I was encouraged by Red to meet this man considered a legend in the carnival culture. He also knew Mel would be interested in some of my creative artwork talents. Arrogant and feisty, he considered only his ideas and made hasty judgments. After our introduction, he wandered over to look at my horse trailer.
“Stupid,” he snarled, ‘such a waste of space.”
He referred to how the horse industry had engineered the best way to provide a safe area for a horse to ride in a trailer. Instead of the trailer body taking every bit of allowable width, my trailer only had floor between the tires. Wrapped up in his thoughts, he was oblivious to the fact that this industry standard was perfect for this type of cargo. I learned that this sort of contempt for anything outside of himself was part of his peculiar persona.
Red was right about him wanting artwork. Mel built his motorhome out of an old milk truck van by splitting it and adding extra metal down the middle to make it extra wide. A clever machinist, he took three rear-ends to make one that was wide enough. The interior had railroad car features like a hinged sink that went up against the wall and ornate cabinets, bunk beds and lighting. He wanted Indian motifs on the sides.
I had an idea to improve my one-ton truck: A custom rack over the cab to carry ladders. I also recognized an opportunity with Mel. Yes, he could build that for me so we engineered a swap. I traveled to York later that summer to do the work.
A clever man, he seemed driven by contempt. His agitated state prevented him from being a good listener and having regard for others. I visited his shop in Pennsylvania and saw many innovative ride trailer-mounting processes underway, made with Red’s guidance.
Mel was difficult to deal with. Unknown issues drove his demeanor. In my newly found sobriety, being around such turbulence was perhaps not appropriate for me in this fragile condition. In my confused state, my inability to speak around aggressive behavior surfaced. As he built his concept of what I wanted, I was unable to voice observations of what he was doing that would not work.
He went belligerently ahead with his plan for two metal pans on hinges that, in addition to being too small, the galvanized metal surface was inappropriate for a horse ramp because it was hard and slick.
Intimidated by his manner, something had my voice. I was powerless to insist on what I wanted that would work. I felt as if I were in the twilight zone: an area with no syllables. I was unable to verbalize what I wanted. The exchange concluded. Unsatisfied, I withdrew. I resigned to the waste of effort and the resources gone. I hadn’t yet learned to use the fellowship as a safe place to sound off with the vagaries of life and get helpful advice. I left with my useless contraption and headed south to a farm of some friends. I eventually had to discard the useless pieces he made.
I didn’t know it at the time but the scattered mental syndrome that accompanied my new-found sobriety was a normal condition that would eventually pass. I hadn’t yet developed the sensitivity to notice and trust intuition in such matters. As I seemingly trudged along without direction, this fog that impaired my usual diligence would follow me around for a while.