I got my first job when I was eleven years old. I was short for my age, but with a clean face and almost shoulder-length straight blond hair. If you knew me then, you'd easily agree that my looks peaked at eleven. If you didn't, you'd still quickly agree, your haste betraying your relief that I'd ever had a peak at all.
I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be eleven. While on my blogging break, I wrote a lot, trying to add "unfinished novelist" to my long list of abandoned careers, but to my surprise, I finished one, a middle grade novel with a main character who's eleven.
When I was eleven, a renaissance fair opened up on a few acres of land outside my home town of Waxahachie, Texas and my first job ever was as a character there. Auditioning for the job was my dad's idea, possibly because he thought it'd be a fun experience for me but mainly because he was sick of seeing me sitting in front of the TV, spending my evenings reciting entire episodes of Monty Python with the sound off.
The fair was like no place I'd ever been before. The people who worked there were a wonderful and strange group. They lived in trailers in the parking lot, traveling gypsies of the renaissance fair circuit, as much stuck in the 1960s as they were in the Middle Ages. I've never worked with a friendlier or more generous group of people, but their lives were far removed from any I'd encountered before. They snorted snuff from boxes and swallowed swords. They were quick witted and casually sexual. One evening as the season was winding down, the queen of the festival bent down to me and asked, "Do you want to feel something amazing?" When I nodded, she leaned in close, delicately placed both lips on my eyes, and gently sucked my eyelids into her mouth, one after the other.
I kissed my first girl at that renaissance fair, drank my first wine cooler there, and ran my first con. It was something I made up myself and I was rather proud of it, considering it successful because I made money more often than I got beat up.
The con was simple and stupid, in a very eleven-year-old way. I stood on a wooden bridge in the center of the fair and, when people passed by, I offered to jump for a quarter. If someone took me up on it, I'd look for someone else to pay me double not to jump. The bridge wasn't terribly high, but it was high enough. A rocky creek flowed underneath and most times there was someone crossing who didn't want to see a little kid jump and get hurt. The con worked best when there was a bidding war, back and forth between the pro-jumpers and the anti-jumpers. I always let the pro-jumpers win. My biggest take was $18 from a drunk guy who was not going to back down while his horrified girlfriend kept trying to outbid him to keep me safe. I took his money and I jumped, just like I did for everyone. I gave a little hop, right there in the center of the bridge.
To people's credit, most of them just groaned and moved on after I'd done my stupid little hop. Only once did someone take things into their own hands and pick me up and toss me over the railing themselves. I can't say I didn't have it coming, but I should note that if you ever throw a little kid off a bridge, you should make sure he doesn't count people wearing chainmail among his close friends.
It was the kind of con a person could only pull when they were eleven. The next year I tried to do it again, but the results were unsatisfying. People were angrier, less likely to laugh it off, more likely to bring out fists. Eleven was the perfect age.