"I'm Kami (kid gypsy) a one man side show preforming the strange and unusual, you have to see it to believe it!" -- Kid Gypsy's bally, from his Facebook page
On a sunny day by the on-ramp of Route 64 near Interstate 81 in Staunton, Va., cars and trucks whiz by on their way to work, errands and normal life.
With his shepherd-collie mix -- Bo-dog -- guitar, backpack and cardboard "Charlottesville" sign, Kid Gypsy sits at the grassy intersection of normal and freak.
I take time to walk over to his spot, from my hitchhiking position along Route 81 North. When I told him about the "Eyes Like Carnival" website, he decided to prove his carny credentials by doing the, "block head routine."
Taking out a screwdriver from his vest pocket, he wet it with his lips and tongue, leaned his head back and twisted the screwdriver down through his nostril into his skull.
Hitchhiking Kid Gypsy does block head routine
Kid Gypsy does the trick with nonchalance, pulls out the screwdriver, then shrugs and smiles just like a sweet-faced kid.
"My name is Mess, Kid Gypsy," he said, adding he also goes by the names Kami and Messy Mess. "A traveling show, original freak act."
I'm on the Virginia portion of my coast-to-coast hitchhiking trip from a San Francisco carnival to carnivals on the East Coast. Freak shows were once a staple of carnivals.
Kid Gypsy might have done his whole routine if we had time.
"I hammer six-inch nails up my nose. I put screwdrivers up my nose, scissors. I swing bar stools from my plugs. I hang weighted objects from my plugs. I hang weighted objects from my septum ring. I walk on glass, jump on glass, allow people to walk on my face and back on glass. I swallow fires and... ahh... that's about it I think."
At times almost shy, his face almost screams "look at me."
He wears conventional, thick brown glasses along with a Mohawk hair cut, white-hallow earlobe rings, a septum ring, metal piercings on his lips and chin, and tattoos on his nose and chin.
Yet his face is a work in progress.
"Omi, is a great inspiration to me" he says, of The Great Omi, a famous painted man and freak show performer who died in 1969. "I want to be totally covered head to toes in tattoos... I want horns (on the forehead)."
Around his neck is a spiked dog collar.
At 25-years-old, he's been a drifter for about four years. He says he has no home and travels with his sleeping bag and tarp to music concerts and small towns. When he gets to "a cool town," he says, he calls local bars and offers his "freak show," sometimes for beer and $50 to $100, sometimes more.
Kid Gypsy says he's a child of the tattoo shop, having literally grown up in an extended family with a tattoo shop.
At 16 years old, he was taking the summers off to travel and he was out of the house by 18, driving a soup kitchen bus, following Rainbow Festivals and meeting up with Muxx Blank.
He says he learned his freak show tricks at "Mr. Blank's Weird and Wandering Sideshow" and "Carnivale of Black Hearts."
"Before I knew it, I had 10 tricks," he said, of the bag of tricks known as the Ten in One show. "I could snort floss condoms and jewelry up my nose and out my mouth."
Time to roll
He grew up in Staunton and is hitchhiking to Charlottesville, where last year he took part in the "Occupy" movement and was arrested for public disobedience.
Asked what his proudest moment is in his life, he says last year's Occupy Charlottesville protests.
He can switch topics from Freak Shows to politics fast.
Difficult to imagine him a wage slave, he says he's concerned about minimum wage being too low. This man with no place he calls home, is worried that without "a living wage" people won't be able to afford "their own homes."
As I walk back to my own hitchhiking spot I look back at Kid Gypsy playing with Bo-dog beside the highway.
Kid Gypsy looks particularly vulnerable sitting there in the grassy triangle, with a bag of gross tricks, a painted face and risking his skin for a few dollars and beer. His freak life is still unfolding, he doesn't yet have his horns.
Still, it struck me, it's been a while since I'd seen someone so nakedly seeking to be the only one of his kind.
A bright, painted trickster and his dog rolling out.