I’ll have some shorter pieces and a gallery with some of our professionally-shot photos coming, but in the meantime, here’s my account of day two. If you enjoyed day one, this one is much crazier, and includes: a wet t-shirt contest, extreme nipple trauma, oil wrestling, a drug overdose, a Vanilla Ice performance, another overdose, a girl with no pants, and other events too surreal to explain succinctly.
Day Two: Heart of Dankness
We sleep six deep in our rented RV, including one in the passenger seat, and when we wake up it is HOT. The RV’s jacked in to an electricity hook up and the air conditioning has been running all night, but when we wake up it’s iced over and blowing 70-degree air. The smell in here is practically visible, the humidity thick enough to make snowmen. I step outside and it’s even worse. There’s no escape. It’s like we’re all stuck inside a sweat sock together. I don’t know how people live like this. It’s 10 am and I already hate everyone.
We meet our camp neighbor, Mike, a big dude from Indiana with a limp mohawk. He tells us about past Gatherings, deciding to come to this one at the last minute, and the journey from junk yard to junk yard trying to find a new… fuel pump? something, I can’t remember – for his pick-up, an early 90s Ford F-250 with giant dual exhaust coming out behind the bed and up past the roof like batman horns. He has a bumper sticker on the back that says “Juggalo Dad,” and a hatchet man on the front license plate. The hood has paint missing in a perfect, lived-in-jeans kind of way that actually makes it look more badass. It’s probably the manliest truck I’ve ever seen.
Mike’s truck would’ve fit right in with the cowboys at my high school who wouldn’t let me park my ’82 Cutlass Supreme in their corner of the lot, but he’s way nicer. We sheepishly explain what we’re doing here, and Mike laughs in a ball-busting kind of way. From this point on, he’ll yell “SHUT THAT F*CKIN’ CAMERA OFF” every time he sees us as a joke. It makes me wonder about all the people flipping us off and cursing us out the day before, and whether it was legitimate animosity or just a running joke. I’m about fifty-fifty on it. This does seem like a very flipping-off-the-camera-because-it’s-cool kind of place.
All the while, the sound of exploding firecrackers is near constant, and if I fail to mention them,it’s only because we’ve gradually become inured to the sound of a black cat going off every sixty seconds or so.
I attempt to feed seven people bacon and eggs on one burner with three plates, splattering grease all over the RV, setting off the smoke alarm three times, and feeling very Lord of the Flies. KILL THE PIG. MAKE IT SMOKE. FAM-UH-LEE.
After breakfast, we head down past the carnival stuff, over the drug bridge, and back towards the main stage. Everything looks even grimier in the daylight. On the way there, a group of people sitting in chairs underneath a tree yells at us to stop. Living in big cities for the last six years, my normal reaction to being yelled at by strangers is to go full tunnel vision and feign deafness until I’m out of their sphere of influence. But Lieb stops to talk and it seems safe so I stop too. We are here to mingle, after all. Turns out, the guy just wants us to offer a sacrifice to his tree. Okay, sure.
People from all over have been pinning trinkets and doodads to it, the guy explains, this sacrifice tree. “Use anything you have. Just a sacrifice. To pay our respect to this tree that’s here giving us all life right now, you know?” the guy says earnestly. We nod.
“There’s even a $100 bill in there,” the guy says, and sure enough, there is, sticking out of the bark.
Lieb pins a condom he had in his wallet to the tree. I don’t have much in my wallet, but I eventually settle on a BART card. Later I realize that I probably should’ve just stuck five dollars in the tree, since the BART card probably had ten bucks on it and I’ll actually be taking BART from the airport a few days from now. I kind of suck at money.
As we’re walking away, the tree guy yells to his group about breakfast, and we watch as he takes the $100 bill off the tree to go pay for it. This all happened in the space of about five minutes. It seems too perfect to be true.
I wonder aloud about buying a “stoner bowl,” a carnival food concoction of cheese, fried potatoes, and gyro meat, served in a bowl and slathered in gravy. Overhearing me, a juggalette walking by says, “Yo, try the chicken sticks, the chicken sticks are dank.”
We lazily wander our way through the campground with no real destination in mind – the proper state of mind for a place this humid, I imagine. Behind a stand of blue porta-potties, we come upon a skinny guy with a scraggly beard and buck teeth passed out flat on his back like a corpse, mouth open, toes pointed toward the sky. His hands are laid flat against his sides, his right gripping a three-fourths drunk two liter of red Faygo, his left a big plastic handle of off-brand whiskey with about a shot left in it. The mouths of both point up to the sky at a forty-five-degree angle like baby birds. He looks dead, and I have to lean in close before I can see that his chest is still moving. I want to take a picture, but feel like I’d be breaking some unspoken rule about letting sleepy ninjas lie.
Again, it seems like something I would’ve made up, not something that would realy happen, and I actually stop and look around us, searching for clues that this is all some elaborate piece of performance art, a Juggalo Truman Show staged for our benefit. I find no indication of that.
Next we pass a dunk tank next to a Chevy pick-up that’s selling used tires out of the bed. For $5, you get 15 baseballs (15!) to try to knock Skinny Larry, a guy in clown make up and a tie-dyed shirt, into the dunk tank. That’s two things you should know about Juggalos, they’re constantly creating their own markets – for used tires, pipes, drugs, shirts, food, etc – and everything is ridiculously cheap. Our documentary director, Mike, an ex-pitcher who was throwing 94 in his days in the Cleveland Indians farm system, is an obvious choice to try the dunk tank, so we pay the guy in the sleeveless t-shirt manning the booth 10 dollars. Mike starts throwing. He hits the red target to Skinny Larry’s right at least three times, hard, and nothing happens.
“Yeah, that one’s f*cked up,” sleeveless shirt guy says, a cigarette dangling from his lips. Mike starts aiming at the target on Skinny Larry’s left.
All the while, Skinny Larry’s heckling us in a meth head rasp that’s a dead voice ringer for Sirius Radio’s Scott Ferrall. “Show me what you got, Beanpole!” he shouts at Mike. Skinny Larry makes a raghead joke about the bandanna I’m wearing on my head, but I don’t catch all of it. I think he’s missing his front teeth. Mike grazes the target on Skinny Larry’s left a couple times, but without the kind of direct hits he was getting on the right. He’s just throwing and throwing. I don’t know how many balls we have left, and no one seems to be counting. Finally, Sleeveless Shirt just walks up and punches the left target with his hand, dropping Skinny Larry into a waist deep tub. We walk away as Skinny Larry hoists himself back up onto the chair, muttering to himself and smoking a cigarette, suddenly looking melancholy. Hey, it’s a living.
The documentary guys walk off to shoot scenery while Laremy and I hang in front of the Freakshow stage awaiting the wet t-shirt contest. Between yesterday’s rain and the general environment of breezeless, stagnant humidity, everything is a giant mud pit, including the area in front of the stage. There are about 25 dudes milling about, and though we’re there at the show’s stated start time, the show is showing no signs of starting. I’ve begun chain smoking Newports, either out of Stockholm Syndrome or a desperate need to have something to do with my hands. A guy near the stage is selling Bud Lights and water out of a backpack. I buy three Bud Lights for five dollars. I think I paid eleven dollars for one at my last Giants game.
The emcee of the wet t-shirt contest is a forty-something, heavy-set Everlast type with a backwards baseball hat, basketball shorts, and a big gut. “We got four contestants, we need 30!” he exhorts the crowd in a plea that seems absurdly optimistic. “I see Juggalettes walking around out there, get ‘em up here!” he croaks in the froggy Ferall voice that seems so prevalent here.
“Yo, we already talked to ‘em!” a guy shouts back. Most people here treat the person on stage like they’re talking directly to them.
I give out cigarettes while we wait, and we end up talking to a couple early twenties-ish Juggalos from Dallas, a big guy in a wifebeater and his smaller friend, a slightly-built guy with ear plugs and shaggy bangs laying diagonally across his face. I offer them beers, but they’re straight edge, both in recovery. Lieb, a former heroin addict in recovery himself, gets to talking to them about about the program. “So is being a Juggalo your higher power?” he asks, still wearing his yarmulke.
“No, man, God’s my higher power,” the big one says, respectfully.
They talk about the dumb shit they’ve done while high, how being around “the family” like this is their new high, and being able to make better decisions now. “These are the kind of decisions you make when you’re high,” the big one says, pointing to his pockmarked arm, which is dimpled with either cigarette burns, or abscess scars from shooting up (he seems young for the latter). Then there’s tattoos. The smaller guy shows us his new Twiztid ink on his shin. “Almost all of these I got when I was sober,” he says. Lieb shows off the Far Side tattoo on his inner arm: “I was not sober when I got this.”
Not having tats here definitely marks you as an outsider. I’d estimate probably 30 to 40 percent of the total crowd has Hatchet Men tats, specifically. Both Dallas guys are wearing Hatchet dogtags around their necks, which almost everyone here has.
The guys from Dallas start listing off old friends not in recovery who’ve died recently, seven in the last year, the big guy tells us, including someone named Skinny Pete, and another friend who passed the day they left for the Gathering. The distance between SNL’s “RIP, Ass Dan” running joke on SNL’s Gathering of the Juggalos sketch and reality is so small you’d need a special microscope to see it. RIP signs are everywhere, including a guy dragging around a big white flag that just says “RIP Uncle Ken.”