Neal Crook

After retiring from teaching high school, I relocated from hectic Los Angeles to serene Cambria, California. My life filled with gratitude in a world of chaos is daily inspiration. Involvement in the Cambria Writers Workshop provides me the opportunity to explore my past and present place in the grand scheme of things. The rights and struggles of the GLBT community often take center stage in my writing.

I live with my husband, Michael, two cats, Rufus and Angie, as well as our two dogs, Sterling and Anoush.

My Carnie/Finding Truth

The frantic music of the tilt-a-whirl and smell of deep-fried fritters hung heavy over the carnival’s midway. My friends’ voices echoed through the laughter and screams of the crowd. “Neal,” they shouted.

Conflicted, I paused, longed to join them, retain my innocence, but a festering carnal desire steered me toward my destiny.

Led by instinct, I searched for the carnie behind the midway. I breathed deeply eager to experience the forbidden. The menthol of eucalyptus trees cleared my senses. A full moon illuminated my path and purpose. I spotted a young man leaning against a truck; one thumb tucked in his pocket. A cigarette dangled from his other hand; the small red embers winked at me.  Defined by the blackness of the cab his stance spoke a silent language, new, yet somehow familiar.

Afternoons, I had studied him in the heart of the carnival. He manned the ring-toss booth. His game, nobody won. During our distant encounters, his eyes followed me, fervent with appeal. This safe, flirtatious game I knew and played well. One day, I stopped to try my luck, toss a few rings, collect my winnings. Even though I lost, he presented me with a prize, a stuffed serpent. Our brief contact, electric as he placed the reptile and a note in my palm. Meet me in the back parking lot, 9:00 p.m., black semi.

Drenched in moonlight and perspiration I approached him and smiled. Strong hands grasped my shoulders, massaged tense muscles. He gently directed me to the cab door. Neither of us spoke as we climbed into a small space behind the seat. I found a mattress, stained pillows, and blankets on it. A transistor radio hung from a hook, from its face Three Dog Night crackled, Is that whiskey in your water? Sugar in your tea?  The smell of cigarettes and Old Spice lingered. A dim light glowed and cast looming shadows, onlookers of the encounter. He quickly removed his clothes and tossed them to the front cab, as I shyly exposed my thirteen-year-old nakedness. Both fully erect the cab filled with the scent of craving. I clutched a pillow to cover my longing. He inched closer to me. “Is this your first time?”

 I couldn’t meet his eyes, lowered my head revealing my inexperience. He pushed the pillow aside and caressed me. My body convulsed and I involuntarily erupted.

Embarrassed, I turned my back to him, dressed and squeezed past his still aroused body. “Do you want to touch me?” he asked.

 I hurled myself from the truck’s belly and fled. Mixed among the calliope sounds of the carnival, voices still shouted, “Neal!”

I found my friends wandering the midway and welcomed the smell of greasy food, hoping it would mask the lingering odor of semen, Old Spice, and cigarettes. Their straight, sexual banter distilled into white noise while the sounds of the carnival infected my being. The world of risk, danger, fear, and excitement became mine. My enlightenment created an invisible barrier between “them” and me. My truth acknowledged; my laughter concealed my secret sadness.

My Carnie, my first, my truth.


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