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**PRINT: COLD WAS THE GROUND, by Chicago's Scott Stealey, is No. 34 in our broadsheet series. Gina, protagonist, a rather lonely condo dweller/office manager, strikes up a fleeting friendship with one Porgo, an Eastern European construction worker who is burying on her property what Gina takes for a time capsule. But the metaphorical fix is in -- Porgo, an ESL student, may be leading Gina in directions she canít exactly get her head all the way around. Enjoy. Chicago writer Stealey is editor of the Please Donít online mag.

WING & FLY: Bubbling up in Nashville, gassing it to Chicago | Todd Dills
AFTER DETOX Jamie Iredell
CHARLIE's TRAIN a novella by Heather Palmer
INJURIES Jeremy P. Bushnell

Patrick Wensink

Louisville, Ky., writer Patrick Wensink is the author of the 2009 collection of stories Sex Dungeon For Sale!.

The girl on the sidewalk, a few feet away, busts out a didgeridoo and makes it growl, taking breaks for cigarette drags. Across the street, punk rock circus clowns slap together a stage in their front yard. I'm just one of hundreds who skipped work or a strict bong regimen to unfold a card table in the hot sun. But I'm the only one with two gallons of barbecue sauce and a plan to get rich.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

This sidewalk doesn't get interesting until one of the clowns -- sensibly dressed in a leather jacket, jean shorts, cowboy boots and white/black makeup -- rides a tricycle through the busy street, twanging a banjo and nearly flattening himself in oncoming traffic. He's sort of the opening act. He's the warm-up comedian before Richard Pryor steps onstage.

How did I get here? Usually, people start a business by opening a little corner store or setting up a website. For some reason, I pitch my capitalistic career into action with a card table at the intersection of Unsafe Clown Boulevard and Stupidity-With-Fire Avenue. Portland, Ore.'s Last Thursday street fest is the only place in town anybody can sell anything. There are no rules or regulations or forms to sign. If you suspect it's the kind of place a guy with no food-handler's license and even less culinary experience can hustle homemade barbecue sauce for six bucks a jar, you'd be right.

It's not a flea market and it's not really a fair. Actually, it's some kind of anarchist gang-bang of art and garbage -- and BBQ sauce. The girls on my left sell pencil sketches for 40 bucks a frame. (Didgeridoo concerts are free, I guess). The ladies on the other side push hand-made necklaces and purses. Elsewhere, down about a mile's worth of Alberta Street, amateur businessmen hawk everything from welded Socrates sculptures to possibly stolen tube socks at rock bottom prices. It's the last open market economy in America. The only rule is: stay on the sidewalk. But that rule, apparently, doesn't apply to guerrilla clowns with impatient landlords.

My suspicions get hot when the Clown House (the tenement across the street hosting the face-painted madness) has its reggae band warm up at the volume of a Led Zepplin concert, followed shortly by an eating contest on the porch. It's at this point I realize capitalism is a brutal racket. Getting rich is tougher than it looks. Contrary to my lazy belief, Wentastic BBQ Sauce won't sell itself, especially with this competition.

Ah yes, Wentastic BBQ. Don't you know? It's the jar with my picture on the label, cross-eyed drunk. No? Man, I should talk to the shareholders about this. Well, if there were a press release, it would look like this: "I've always had a special knack for public embarrassment. At the same time, I have a lust for cooking. My BBQ sauce stems from the natural desire to fuse both talents into a single, awkward, money-hungry machine." Thus, Wentastic Enterprises opened its Barbecue Sauce Technologies division.

It felt like success was already ringing my doorbell. What could be more of a no-brainer: Warm Weather + BBQ Grills + Food + Handsome Sidewalk BBQ Sauce Salesman = Early Retirement. A resignation letter to work was typed up and all but inked with my signature.

Turns out, when a thousand people shuffle by your little homemade BBQ sauce stand, about every hundredth person swings in for a free bite. Most are creeped out. If taste-testers weren't a big enough hurdle between me and a sack of cash, the brave free samplers voiced concerns like: "Hey, there's no ingredient list here", "Ewww, how many people have touched these samples?" and "Are you certified to sell food to people?" And most important: "Did you put drugs in this?"

Meanwhile, drug-addicted anarchist clowns draw huge crowds and applause, juggling fire in the middle of our intersection, only a few feet from the little jars with my beautiful face on the label. Why, I wonder, are people OK with that but not Wentastic BBQ? What charms do psychopath clowns posses that I don't? And if the juggler catches on fire, could it be good publicity to pour a jar of BBQ sauce on her?

While Wentastic BBQ makes its silent debut on the anything-goes street fair circuit, the Clown House is a cottage industry. On previous trips to Last Thursday they were always a highlight. Past events included a mud-wrestling match that looked like Barnum & Bailey Circus in need of a bath, but with whiskey and cigarettes mixed in. Last time, a gang of female clowns in pink tutus showcased a BMX ballet that straddled the border between "Performance Art on Two Wheels" and "Pornography on Two Wheels." This insanity used to be free of charge, just for kicks and the joy of being at the right place at the right time. Thus making all the card table salesmen, like myself, happy for the foot traffic.

But today, of course -- Wentastic's debut -- the clowns demand donations. We're expected to pay when the fire is flying, the eating contest reaches button-popping limits and the surprisingly good white reggae band is thumping onstage.

Tonight, it's all about capitalism for the anarchist house. Why the change in politics, you ask? Here's a shocking news flash: communes of twenty-something slacker clowns can't afford their rent. Apparently, if people don't donate money and help cover their bills, we may never see worthwhile programming like tonight's popular skit: My Burning Baby. My Burning Tricycle. My Burning Mustache. It's all starting to sound less anarchist and more Public Broadcasting Fund-raiser.

I can't help but assume some of these clown donations are filtering dollar bills out of my pocket. These clowns have easily raked in more money than Wentastic Enterprises. It couldn't be hard, really. After I sold only a few jars and gave away three, the guy peddling tube socks probably pulled in more cash.

But why?

I think the answer is that greasy bitch economics professors call "credibility." Turns out, when you're trying to make as much money as possible at an anarchist street fair, street cred is the name of the game. Doesn't matter if you're trying to pay the rent or simply feed a pulled pork sandwich habit. Those with credibility rule the street, an aspect the Wentastic Enterprises board of directors ignored.

"Starting today, things are gonna change," I'm gonna say at the annual Wentastic BBQ shareholders meeting in Aspen. "We're gonna go bigtime. We're gonna hit the streets and build a buzz. We're gonna burrow our way into America's hearts and flick it behind the ear!" That's where I pound my fist on the long table with a bunch of old guys shivering. "And we're gonna start with a classy campaign. Effective immediately, I'm stepping down as the face of this BBQ Sauce." This is the part where the old men gasp. One of them faints.

"I know what the people want, so from now on we'll have the banjo-playing tricycle clown on the labels. Let's give him a big hand. America loves this guy!"

As you already guessed, stocks begin to soar. Then I retire early.

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