Thursday, October 15, 2009


In Lake Elsinore, where I grew up, there was a bald hill hidden up behind the old downtown. This spot, which connected to the town via Franklin St., was known as the Rodeo grounds. From 1974 to 1992 a serial killer spent his time nabbing streetwalkers from the little community of 15,000 residents, and it was here among the pepper trees and low growing shrubs below the hills dusty crest that a number of bodies were discovered. This particular killer was so busy that many of his victims were never recovered and it is more than a little possible that their bones are buried under the layers of sun baked dirt upon which the carnival annually erected its tents. I knew nothing about the murders, of course. I was only a child, a dirty faced little darling with tangled blonde hair. I knew that lady bugs crawled on top of each other sometimes and that the cat, Tommy, killed gophers and left their bodies on the astro turf carpeting the front porch, and this was all that I knew about sex and death. I could not know that I stood with jellied sandaled feet over the mummifying corpse of a whore while my mother purchased a pink puff of cotton candy for my sister and I to share.

We attended the rodeo when I was very young and it upset me greatly, so much in fact, that I have buried all detailed recollections of it somewhere deep within the hills along the Franklin street of my own mind. I recall the metal bleachers and an overwhelming sense of horror, not for the cowboys, but for the animals being roped and dragged and dominated for sport. I have been sensitive to the point of madness since childhood. I remember seeing them chase and rope a frightened calf, pulling it right off of its feet with the rope around its neck. Watching this spectacle I felt suffocated and strangled, as though I were the one in the center of the ring of bleachers being handled by rough men for a crowd of uncaring spectators. People hollered and hooted and clapped. The disparity between the emotions they were expressing and the pain I was feeling confused me deeply. I think I asked my mother if we could leave. I can’t remember if we did. She might have made me stay because we had paid to be there and she didn’t like to waste her money. In truth, the child that went in never came out, something of me was mutilated then, something delicate and invisible from the exterior.

The Carnival I remember better. I remember it because I was a little bit older.

A little older.
A little older.

Driving along Junipero Serra Blvd. in a far away land veiled in mists, I pass the parking lot of the local Bowling Alley and catch sight of folded carnival equipment under blue tarps. I suddenly turn the radio down and blurt out that the Carnival is coming to town, that maybe we should go. My two daughters are buckled in the back seats and listen to me tell them of the Carnival that came every year to the Rodeo grounds in Lake Elsinore, where I grew up. I tell them that the place where the Carnival was held was the place where the bodies of murdered prostitutes had been found.

The Carnival I remember better. I remember it because I was a little bit older.

It is also possible that I profess a clearer memory of the Carnival than of the Rodeo because we attended it more than once, and every visit has been pooled together in my mind to form a single memory. A memory of a place that exists separate from the world of stability, a conglomeration of rusty machinery and red and white striped tents that spring up over night in the eerie hills like the toadstools of a fairy ring. To my child’s eye these were unabashed delights; brightly colored helium filled balloons, sweet treats, big eyed plush animals stuffed with Styrofoam beads that hissed softly when the toys were moved, and live gold fish that could be won with the toss of a coin. But I saw more than what was being presented. I just couldn’t say what I saw.

(Humans and dogs are the only two animals on earth sensitive to misdirection. If you take two cups and turn them over and show a small child a cookie and then place the cookie under one cup and point to the opposite cup, the child will not believe its own eyes. It will turn over the cup to which you point. The same would occur if you repeated the experiment with a dog.)

There was a high curving yellow slide, higher than any slide that ever graced a school yard or common park. It captivated my attention. I wanted very badly to try it, so my younger sister and I waited in a long line, mounting one step at a time until we reached the top. Here there was a man setting the children down on empty potato sacks and launching them down the curvy slope.
Him, I will never forget, him reaching towards me with his hands. I will always remember his hands.
He had no fingers at all, just palms with stumps. I can hardly picture his face. It’s his hands that burn vividly in my mind, emblazoned within the word CARNIVAL. His flesh was glossy and marbled with red. I looked for his fingers and I became transparent. I felt myself as him, just as much as I had empathized with the calf of the rodeo. My little curious eyes scorched him. He felt horrible, dirty under my prying glance. It made him angry, in a subdued, directionless way. I stared at him and I felt him seeing me stare at him. Then he picked me up with those hands and set me on the sack and he pushed me so that I slid down, back into the bed of that garden of earthly delights stretched over its transient skeleton of rickety rides and mournful Carnies.

After school my daughter presents a black and white flier stapled to a pile of corrected papers. I look at it and I think of the blood and sweat soaked hills off of Franklin, of the empty dirt lot that screams with desolate quiet under sun and moon. I think of a nameless whore gestating in reverse within the belly of the parched lands of my youth. The ritual torture of animals tumbles forth from a forgotten corner of my psyche. It is all there in the flier that my daughter has provided, nestled within the words that are written in bold letters beneath a photograph of a Ferris wheel. I hold the dog eared photo copy in my hands and read:

Where Memories Are Made.

No comments: