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Friday, May 25, 2012

And for a Small Fee, I'll Show You How to Make a Million Dollars in the Comfort of Your Own Home

Sure it's a re-worked post.  Doesn't mean I love you any less...

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.

38 comments:

Sioux said...

The freak is ALWAYS me. Earlier in the week we had a "pie in your face" fundraising event. Nothing more fun than getting the chance to throw a plate of whipped cream into your teacher's face...

After I was dripping whipped cream, and after the whipped cream had meandered in a trail down my shirt and into crevices where it clearly did NOT belong, not many people noticed anything different about me.

Just a normal day and a normal look for Sioux...

Pearl said...

Sioux, I would love to see a picture of that. :-)

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Well thanks Pearl.....that was a pretty well kept secret until now...now everyone knows.

Shelly said...

Pearl, were we sisters separated at birth??? I had a secret trove of freak books that I LOVED to read until they finally fell apart. I saw the same Fattest Man in 4th grade (1972) only he was eating a hot dog. It was at a fair down here in the springtime.

I once tried to get my little sister hooked up to my back to pretend she was my parasitic twin, but she didn't like it.

Pearl said...

Delores, :-) just us folk here, and I know we can keep a secret!

Shelly, love it. Do you know I went to Philadelphia a few years back SPECIFICALLY to see the conjoined twin exhibit at the Mutter Museum? :-)

Ms Sparrow said...

Awww, Pearl, we've all been there. The moment when you know you've been screwed by grownups from out-of-town.
I think it's a rite of passage for learning the ways of the world.

BamaTrav said...

Pearl, as we say in the Jedi Council, you have come full circle my young padawan.

Pearl said...

Ms. Sparrow, I remember it like it was yesterday. :-)

BamaTrav, And that's a good thing, right?! :-)

Simply Suthern said...

You are freakishly kind, funny, and talented. I would pay 2 dollars to see Liza bean drive.

joeh said...

I was the "New Kid" every 4 years. Always felt more geek then freak.

I would pay $2 to see the "World's thinnest fat man" any day.

Cranky

Pearl said...

Simply, oh, do NOT get into a car with that cat. Like many people, she THINKS she can drive, but her police record will show you that she cannot...

Cranky, ah. A fellow traveler. Send ME $2 and I'll send you a picture of the world's shortest giant. :-)

Saimi said...

We paid to see the 'Worlds' largest pig and the 'Worlds' smallest horse.

I wasn't impressed and, like you, felt swindled. So why is it that we as humans have such a freaky curiosity that draws us to gawk?

I actually felt sorry for the little horse and wished I could free it from it's humiliation.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I think we were seperated at birth again. I LOVED my book of freaks and their stories that I had as a kid. It was a 'Reader's Digest' published book when they did that kind of thing.

vanilla said...

The Carnie's role in life: teach the people a good lesson and relieve them of their cash.

terlee said...

When I was a kid I saw the Bearded Lady at the State Fair. It was really cool, long and curly.

Little did I know that years later I too could be a bearded lady if I stopped using the tweezers on my chin hairs!!

Shelly said...

I would love to see that museum some day. And, I need to correct myself. I was actually in 6th grade in the spring of 72.

You've inspired me. I think I will write a post one day about that time I tried to get my sister hooked on my back as my parasitic twin. She's still not happy about it-

savannah said...

who's looking at whom, right? am i inside or outside of the cage, sugar? today i am not sure. xoxoxox

Pearl said...

Saimi, I think we're just naturally curious. I regularly see a man with three fingers, three big fingers!, on the bus, and I always want to take a good look. I don't, but I'd like to...

Cal, I would so buy that book from you!

vanilla, exactly. :-)

terlee, I think there are more than a few of us just a cosmetologist away from just such a thing!

Shelly, excellent! And yes: Mutter Museum. Even their website is cool: http://www.collphyphil.org/Site/mutter_museum.html

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Sometimes I wonder if the freaks aren't really the mutant "perfect" people calling the rest of us freaks...

Pearl said...

savannah, oh, how true. :-) Looks are deceiving, and we are silly to believe a deviation from the physical norm indicates anything more than just that...

Pearl said...

Green Girl, you're gonna go all "Twilight Zone" on me here, aren't you? :-)

Shelly said...

Love the website. Just bought the cojoined gingerbread men cookie cutter. I am demented.

Leenie said...

We are all mutants just waiting to get admitted to Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Only my children know I have eyes in the back of my head.

Chantel said...

Ok, now between you and Shelly, I'm headed to the Mutter Museum website...cojoined gingerbread men sound AWESOME!

jenny_o said...

It must have been a soul-searing position for so-called freaks - make a living being gawked at, or not make a living at all.

Joshua said...

Freaks of the world, Unite! That includes Nerds like me.

fishducky said...

One of my all-time favorite books is "The Phantom Tollbooth". Among its characters are the world's shortest giant, the world's tallest midget, the world's thinnest fat man & the world's fattest thin man. You guessed it--they're all the same person!

Eva Gallant said...

After reading Terlee's comment, I realize I may have been tweezing myself out of millions! Or may tens.

ThreeOldKeys said...

... i have nothing to add to this discussion ... but how would you know that, if i didn't tell you ....

Marie said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Your blog is interesting! Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Belle said...

I can see why moving around from school to school would make you feel like a freak. I went to a new high school and hid in the bathroom stall at lunch for three months. I didn't know a soul there. I emerged when I finally made some friends. I don't know that I felt like a freak - just terrified.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Amen, Pearl. A-to-the-Men.
:)

Nessa Roo said...

I've been swindled, though to be honest, I should have thought it through when they advertised World's Tallest Midget.

Linda O'Connell said...

Many is the time I have been taken like a fool, the first time being when I was a kid and wanted to see the Baby Rattler in abox. It was a baby's rattle!

The Elephant's Child said...

Some days I do think I am a freak. And then I think again. Nobody would pay to see me, which I think is the fool proof freak test.

NellieVaughn said...

You're right. Sometimes it isn't obvious. My friend has a great story about an ex who appeared normal, but what a sweet transvestite, not from Transylvania.

Shea Goff said...

I just love you.

Susan in the Boonies said...

So true. I'm getting caught up on all my antique Pearls, since my Memorial Day hiatus.