The patrons peered nervously at their beers. The bartender edged closer to the elbow in the bar, whispering neutral words of diffusion.
“No, it’s not funny at all,” Melo the dunk tank clown said. “This clown sounds like a menace.”
“Menace my ass! That clown’s an asshole. He’s lucky he was locked up in that cage all night, then the police escort at the end there. Nobody insinuates my Loretta’s a pachyderm and gets away with it. I oughta stomp a mud hole in your ass just for reminding me of it.”
“Easy, Jerry,” the bartender said. “Nobody’s fighting anyone tonight. Everyone knows Loretta’s got a thyroid condition, she can’t help it.”
“Damn straight. Fuck clowns.”
Melo raised his glass in a toast. “I concur,” he said. “Fuck clowns.”
The men at the bar raised their glasses in a toast. Only Melo had white greasepaint on his sleeve.
“Melo needs a cigarette.”
His voice boomed across the Foodland parking lot. The carnival had been erected in a thirty six hour orgy of methamphetamines and power tools. There were three food booths peddling the elephant ears and freshly squeezed lemonade, five cheesy kid rides like The Zipper, The Zig Zag, the Gravitron, all designed to make the kids empty their stomachs for more carnival food. There were eleven game booths manned by desperate chain-smoking lifers, suffering the perpetual indignity of begging kids to play a two dollar game awarding dime prizes. And then there was the jewel of the fest. The money maker. The dunk tank. Home of Melo, the dunk tank clown.
“Hey y’all. Melo needs a cigarette.”
The microphone attached to the lapel of his lime green and silver clown suit amplified his voice across the asphalt expanse. Everyone within ear shot, meaning every goddam soul at the fair, acted like they’d never heard of cigarettes before. Even the carnies gripped their Marlboros tighter and looked away.
There may not have been a proliferation of cancer sticks, but chewing tobacco was in abundance, every cheek of every man, woman and child, hyper-extended with golfball sized gobs of Skoal long cut. The fairgrounds was streaked with a thousand streams of brown spittle. He’d ask for a pinch if he had somewhere to spit other than the vertical bathtub worth of stagnant water below him.
A three-toothed marvel stepped forward and offered a Marlboro to Donna operating the dunk tank booth. She stuck it in her mouth, made a show of throwing back her shock of black hair hanging down to the crack of her ass, and allowed the fella to light the smoke with his Zippo. From where he perched on the five inch wide metal ledge within the cage, Melo could see the blazing 3 adorning the Zippo. In Alabama, if Elvis had driven stock cars, he’d have been Dale Ernhardt.