July Rodriguez ran the Trippy Train ride for Happy Town Amusements, a traveling carnival company. He was born into the carnival business, thanks to his mother May Thanksgiving, who had come across a troupe of psycho-magicians, been convinced to forget about her new B.A. and join the circus. She married the fire swallower, had her son, and had been working different concessions ever since: the fry bread, the lemonades (three kinds! one with lavender!), the burritos. She had homeschooled July in all that she thought was technically important – Aristotelian arithmetic and geometry, evolutionary biology (especially symbiosis), feminist history and ethics, and mechanical perception. July had read the entire feminist canon starting with Marija Gimbuitas’s Language of the Goddess and ending with, well….never exactly ending, but culminating in bell hooks’ teaching that patriarchy brainwashes men into believing their domination of women is beneficial when it is not and that it channels boys and men into a masculinity that denies them access to full emotional well-being. As a non-patriarchal 19-year old person, July had a nice, low-key way of cherishing and progressing his emotional well-being that he did not want to abandon. Also, he was very handsome, with a long sleek black mustache and a low-maintenance beard, glossy black hair, coal black eyes, and white, even teeth above a strong neck and shapely shoulders, all carried on a large body whose overall musculature tended toward the spare.
July’s Trippy Train formed the outermost circle of the carnival, and its cars – which were alike in all particulars except color – progressed from vermillion, to sunset, to orange, to sunglow, to lemon, to kiwi, to pea green, to aquamarine, to cornflower blue, to midnight blue, to indigo. Ancient philosophers who believed that the sun rotated around the earth would have enjoyed this little joke of July’s. His train, like the sun of yore, enclosed the carnival midway’s games and eateries and restful benches. Here parents marshaled their young and lovers’ fingertips brushed against each other. Here carnival-goers, bursting with silliness and life and summer, danced to touring bands; here the town’s oldest and most revered denizens, with a beer or a cider or a lemonade in hand, held the current events of the day up to the scrutiny of their stores of wisdom.
But the inner circle – the heart, if you will – of the carnival was a carousel consisting of twelve beasts, both mythic and de facto. The lion paraded ever after the horse that loped towards the cougar that chased the donkey persevering behind the unicorn and the gryphon, while the pegasus threatened to overtake the centaur and the hippocampus raced the phoenix. Finally, the hippogryph came slouching toward the sphinx. Some were hand carved and hand painted or stained, others were bent and welded, some with etchings, some with stones. Some were plush fabric over a frame, others skeletal, elemental; but everyone agreed that no more magical creatures had ever deigned to be yoked to a carnival carousel than these.
All carnival goers entered the carnival via a Trippy Train ride and, as it was a very slow train, July ran ahead and made sure the track was in no way obstructed. He had curated an extensive library of music, so that the musical accompaniment to entering the event was enjoyable for all, and was yet another way that Happy Town Amusements positioned itself as more vivifying and intriguing than other traveling entertainment businesses.
Before ‘libation’ came to mean ‘an alcoholic beverage enjoyed at a restaurant or party’ it had signified one of the most common religious practices of the ancient world. Libations were not drunk, they were liquids one simply poured out, wasted, if you will. Offered up, did not keep for oneself. The liquid could have been wine, honey, milk, watered wine, even straight water. A libation was an offering, a voluntary loss. So, in the spirit of libation, July decided that he must ritualize the un-monetization of Trippy Train rides at least once a day and to do this he created a deck of cards. On each card he depicted the conjunction of one train car with one carousel beast. Once a day, a customer was randomly selected to draw a card from this deck and if the song that was played while the visitor was on Trippy Train stopped at the conjunction on the card they had chosen, that visitor was refunded their entrance fee and – for that visit only – enjoyed free access to all the carnival’s rides, events, and concessions.
One day in late July, when the carnival was amusing residents of the Story County capital of Nevada, Iowa (and its environs), an elderly man and his wife, their two kids, their kids’ spouses, and their six grandkids queued up at the ticket booth. July clicked the whole group in on his counter and established that the old man was the lucky fellow who would pull a card. “You could win a free visit!” he said, and explained the tradition. The old man breathed onto his hands and held them over the cards before choosing one. A card from the middle of the stack seemed to waft warmly towards him, and he extracted it. As if to preserve its magic by allowing it to remain unseen, he did not turn it over. He tucked it into his coat pocket, images facing his breast. When the three minutes and eighteen seconds of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Honey Can You Hang Around?” ended, the pea green train car lined up with the sphinx on the carousel. The old man pulled out his card “Oh ho!” he cried, “I have it! My car, the pea green car, is lined up with the sphinx and this card is the pea green / sphinx card!”
After a short pause, he heard his wife’s low voice in his ear, “Dear, perhaps we should give the card to Aubrie. You know she just lost her job.”
“Ahem,” said his oldest granddaughter, moving in close, “Grandpa? It’s Baby Solé’s birthday….could you give it to her?”
“Dad! Dad!” psssed his son, “Joe’s been sober now for two months – what do you think about giving it to him?”
The old man looked into the hungry eyes of his family, all turned expectantly, warmly, and lovingly toward him. He knew he had a very good family and that he was an extremely lucky fellow; but turning to July he bowed courteously and using both hands to proffer the card – as he had long ago been taught to do when offering his name card to the Master in karate school, he said, “Kindly donate my win to someone who needs it more than we do. We already have everything we need.” And he gave the young man a straight look.
“As you like,” July said, and his eyes twinkled as he returned the card to the deck.