Thursday, March 16, 2006

Blinkie Works Blue

Back when I was still in school some friends and I were hanging out at the state fair. After gorging ourselves on footlong hotdogs and striking out with the 4-H girls, we hit the midway just as it was getting dark. The gaudy bulbs came on and rained loud colors on the test-your-skill booths and the rickety rides. Past the grimy arcade tent a large crowd had formed. Shadowy figures were milling around in the glare of spotlights. When we got closer, we saw that everyone’s attention was focused on a big cage. One end, the nearer one, was open and there an old man sat on a stool, grimacing and smoking with a cashbox in his lab. Past him was a long expanse of gravel that led to minivan-sized tank of cloudy water. Poised on a seat above it, in front of a brightly painted banner than read “DUNK BLINKIE” was an African-American man in clown makeup. In one hand, he was holding a naked doll that resembled one of those racist lawn jockey figurines of yesteryear. With the other, he was making rude gestures.

“You white people are sorry. Jes’ sorry,” he was saying, and it was clear from the drift of his voice that he was quite drunk. “I don’t even know why I’m triflin’ with your kind...”

My friends and I found a spot right up near the front and watched as Blinkie held the doll up to his ear. “Whas’ that you say, Lil’ Jim?” he asked it. He pretended to be listening to it for a moment and then he thrust it out at arm’s length, its backside pointed at the spectators. “Lil’ Jim says ya’ll can kiss my black ass!” he cackled. Out in the crowd, my little band shared a knowing glance. It was clear that this man was going to become a hero of ours.

That’s when a thin, shaved-head kid came up and gave the smoking man some money. This guy was about our age, with a bright red face and a plump girlfriend smiling shyly behind him. The smoking man handed him a baseball and he took his position on the painted “X” on the ground. I remember him calling smart-aleck comments back at his date, basking in the applause of the people who had been standing around for longer than we had.

Blinkie just smirked at him as he warmed up his arm. The kid winked at his girl, spun around, and went up into his wind up. “I ain’t afraid of you, boy. You too ugly,” the clown crowed and it messed up the kid’s concentration. His throw went wild and bounced off the roof of the cage. Half the audience whistled and clapped, while the other half just went “Awwwww...”

“That your girl?” Blinkie asked, “She want a taste of chocolate up here?”

The kid waved a mock-threatening finger at him before the smoking man handed him another baseball. “Damn. You ugly,” Blinkie taunted from his perch and the kid retorted with some stammered, incoherent curse. “And you stupid too,” the clown added, just before the second throw missed the target. A titter went through the audience. A few of us booed the kid, but Blinkie didn’t seem to notice any of it. He was talking to his doll again.

“What you sayin’ there, Lil’ Jim?” he asked it. After the doll had said its piece, he waved it at the kid and roared, “Lil’ Jim suggests you kiss my black ass!”

The kid tried to fire back another insult of his own, but Blinkie cut him off before he could finish. “I can’t even hear your weak shit, white boy. Al’ight? I can’t even hear it...” With the kid fumbling for his last baseball, the clown turned his attention to his girlfriend, who was trying in vain to hide herself behind her date. “You put up with that fool, honey? Let me tell you, a boy who throws like that ain’t never gonna give you what you need. You got to step up to the chocolate right here...”

By this time, several spectators were gasping. A few were hurrying small children away. The rest, however, were applauding Blinkie’s every line. He didn’t take this well. “Shut the hell up. Shit. I’m tryin’ to get somethin’ started here...” he muttered.

The kid had become legitimately annoyed. With his face a shiny purple, he hurled the ball as hard as he could, but it just bounced off the banner. Blinkie looked at where it hit and made a dismissive sound. “Get out of here. I’m sick of you,” he said, his voice heavy with disgust. The kid’s girlfriend grabbed his arm and pulled him away, smiling all quivery-like as if she was about to cry, and they disappeared into the night.

“She may pat his back, but she sure ain’t ever gonna give him a piece,” Blinkie observed, “Ugly sumbitch who throws like that. Shit.”

What followed was a long stretch of time in which everyone wanted to see someone else get up and aggravate Blinkie afresh, yet no one wanted to volunteer to be that person. The crowd pressed closer and some of the braver ones shouted out things, but no one had the courage to try and dunk the clown. He seemed to sense this. If anything, it only made him more offensive. “You know what white people are good for?” he asked at one point. “You know? Do you white people know what white people are good for? Do you? Do you?” He waited until we had quieted to his satisfaction and then he waved his doll in the air again, shouting “Kiss! My! Black! Ass! That’s what you white people are good for!”

We applauded his every pronouncement until a beefy guy stepped up and gave the smoking man his money. “Awww, shit!” Blinkie growled, “Here come a redneck. Shit, man, you know what you can do?”

“Kiss my black ass!” a good percentage of the audience shouted out.

Blinkie nodded. “They know. Gotdamn redneck. Hey, redneck! Is it true rednecks like to suck other redneck’s dicks? Is that shit true?”

“I’ll show you!” the redneck shouted as he threw the baseball right at the target. It went a little low at the last second, however, and just brushed the bottom edge of it. The audience let out a collective gasp of relief, but Blinkie remained unperturbed.

“You kiss my ass,” he said, holding up his doll once more, “And then you kiss Lil’ Jim’s ass. Because you a sorry piece of shit, redneck. I don’t even care anymore...”

The redneck tore the next ball out of the smoking man’s hands and hurled it hard. He missed again, though, this time by a lot. The whole crowd jeered him; we cast our eyes up to Blinkie for his next Solomon-like utterance.

He didn’t disappoint, either. “You got to suck some redneck dick,” he said, “Get you arm workin’ again.”

“You’re going down!” the redneck bellowed and we hissed at him.

“Kiss my black ass, redneck,” Blinkie grunted, pointing at his doll’s back end, “Kiss my black, black ass. Kiss it. Kiss it good, you redneck you. Kiss my black– ”

He didn’t get to finish this tirade, however, because the redneck’s last baseball hit the target straight on and sent him tumbling into the water. As his nemesis went strutting around his fists raised over his head, Blinkie sank to the bottom and floated slowly back up. The audience made an outraged sound, the sort of sound theatergoers make when someone’s cell phone goes off during a Shakespeare soliloquy. Besides the redneck’s triumphant whooping, there was silence as the clown broke the surface of the water, climbed up the little ladder set into it, and–with tremendous and not at all ironic dignity–took up his position again.

The audience broke into vehement and sustained applause. Blinkie just glared at us, though. He waited until we had tired ourselves out with this and then, shaking his soaked doll dry, he said “Fuck you all. And fuck all your mothers too.”