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Thursday, March 3, 2011

And For Another Dollar I’ll Show You How to Make Millions While Working from Home

I lived in many small towns growing up.

“A moving target is harder to hit, Pearl,” my father would chortle.

As the continual outsider in a world where kids knew each other from birth, I was forever new. I didn’t know about David wetting his pants in kindergarten, I didn’t know that Bonnie’s mom had taken off with a traveling salesman, and I didn’t know where the old Schmidt place had been before it burned down.

Wherever we went, I was a freak.

Eventually, this came to appeal to me.

I had missed the era of circus sideshows and bemoaned the fact: “Siamese” twins; the Dog-Faced Boy, the Mule-Faced Woman – all of these people were an outward expression of “different”. My obsession with human oddities was further spurred in one town by a friend’s father, who had a bootlegged copy of “Freaks”, a movie starring a cast of, as they were known at the time, circus freaks.
In my naively inquisitive and guileless head, there was nothing better than watching a limbless man roll a cigarette with his lips.

Years of migration and being the “odd one out” lent a morbid streak to my curiosity. I regularly envisioned myself having been born without arms, how I would use my bare feet and overcome my affliction to become Homecoming Queen, go to Juilliard on a music scholarship and make a living repeatedly filling Carnegie Hall with the adoring fans who came to see the Armless Wonder of the World.

Of course, I also imagined myself covered in hair, growling at the populace and flinging excrement at it for five bucks a head.

So you can imagine my delight when, there on the Minnesota State Fair’s Midway, land of carnival rides, mini-donuts, and ring-toss carnies, my brother and I discovered an exhibit proudly declaring itself to contain The World’s Fattest Man.

It was 1972, or thereabouts. The gaudily painted canvas outside of the exhibit depicted an enormous, fleshy man standing next to an elephant, dwarfing various farm animals, all the while sucking the meat off a turkey carcass.

Our little eyes glittered with excitement.

And we got in line on a hot August day to see The World’s Fattest Man.

The funny thing is that I got in line to see one thing, but experienced quite another: it was my first time at having been swindled.

And to further emphasize the realization, it was the first time I had asked for it.

We filed in, me, Kevin, and perhaps 20 other people, in through the tent flaps, the stifling humidity of the bare earth filling the space. Minneapolis in August is a sweaty, swampy affair, and our hair clung to our necks in curly, tendril-ed exhaustion.

Sitting in a recliner and surrounded by whirling, oscillating electric fans, The World’s Fattest Man never looked up from the book he was reading.

He was, honestly, not all that much bigger than Fat Karl’s Uncle Buddy, who sat in the backyard in a kiddy pool drinking beer.

Kevin hissed in my ear as we filed past the sweating man. “The World’s Thinnest Fattest Man!”

And that’s when it hit me, one of my first real moments of clarity: Had I really expected The World’s Fattest Man to be standing in here astride an elephant, sucking down a whole turkey and spitting out the bones?

I had paid two dollars, looking for something new, only to discover something really new: that sometimes you can’t tell, by looking, who the freak is.

And that if you can’t tell by looking, the freak just might be you.

44 comments:

Karen McQuestion said...

Pearl, you are one terrific storyteller. Love this!

powdergirl said...

We didn't get a lot of "new kids" in my town. But when we did I was beside myself waiting for the bell to ring so I could to get to them. All I could think was: Woo Hoo! News from the outside world!", and I'd inundate them with invitations to come to my house, I'd bribe them with horse back rides and tell them how funny my Dad was and that they'd "Just love my Mom-who-is-the-nicest-ever!".
Maybe if you'd have move to my town, you'd have know sooner that the freak might also be the home-grown kid standing in front of you bouncing around on her tip toes wanting to be friends with the new kid : )

George said...

I've heard these types of stories from my father and uncles.

Pearl said...

Hey, Karen, thank you! That's nice to hear, comign from you (I like your writing as well).

Powdergirl, we absolutely would've been best of friends. :-)

George, the rip-offs were definitely in the midway, but every now and then, to hear my father tell it, there was something real, and it would blow your mind...

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

You can still see the freak show in Venice Beach, California. In case you need to know that.

Pearl said...

Green Girl! LOL!!

Oilfield Trash said...

This was one of your best stories Pearl. I loved it.

Simply Suthern said...

Come on right down here. I'll show you a 6 foot man eating chicken.

Joshua said...

You know that line from Alice in Wonderland where The Cheshire Cat says "We're all a little mad here."? I think if you substitute the word freak for mad, it would apply. We're all crazy; we're all mad; we're all freaks in our own right.

I, for one, am proud of my freakishness. I'm a nerd, and I revel in that fact. Plus, I have clinodactyly (that's curved fingers).

Grant said...

Did you ever ask your dad why he felt your family needed to be a moving target? Were ninjas stalking you?

Eva Gallant said...

You do know how to spin a yarn! I just keep coming back for more!

alwaysinthebackrow said...

My dad worked for a traveling carnival for a few summers when he was a teenager. He always told us that the midway swindled everyone. As a kid, I kept thinking that I could swindle the swindlers, because I knew their secret. But my dad never let us try.
Great story. Even on this cold, drizzly day, I could feel that summer sweat on my neck as I read your description.

Douglas said...

Nothing ever seems to live up to the hype, does it?

I didn't miss the Circus Freak Show years. (It wasn't called that, of course, it was called the Side Show.) I think my brother had a picture for years of the guy who was called the "seal boy" or something like that. He had hands but no arms. The Thalidomide babies probably destroyed his "career."

Despite your dad's encouraging words, I never saw anything that blew my mind until I got sidetracked into drugs in the 60's.

Gary Baker said...

I went to 13 schools before High School, so relate. I was also fleeced out of two bob (2 shillings = 10p = 15c (ish)) when visiting The Tallest Man On Earth when I was 10. He was lying in a glass case and had a hole in his chest where "A Zulu spear had pierced his heart!" If they'd filed away the papier mache sticking out round the edges I may have believed them.

Munir said...

You have so much insight and what a punch in the end. Wow

Pale Rambler said...

Well played! Huzzah!

Sorry... I've been playing #classywarfare too much on twitter today. Great story. I remember a fair that celebrated the world's tallest midget. Never quite understood the appeal, but the line was pretty long.

Sweet Cheeks said...

Where's the bearded kitty?! That's what I want to see...

=]

Jhon Baker said...

such a good lesson to learn for a child - worth the two bucks in every way.

Belle said...

I love what your dad said about being a moving target! It must have been hard being the new kid all the time. That only happened to me once at high school. I hid in the bathroom stall every lunch for three months. I did get to hear a lot of good conversations!

Tom said...

Great story. I have been ripped off before too, but my tales don't involve the Carnival. I'm wondering if that carnival might be hiring the world's strongest "weak" man. I might apply.

Leenie said...

Another good one, Pearl! And, in spite of all the information out there ---the way, way, too much information available at one's finger tips in an instant information--like Barnum said, "There's one born every minute". Except now it's every split second. It's gotta be true or the admen wouldn't spent gazillions every second on those sucker promos mentioned in your post title.

IndigoWrath said...

Hey Pearl! Another piece of wisdom disguised as a slice of weird. Marry me! Indigo

Vicki said...

My experience did not come until 2 years ago when we moved down to the smallest town with only 400 peaople. My daughter had lost her husband of 11 years when she was pregnant with her 5th child. Luckily this little burg has excepted my family but my oh my the gossip which goes on. Personally I am very grateful to have no idea what has gone on. So there is no gossip from me...

Love your writing Pearl...I also keep on coming back to read more...Thanks!

The Vegetable Assassin said...

I'm still laughing at Fat Karl's uncle Buddy in the kiddie pool. LOL. :)

becca said...

what a great story and so sorry your childhood dream of seeing the world's fattest man did not pan out

Willoughby said...

Once again, a great post, Pearl!

While there may not be many sideshows anymore, there is still plenty of swindling going on at traveling carnivals. Ever play a game and try to claim your prize? I got into it with the guy running the frog jump game because he changed the rules (after I had won) and wouldn't give me my prize. I really wouldn't have cared, but it was a toy my son wanted (he was 3 or 4 at the time). I'm still bitter!

Jimmy said...

Ha! You never fail to entertain me young lady, bravo indeed.

Mamma has spoken said...

I always envyed those who got to move growing up. Where I lived, hardly anyone moved away let alone move in. So when we did get a new student (maybe once every two years) they got all the attention that I wished was towards me.

Debbie said...

Well told, Pearl. I also sometimes wished we'd move when I was a child so I could have all the attention of being the "new girl". It never occurred to me when I was small that there would be a downside.

Gigi said...

All that moving around gave you lots of ammunition for the blog though; didn't it?

SparkleFarkle said...

Whoa! You've given a whole new meaning to "gettin' your freak on"! By the by: I think I may have seen Uncle Buddy in the liquor section of my Sentry grocery store this morning. Breakfast of Champions, I'm guessing.

Cloudia said...

Great story, Pearl;
From one freak to another :-)



Aloha from Waikiki


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lisleman said...

very good point about who is the real freak. I know there is a song about this but I can't seem to come up with it's name.

24 Corners said...

I was a mover too Pearl...although I never thought about armless personages, just what it would have been like to have lived in the Barbie townhouse (with the elevator!) forever, I know, I know...but- hence my love of architecture and design! There's always a bright side...yours...I hope, was that you discovered that you *weren't* a freak, cuz you weren't!
xo J~

Lisa said...

I love checking in here for a good story. Oddly, just yesterday my youngest was watching Freaks. She saved it on the DVR during the annual Halloween showing and watches it when she's bored.

One of us. One of us....gooble gobble....

John McElveen said...

All those travels with no ties---NOW bring out the PEARL, from the grain of Sand! Swindled or not--You write what we who stayed behind never saw!

Thanks Friend!

John

Cheeseboy said...

They should have a freak show of just people that want to be freaks. Of course, we'd have to inject extreme amounts of roids into strange places.

I have such extreme writing envy whenever I read your blog.

Crystal Pistol said...

I'm with Cheeseboy on this. You gotz mad skillz, girl. I'm green with it. Jell-o to the max.

When I was a kid I loved the movie Big Top Pee Wee starring Pee Wee Herman. (This was before we discovered the awful truth about PeeWee, of course.)

I wished a circus would set up camp in my backyard so I could fall in Love with an entire family of trapeze artists and marry them and practice reverse polygamy.

the walking man said...

Shoot I have been living the freak show life since 1954, the cast of characters changes more often then underpants on a toddler but the freakishness never has gone away.

lesinfin said...

I so enjoyed reading this! Truly wonderful story!! And this is just awesome: "In my naively inquisitive and guileless head, there was nothing better than watching a limbless man roll a cigarette with his lips."
I can relate :) Happy Friday!
xoxo

Kristy said...

Oh, I love how you play with words and make me laugh! Love this:

In my naively inquisitive and guileless head, there was nothing better than watching a limbless man roll a cigarette with his lips.

Cake Betch said...

I have always wanted to see that movie!

vanilla said...

Well done, Ms. Aesop.

Susan in the Boonies said...

Great title! I think I'm definitely one of those suckers that are born every minute.