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Thursday, August 4, 2011

We Later Saw Her Running the Tilt-A-Whirl

My father stressed the need for mental alertness.

“Patti, you gotta be alert," he'd say. "The world needs more lerts.”

My father, the man who rarely remembered our ages (“You're how old now? Really? Are you sure?”) also seemed to have trouble with our names. Patti (his sister), Karen (my sister), Kevin (my brother), or Bowzer (the dog): he’d run down the list until he got tired of it. “Patti – Karen – Kevin – Bowzer – whoever you are…”

I’m pretty sure he was kidding.

My father was full of advice, particularly where people who would take advantage of you was concerned.

“You gotta watch ‘em,” he would say. “Watch the carnies. They’re out to get ya.”

“Me?” I’d say.

My father would nod, sagely. “You, me, him” he’d say, blowing cigarette smoke toward the ceiling, “them. Everybody.”

He rarely steered me wrong, my father, but on the other hand, what did he know about modern carnivals? He was still upset over the two dollars he was separated from back in the 40s.

“Took my last nickel,” he’d say, hazel eyes burning. “My last nickel! Who does that to a kid?”

This was not a rhetorical question.

“I don’t know, Dad. Who?”

He pounds the kitchen table, the bitter taste of the loss of that nickel still in his mouth. “A carnie, that’s who!” He mashes his cigarette out in the State of Wisconsin ashtray, rises to inspect the inside of the refrigerator. “Rassin frassin cheaters,” he’d say, his voice muffled by leftovers.

So when the carnival came to town, my brother and I were first in line for permission.

“You wanna waste your money, you go right ahead,” Dad said. “How old are you two again?”

Ten, Dad. Ten and nine.

He frowned at us. “I guess that’s old enough to know which end is up,” he said. “Ask Mumma.”

Our parents were permissive, almost absent-minded folk, and that very weekend Kevin and I found ourselves in front of Zambora, The Ape Woman.

The outside of her tent is painted with progressively frightening pictures: From a Beautiful Woman to a Hairy Ape, we will Watch her Transform, Right before our Eyes! For fifty cents apiece, we will Experience Nature’s Terrifying Beauty! We will Behold the Horrible Power of Evolution!

“Horrible,” Kevin whispers.

“Terrifying,” I agree.

The inside of the tent is hot and wet, the floor a sodden mess of trampled grass, cups, cotton candy sticks and Midway ticket stubs. In a crowd made up almost entirely of men, we stand near the front so as not to miss a moment of spectacle.

A recording of what could only be termed “jungle sounds” comes over a tinny speaker and a rather plain woman in an over-taxed two-piece bathing suit takes the stage.

“Don’t you wish Mom was here?” Kevin whispers, grinning.


Zambora is speaking, strutting about the stage, and she seems angry. Who among us has the nerve, the verve (“the verve?” Kevin whispers, frowning), the guts to witness such a sight? Who do we think we are? Do we think we are better than she is? Have we come to mock her?! Behold the majestic powers of nature and tremble before her fearsome might!

The clicking sound (brrrrrrrrrrrr) of a film projector begins just moments before a deafening recording of tribal drums overpowers it. Zambora writhes with the agony of transformation, coming to a dead stop at the center of the stage. The wriggling she has done has caused the top of her swim suit to come fascinatingly close to losing its cargo. The projected image of hair appears on her body, short at first and growing longer. A cross between a skull and a monkey’s face is thrown, masklike, onto her face.

It is at this point that a man dressed as a policeman rushes into the tent, throws a blanket over Zambora and shouts things about decency and law.

We are hustled out of the tent by the barker, who makes a show of hanging a sign proclaiming "Shut Down by Order of Law" over the tent flap.

The crowd scatters, and Kevin and I find ourselves in front of the Two-Headed Snake Tent.

“Well,” Kevin says. “At least we almost got to see her top fall off.”


Will Burke said...

Did your dad always swear like Fred Flinstone?

Douglas said...

Are you sure Kevin was only 9?

Anonymous said...

"At least we almost got to see her top fall off." - That Kevin, always thinking.

Simply Suthern said...

Hopefully you didnt fall for the 6 foot man eating chicken.

I saw the transformation thingy one time long ago. Nobody could really see anything.

Pearl said...

Will, when he didn't, he said things like "Oh, sugar" or "Fudge!" Really.

Douglas, he always had a curious mind.

Joshua, that guy is STILL thinking.

Simply, I also saw the world's fattest man -- I've seen bigger guys on the bus.

vanilla said...

Pearl, or Patti, or whoever, your Daddy told you to be A Lert.

Pearl said...

vanilla, well I won't fall for THAT again. :-)

Teresa Evangeline said...

My God, this is funny. Love your title. I also recall a strip joint tent. It intrigued the heck out of us. They don't make carnivals the way they used to. Sometimes I miss the pre-PC days.

Susan in the Boonies said...

With my girlfriend, Chloe, it's the Gypsies (rather than the carnies).

She holds a lifelong fear of being sold to them.

Thank you, Chloe's Mom.

This was actually problematic for her when she went to Paris and encountered some real life Gypsies.

jabblog said...

I can understand children being taken in by wild advertising but adults?

Bossy Betty said...

I would have been right there with you.

powdergirl said...

Morning PearliePeggyPatti, I call my son's "Whoever you are", too. And sometimes, I call them "Hey, other kid". I love when you write about your family, especially your Dad, though Kevin made me laugh at the end too. Typical boy!
I'm going for a walk, thanks for the up-beat start to the day!

Eva Gallant said...

I remember carnie shows like that when I was a kid, but I was either to cheap to cough up the dough, or too chicken of what might be inside to ever venture in! I admire you and Keven for your intestinal fortitude!

Audubon Ron said...

Hairy boobage - horrifying!

Middle-aged Mormon Man said...

I think that lady works at the McDonalds in our Walmart.

Pearl said...

Teresa, thanks! And you know, it took me a very long time to figure out that the show had nothing to do with the “freak show” it was purported to be but actually a tease for the local men. The local men knew, but Kevin and I did not!

Susan, isn’t it terrible what people tell children?! I have a friend who was not allowed cheese as a child because her father had a fear that she would choke on it. Still doesn’t eat cheese! Hmm. Kinda the same thing, but not really. :-)

Jabblog, have you been to the U.S.? :-) Still, I think, in hindsight, that those men knew something that Kevin and I did not – that there was the chance that there would be more to this “show” than advertised…

Bossy, you wouldn’t believe how many books on physical abnormalities I’ve read!

Powdergirl, glad to put a smile on your face!!

Eva, in hindsight, we did plenty of things that perhaps we shouldn’t have. :-)

Audubon Ron, but still! Boobage!

Middle-Aged, :-) That reminds me: in the 90s there was a woman at a Perkins in central WI that had a full beard. Absolutely true.


what a story! almost a topless hairy woman and a two-headed snake - something for everyone! and the thing about your dad and your names - i'm going to show that little bit to each of my own adult children who almost on a daily basis remark that i do not know their names as i am frequently going through the list of them all, in an attempt to his the right one - they think i don't remember who they are - but i do and that's why i sometimes go through them all before i get the right one for that moment! ;)

neat post, lady!

Steadfast Ahoy! said...

the carnival comes to Port (where I live) every begining of July. The noise, the garbage and the mayhem go non-stop for four very long days. Since the kids quit throwing up on the rides, eating the junk and throwing up again, we never go anymore. I like the annual garden tours now. Much more serene.

Leenie said...

Thanks for the reminder of good things to come. Nothing beats this time of year when the world of weird comes practically to your front door---right along with the 200-pound-man-eating-chicken. Or six foot man eating chicken. Or the monkey in the box (that is a mirror). We love to be fooled. We love to scream. We love to throw up. There is good money in weird and puke.

Our fairgrounds is withing hearing distance so we can listen to the screams and the rodeo announcer way-way-way into the night. For half a week.

jenny_o said...

Kevin sounds like a pragmatic guy. Did you punch him?

Pearl said...

Gypsywoman, you know, you just can't take offense to the stream-of-consciousness list of names...

Rosemary, but are there semi-topless women?! :-) Maybe, huh? :-)

Leenie, you are my kind of gal!

jenny_o, I've often thought of punching Kevin, but he just puts a hand on my forehead and holds me at arm's length, laughing...

Shelly said...

Carnivals still kind of scare me!

R. Jacob said...

I am real surprised that you did not stop to see the world's largest midget, ( 6 ft. tall ) at the booth next door!

Kara said...

They had a sign, "Shut down by order of the law" all ready to hang, just in case?! You gotta admire those carnies for their adroitness if nothing else!

Linda O'Connell said...

That's as bad as the barker who said, "Come in and see the cage of baby rattlers." The quarter was gone before we could say hiss! The cage contained baby rattles. Your dad was right, whatever your name is.

Vapid Vixen said...

Carnies. Small hands. Smell like cabbage.
I like your Dad. He sounds like a hoot.

That Janie Girl said...

I know. That one incident is what warped you for life, right?

I had the same thing happen to me.

Well, not exactly.

But close.

HermanTurnip said...

"he’d run down the list until he got tired of it. “Patti – Karen – Kevin – Bowzer – whoever you are…”"

My dad does the exact same thing. And it seems that I've begun calling my son "Nemesis" and my cat "Tyler". I'm wondering if it's contagious?

Anonymous said...

Cool Story. Funny!


W.C.Camp said...

I owe you and Kevin my sincerest thanks as I always wanted to know what goes on behind Zambora's AMPLE mystery tents!!! W.C.C.

Belle said...

Fantastic story! And I just love your dad.

River said...

We didn't have any transforming ladies, we just had the usual fat woman, strong man and bearded lady. all quite boring really. The tattood man was interesting to look at, he'd make the snake on his arm look like it was wriggling up by flexing various muscles.

Monica said...

Love the way you and your brother did exactly what your dad adviced you NOT to do... sort of... something MY kids off course NEVER would indulge into... ;)

Crystal Pistol said...

I always enjoy the posts about your father. I like his style.

I too am a "permissive, almost absent-minded folk".

Your father gives me hope, 'cause look how good YOU turned out. :)

IndigoWrath said...

Hey Pearl! Well, at fifty cents each, that's half of the two bucks your dad lost. I hope you went on to squander the remainder and plenty more besides at the carnival making memories. Indigo

Tom G. said...

My how times have changed. I feel deprived, all of our carnivals were held by the local catholic churches, so booby-shows were not allowed, just gambling and liquor.

That's why I LOVE the state fair. The hairy cleavage is out walking the midway with the worlds fattest man, and the tatooed lady. It's like the worlds largest freakshow and it's all free! (minus the $5 admission I suppose)

Kelley said...

I am really laughing at the way they made hair grow on her. Laughing and throwing up.