A good friend of mine leant me an astounding novel called “Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn. The novel is a cult classic from the 80s about a travelling freak show. It’s a dark piece, centring on a couple who decide to breed “freaks” to populate their travelling side shows.
The wife of the couple becomes pregnant and takes to hard drugs and smearing herself with insecticide in order to foster deformities. The still born babies go in jars of formaldehyde for the curious public, whilst the limbless, the conjoined and the hunchbacked albino all go on to become circus acts. I warned you it was dark.
Part of the message of the book, for me, was that beauty and perfection don’t guarantee joy and happiness but bring their own special kind of turbulence. The darker bits of the book reveal this but I won’t spoil the plot.
In one of those strange coincidences of life, Paul and I ventured out to a local fair and open air music festival. I was half way through reading the book. Paul had told me there was a sideshow advertising shrunken heads and three eyed foxes but he was taking Champix at the time to try to stop smoking so I hoped this was a hallucination. It wasn’t.
A sinister old Irish man beckoned us in with a crooked finger, took our money and welcomed us to his trailer of oddities. We ventured round the exhibits, walking from a stuffed two headed lamb, to a miniature Chinese woman in a jar of formaldehyde to a giant stuffed rat. There was a fossilised two-headed giant which was almost certainly made of fibre glass. The jars were often broken and dusty, depleted of “formaldehyde” and the signs were crooked and misspelled. I suspect it was all a fake. I’m also relieved that it was all a fake.
Coming home on the bus there was the lady who I often see who has a toy rabbit with her. This is slightly odd but what makes it odder is that she sits the rabbit next to her, fastens it’s seatbelt and talks to it all the way back home.
An elderly man sat across from me. He was wearing a pork pie hat and mismatched jacket with bright yellow nylon shorts, socks and shoes. As he slept, his dentures were continually sliding in and out of his mouth and his carefully trimmed moustache wavered with each whistling breath.
Nearer the back of the bus, a young man sang songs softly to no one. I took a look at myself, in crisp shorts, tennis pumps, white shirt and cravat, dressed as an extra form a 1930s Noel Coward play. I realised, that for me, the freaks weren’t us. The bus people were my people. I fitted in.
The freaks for me were: the lady with expensive but garish and badly chosen clothes with flashy and designer labels, the sporty sweaty men who had tired themselves out for something I failed to understand. The freaks to me were: the deeply orange fake tanned, the ungrammatical and the technology dependent with phones constantly on the go.
Of course, freakdom is relative. We just have to try to get along. Me, my friend and her stuffed rabbit...we just try not to stare too hard and wink at each other in complicit understanding.
Check out “Geek Love”. It’s a superb book but not for the faint hearted though. I'd recommend it for the human story and the underlying themes. It's worth a few squirms for that: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Geek-Love-Abacus-Books-Katherine/dp/0349100861