The Quilted Squirrel

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Trashed: A Fair to Remember

After a brief hiatus, we’ve returned for Part 3 of Trashed. I hope you weren’t holding your breath.

I know it seems like I don’t have work to do or a life to live outside of this investigation and it’s true, I don’t. I went to New York City over the weekend and spent the entire time in the corner bedroom of my friend’s third-floor walk-up apartment watching a live stream of the space where we usually keep our cans for 48 straight hours with only a small personal desk fan for company. To my knowledge, it was a beautiful weekend in the city. I truly would not know as I installed blackout shades upon my arrival to prevent any infiltrating glare from ruining my view.

The only way to shed some light on this case was to stay in the dark.

In the meantime, activity from our next-door neighbors has been quiet. Our landlord has been largely out of the picture and we’ve received none of the usual trappings of a hostage situation—no ransom note or blackmail, no request for us to surrender our office immediately or else they’d leave our cans to a fate as luxury condominium housing for local raccoons. No desperate calls from our trash cans detailing unspeakable acts and pleading for a swift recovery. No video of our cans teetering over the rapids of the Niagara River Gorge, a flimsy makeshift rope of discarded shoelaces the only thing keeping them from plummeting to their death below. All the things you’d expect to receive in the event that you find yourself in an entirely possible hostage situation.

It was, as they say, quiet on the trash can front. Our leading suspects were laying low or they had nothing to do with the disappearance of our cans. Either way, we didn’t ask. If they had taken our cans, there was no need to make it awkward.

Besides, much of the excitement surrounding the suspected collusion between our landlord and our neighbors dwindled last week when, one afternoon, we caught sight of a train chugging along on the tracks adjacent to Lake Street behind the Dairy Queen.

But it was no ordinary train.

No, this train was carrying mysterious cargo—entities that converge on small-town America every year under the guise of facilitating family fun.

Carnies.

We could see from our windows the colorful rides folded on the train’s platforms. Shortly after, the hunks of metal and multi-colored lights were stacked onto trucks and driving down Lake Street toward their final destination. They reminded me of Transformers, but I prayed that they weren’t autonomous. Or sentient.

In all of the fanfare of flinging accusations at our neighbors and acquaintances, we’d forgotten that the Erie County Fair was just around the corner with its unpredictable carnies in tow.

The Erie County Fair takes place every year sometime in mid to early August. Though not as large or prolific as the Great New York State Fair in lesser rust belt city Syracuse, as a calorically-dense, wet-hay-scented haven for Type II Diabetes, ill-fitting cargo pants and personal injury lawsuits, it satisfies all of the requirements of what a good regional fair should be. It is, however, (to my knowledge) missing a butter sculpture, which, in my opinion, is a hallmark feature of the regional fair elite.

There’s no limit to indulgence at the Erie County Fair. You can explore beyond your typical battered-and-fried fair fare with Buffalo chicken-stuffed banana peppers, PB&J cheesecake, a new variety of mystery meat known as “hot candy wings,” and, of course, the Sudden Death—two hamburgers stuffed with mac ‘n cheese, pork belly and jalapenos, then wrapped in bacon, then deep fried and served with cheese or habanero sauce. It’s basically like the entire Chili’s appetizer menu threw up and landed in Dr. Frankenstein’s basket on Chopped to be given a new life as a staggering feat of culinary atrocity and a threat to human arteries everywhere.

You can revisit all of these items after consumption with a whirl around the Midway, or even observe the miracle of life—all you have to do is text ILOVECOWS to 88588 and be notified when a cow is primed to calve. And, on the very last night of fair shenanigans, enjoy the soothing sights and sounds of the world’s largest demolition derby.

This is all very well and good if you’re into the sort of things that fairs offer. But there is undeniably one element of every regional fair that is nothing but a pestilence to the local community. I’ve said it several times already, but I’ll say it again—carnies.

The n’er-do-well carnie archetype has been a fixture in American popular culture for centuries, probably—Carny, Carnies, Adventureland, Zombieland, Apocalypse Now, It, Little Women, to name a few examples. And everyone knows the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which siblings Hansel and Gretel are lured into a witch’s house by a trail of candy, trapped, fed a diet of suet and Soylent bars, and fattened up to be cooked into a feast for a caravan of hungry carnies.

I could go on about carnies, but for the sake of the word count, I’ll cut to the chase and get to the climax: carnies are undeniably involved in the disappearance of our trash cans. Sure, they arrived in town several weeks after our cans went missing. Sure, they probably have their own trash cans or, more likely, don’t use trash cans at all. And I’ll admit, I’m stumped on a motive here too. But I do know that those “carnival associates” have been blowing in and out of town every year for over 100 years. And how do they get to the fairgrounds?

They drive down Lake Street. The same Lake Street on which our office is located. The same Lake Street on which our trash cans were formerly located. The. Very. Same. Street.

If you’re having trouble reading between the lines here, let me pry them apart for you right now. I’m not accusing the carnies of taking the trash cans and I’m not saying that they had years of reconnaissance at their disposal, but they did have years of reconnaissance at their disposal. I’m also not not, not not not saying that the carnies didn’t not take our trash cans, either. Nor am I saying that they didn’t not not not need our cans for storing contraband.

In any case, I’m not sure I can be any clearer about the seriousness of this situation at hand. Stay tuned.

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