Every year around this time I start getting antsy.
Part of it is the change of weather. The nights are getting brisk, the sky takes on that deeper blue and the leaves start to turn. I take my sweaters out of storage, do my fall housekeeping and then...it hits me.
They are almost here.
They fall upon us like an annual first week of October zombie convention. They start showing up in town, hauling their bizarro trailers behind their ratty, duct-taped together circa 1978 Ford pickup trucks. Chewing tobacco stores get low in the convenience stores. Can't find PBR 24-packs in any of the drive-throughs. Rally's starts to get really, really busy. Mothers start to herd their kids in from the backyard well before dark and I get really suspicious when anyone who looks like he might be one of them lumbers down the street in front of my house, heading for the Circle K and the 33 cent hot dogs.
An annual fog descends upon us, almost like a pre-autumnal stench, a miasma that overpowers the dusty smell of changing leaves and newly fired up fireplaces; an unusual smell that doesn't necessarily smell bad just...different.
Yep. I can smell it.
The carnies are coming.
Oh, granted: I still have a week or so before they are all here. Two weeks before the war begins. I need to stock up. I need to be certain my bunker is adequately prepared for the safety of me and mine. The conflict between us is of long standing. They--the carnies--and I have a long, terrible history that goes all the way back to the days when I worked in the bar across the street from the fairgrounds and they invariably tortured me every night after the county fair closed down. They came swaggering through the front door, their pockets crammed with the money they had taken from the unwary with their rides, and games, and freak shows, and candy apple booths. Oh, I can spot a carny from a mile away.
Yes, they brought the money of Fairfield county into my bar in their pockets, and I got them stinking drunk and took it all away from them! Took that money for my community! For the town I love! And yet they never got the hint. Every year, like clockwork or a cabbage-smelling plague, they come back...looking for me.
So far, I've always won. So far, I've always managed to come out on top. I have always emerged as the victor in the annual war with the carnies, like I'm the brave English and they are the garlicy French in our Hundred Years' battle over tip money.
But this year, they mounted a sneak attack. They must have bribed someone very close to me considering the predicament I'm in. This year, they are arriving in droves, scenting victory on the fall air.
This year...I have toddlers.
God help me.
The carousel. The pony rides. The little airplanes that go in a circle. Not to mention the cotton candy, the funnel cakes, the hot dogs, the lemonade turn-ups, the sasparilla, the game where you throw a ring around a goldfish bowl or a bottle and get a live rabbit.
Oh...they are out to get me no doubt. They are probably plotting right now in their pop-up trailers. I can sense it.
"That Celina woman is DOOMED. Let's get one of those shoot the water into the clown's mouth games. Those kids will LOVE those. Mwa ha ha ha ha."
I'll admit it; I've been a little apprehensive this year as we crept closer to Fair Week. I've hidden as much of it as I can from the toddlers--no need to get them to be willing stooges of the enemy. I detour around the Fairgrounds, so they don't notice the growing influx of campsites. I hurry them back inside whenever a suspiciously bright-colored semi comes rumbling past on the road. I don't allow them to watch any local television. And yet, somehow the toddlers know, like all kids know, that a huge opportunity for mischief is on the horizon, one that will allow them to yell "Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!" for a whole two minutes per three dollars worth of tickets.
But I have a secret weapon, one that will see me through this annual battle with my customary aplomb. One they will never expect. One the toddlers will be overjoyed about. Oh yes, I have my own secret weapon in this battle with the carnies that they'll never figure out--one that begins with a Z and ends with an O.
No, I'm not going to tell you what it is, but I'll give you a hint. It involves animals and a slightly better-dressed foe.
Heh. They will never see it coming.
*Celina's annual battle with the carnies was abbreviated last year, but there are years' worth of carnie-related posts on this blog. For previous installments, just check every October's first week of blogs. This blog post has been carnie approved.*