Grunt.
“Taking a break,” Jill said.
“Taking a break?!” He screamed. “You take a break AFTER you work. You forgot to bring the gate out and smooth out the dirt!” My heart sank. Damn! We forgot. We really forgot.
“Do you know how dangerous that is?”
he yelled. “You two are lucky nothing happened to the horses!”

“Aahh, aahh….” I stammered.
“Oh shut up!” ordered The Grunt. “Stand up! You’re going back to park cars and sweep up garbage and horse-shit.”

That took a second to sink in. My raking the dirt dream job was instantly over.

“No I’m not,” I heard myself blurt out. The Grunt looked me up and down.
“Yes you are! And you are going to do it now!” He bellowed.
“I’m going to California.” I turned to Jill, “Jill, it was nice getting to know you. Thanks for the moment.” I walked past the Head Grunt to the office to collect my wages for the day.
“Hey! You have work to do! You just can’t leave!” he yelled after me.
“I think he just did,” I heard Jill say. “Bye my friend!  I hope you find what you’re looking for!”

I went into the office and told them I was on my way.
“Can’t you just stay and finish out the week?” said one of the office workers.
“You can’t just leave,” said another.
“You are going to stay,” said a rough-looking, fat guy. “We’ll up your salary a bit, how does that sound?”
Right when I was about to give in to their country bumpkin hospitality, I looked out the window and saw Jill laughing and waving. Then I saw her point to the finish line where the results from the race were posted.

Number Four lost by a nose.

The horse that was pushed, tugged at, yelled at, sweet talked and bribed to get into that box, only to lose the race anyway.
“No,” I said firmly. I began to feel hot and I swear I felt my ears go back flat against my skull. “Give me my money, please – I’m outa here.”

They weren’t going to stuff me into any box, no siree!

My mind wandered for a bit during the commotion I caused by my abrupt resignation when I realized someone was asking me, “Did you just say we can’t stuff you in a box?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” said another.
“If that’s the way you want it,” said the rough-looking, fat man. He pulled a few bills out of his wallet and gave them to me.

“Thanks,” I said as I stuffed the bills into my front pocket and walked out the door.

As I was leaving, I had one last look at the stands with the colorful crowd in their various Hillbilly garb. I looked over at the horses getting ready for the next race and I swore that I could hear the pit-pat of their hooves as they were led to the gate.

I saw Jill in the distance sitting on a fence waiting for the start of the race and staring up at the sky.

I raced to California.

Ended up in Arizona…

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