This article is part of the The Tiger King and I series.

Read the previous part here.

Disclaimer: Names have been changed mostly because I forgot them and partially because they might sue me for putting them on blast.

My time with Joe Exotic ended in early December of 2009 in Davidson, Illinois. We were doing shows at the Davidson mall. I had started the tour at 6'6'' 310 lbs.; by this point in the tour I was 250 and feeling like I was dying every moment of the day. I was turning 19 later in the month and was thinking that I was going to be celebrating my birthday with this group of fuckers. I know they thought I was a fucker as well, because I had sure become one on tour. I went from naïve youth to angry carny in just under 6 months.

I sat in a lawn chair on the balcony/walkway of the little no-tell motel in Davidson and watched the snow move in. We had just gotten back from the mall and I was enjoying that nicotine for the first time that day, away from Joe's prying eyes. He had become increasingly manic throughout the tour, accusing us all of being spies, withholding pay, flying off into rages. At one point we all realized TimTim wasn't on tour anymore. I don't ever want to know what happened with that situation.

From my perch I see the clowns. Joseph, my arch enemy at this point, among them. After the incident in Michigan he had ramped up his aggression towards me. We had become animals and the hotel room was a place to be dominated. I started carrying the curved knife Lonny had pushed into my hands so many months ago. Eventually one of us would be dead if this continued.

The clowns are walking into the ever-heavying snow, towards a bottle shop I'm sure. As Joe had become more reclusive, the rules had become more lax. I could smoke again, the clowns could drink. It took the edge off a bit, but not much. I watched the clowns go, still in their outfits, still in their greasepaint, walking towards the nearest amber liquid to dull that ever-present edge.

An hour later I'm back on the balcony, cigarette in hand, when I see the clowns coming back. The snow is blizzard-level at this point and they are walking single file. "The clown death march", I thought to myself. Each one is holding a brown paper bag to their chest. Their greasepaint is sloughing off their faces, it is the stuff of nightmares. A casual observer, unaware of context, would think they had died and gone to the worst of hells. The lowest level, where it's always frozen, and the clown's faces are sliding off.

The next day Joe is manic. He announces we're going out for a big dinner and he has a big announcement. We were supposed to be leaving for Kentucky that day but he said we were sheltering in Davidson until the storm blew through. That night we all get on the bus and go to only the finest dining establishment: Cracker Barrel. Ever been to a Cracker Barrel? Don't. It's just kitschy wood paneling and shitty macaroni and cheese. Joe tells us to go wild, order whatever we want. We're halfway through our meals when he stands up.

"Attention. I have an announcement! The tour is out of money. You have all been stealing from me! I will continue paying for lodging and food, but that's it!" He then sat back down and we all let it sink in. I stood up and walked out into a blizzard. Since we thought we were leaving for Kentucky, my duffel was in the storage compartment of the bus. I collected it and started walking. I walked for 4 or 5 hours. I had about 200 dollars cash on me, and my debit card. Almost all the money I made had been wired back to Oklahoma and put in my bank account, because I was genuinely afraid another employee might rob me. I eventually came across a Holiday Inn. I stepped inside and tried to get a room. The very nice lady behind the desk let me know I had to be 21 to get a room at the Holiday Inn.

I thanked her and asked where the bathroom was. A few hours later I woke up to the Davidson, Illinois police roughly pulling me up from the floor. Apparently sleeping in the handicap stall of a public restroom is vagrancy or something. I showed them ID and gave them the short version of this story. They very nicely explained that the nearest Greyhound station was in Markham, Illinois about 20 miles away. They called me a cab and sent me on my way.

I arrived in Markham sometime after midnight. I spied a place called the Hi-Way Hotel (good street view that shit, it's still there I think). They offered hourly, nightly, weekly, and monthly rates. I paid 40 dollars for 2 nights and went to my room. They did not ask for ID, and they took cash. I was away from Joe Exotic, but I was also hundreds of miles away from home. I stepped into my hotel room and immediately noticed the door didn't lock. I wedged the small desk included with the room against the door, and finally got some fucking sleep.

Check back to tomorrow for the final part of The Tiger King and I.

– Jans "Untrustable" Holstrom (@HolstromJans)

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