The Tale of the Tent

As I mention in my profile, I read Tarot cards at the NY Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo, NY.  The Faire also hosts a Halloween haunted-house event at the same site, the Forest of Fear.  I read Tarot there as well.

At the NY Ren Faire, I own my booth.  However, since I’ve started reading at the FoF in 2002, I’ve always worked for or with someone else.  This year (as for the past two years), I worked with Phoenix. 

I work at the NY Ren Faire for a number of reasons: the social environment; force of habit (I’ve been going to the Faire since 1989, and reading there since 1996); a chance to interact with human beings instead of the computers that make up the bulk of my physics work.  However, I only work at the Forest of Fear for one reason: the money. 

The Ren Faire is quiet and pleasant.  The Forest of Fear is loud.  The Ren Faire is held during the warm days of summer.  The Forest of Fear is held during the chilly nights of autumn.  The Ren Faire is held in a woodland environment that used to be a botanical gardens.  The Forest of Fear is held in the parking lot.  The Ren Faire is attended by people of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom come up to a hundred miles to visit.  The Forest of Fear is attended mostly by local-area teenagers.

Don’t mistake me: Both are entertainment venues, and serve the purpose of entertaining their patrons.  The difference, for me, is that I’m entertained by the Ren Faire; I’m not entertained by the Forest of Fear.  I’m not in the target demographic.

As I said, for the past two years I’ve worked with Phoenix, who was the one who set up the tent in which we read.  This struck me as a fine arrangement; I have little skill with mechanical setup of things like tents, and at one time Phoenix put up tents for a living.

This year, the tent that he set up was a carport.  He had set up one last year too, but this year he used transparent plastic walls.  The idea is that the patrons could look inside and see us, but we’d still be warm.

It was a good idea.  After a while, I got things set up the way I liked it.  My booth at the Ren Faire is known for its candles (and for its pentacles, but that’s another story).  The tent at the Forest of Fear was entirely lit with candles.  It actually made it harder for people to see that the tent was there; all the other tents were brightly lit with electric bulbs.  But it created a nice ambiance that attracted a lot of people to the tent… once they noticed it was there.

"The way I like it."  What about the way Phoenix liked it?  Although Phoenix put up the tent, and intended to read at the Forest of Fear with me, other things got in the way.  He got caught up in family and professional obligations that, to put it bluntly, were more profitable to him either financially or personally than reading at the FoF. 

This made it a bit harder for me.  Phoenix has a very nice catalytic heater, and he was going to bring it the first night he worked there, but that never happened.  I had a small heater of my own, and I purchased a second one.  They kept the tent just warm enough on the bitterly cold nights.

What was harder was maintaining the booth all by myself.  There were decorations to be hung, candleholders to be refilled, propane cylinders to be replaced.  In past years, Phoenix would often sit outside the booth and help guide the patrons as they waited outside the booth for a reading.  This year, the patrons milled around outside, sometimes knocking over some candles, and getting into disputes about who was next in line.  I could hear this happening, but there wasn’t much I could do about it; I was stuck at my table in the tent doing the readings.

Now, Phoenix was aware of the difficulties in dealing with the FoF all by myself.  He’d arranged for someone else to also do readings in that tent.  I set up a table for her and brought in extra chairs.  However, she never showed up.

I was making some money, but it was a harsh environment.

Let’s get to this past Wednesday.  I call in sick for work; I have a bad cold.  The Ren Faire calls me at home to tell me that high winds have blown the tent over.

They might have called Phoenix, but they called me.  And why not?  I was the only one they’d seen there.  It was an amazing co-incidence that I was sick as a dog and therefore was home to take the call.

I called Phoenix, but he told me he wouldn’t be able to get off from his job to get to the FoF site.  Well, it’s one thing to try to code C++ while you have a bad cold, but another to drive to a parking lot.  So I went to the FoF site to look over the situation.

The wind had blown the top off the tent, taking the side poles with it.  Although Phoenix had made some effort to secure the tent, it was not good enough to deal with the wind whipping across the lake next to the partking lot.  The bases of the tent poles were secure, but the poles were not secure in the bases.  Someone who saw it happened said that the tent appeared to fly in the air like a kite for a while before it finally toppled over.

I neatened things up as best I could, threw away one of my lanterns that had broken, detached the side tent poles from the roof, and dragged the top of the tent over my tables and chairs.  Fortunately, I had tarped and bungied my tables separately within the tent, so they were OK.  Phoenix told me he’d visit the site on Friday to put the tent back up again.  Needless to say, this did not do my cold any good.

Thursday and Friday, I call in sick to work again.  I’m feeling better, but still moderately miserable.  I call Phoenix to check if he’s set up the tent again… and he hasn’t.  He won’t be able to make it until Saturday.  He’ll be able to secure the tent against high winds then, but he can’t do it today.

I swallow my phlegm and head up to the site early, and I put the carport back up by myself.  I did it only two days ago, and I still can’t believe that I did it.  Actually, I had a little help from a reader in the next tent, but I did the bulk of the physical labor.

I read on Friday night.  It’s not a bad night.

On Saturday (yesterday, as I type this), there’s a rain storm, with high winds.  I think there’s a good chance that they’ll cancel the FoF that night, but no one calls me, so I drive up to the site.

The winds have flipped over the tent again.  This time, they flipped it in the opposite direction.  The tent is in the lake.

I can see that my candle lanterns are still attached to the ceiling of the tent, floating in the water. 

The tent now has a load of water sitting in the upturned roof, and even with help I’m not able to get it out of the lake.  It doesn’t really matter anyway; the FoF site has no power.  With no power, they can’t open even if the rain lets up. 

I call Phoenix.  No, he hadn’t been able to make it on Saturday either; that’s why the tent hadn’t been secured.  He’ll stop by on Sunday to get the tent out.

It’s clear that I won’t be doing any readings, and I go home.  I found out later that the FoF never opened that night.  The power didn’t come back on until 11:30PM.

On Sunday (today), I get a call from Phoenix.  He got the tent out the lake… in pieces.  He’d had to drag it out of the water by hooking it to ropes attached to a car.

I drive to the site, but there isn’t that much I can do.  I know that this night would be a profitable night if I could read… but without a tent, I can’t. 

The heaters are gone; perhaps the wind blew them into the lake.  That’s a bit of a loss, since the heaters are expensive.  Still, if I had still had them, I might have been tempted to borrow someone’s tent and try to set it up.  But to read in 40-degree weather as I’m getting over a cold without a heater in the tent; forget it!

I clean up the tables, chairs, the surviving candle lanterns, and other props as best I can.  I explain to the Faire management what has happened.  They understand.

As I type this right now, I’ve mostly unpacked the props from my car.  Some of them are drying out in my living room.  I used large fabric tapestries to line the walls of the tent, both to make the tent more attractive and to keep the heat in; those tapestries spent the last night in the filthy lake.  Now they’ve already been laundered, folded, and put away.

If I were at the Forest of Fear at this very moment, I’d be "flat-backing" readings.  I’d also be glancing at my watch, thinking that there’s still another hour to go, and praying that the hour goes swiftly.  And would it be yet another hour before I’d finish packing the props, doing the bookkeeping, and blowing out the candles.  And tomorrow I’d have to go up to the site again, just to transport the props to where they are now.

Oh, I’ll try to do the Forest of Fear again next year.  But next time, I’ll get a yurt.

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