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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We Later Saw Her Running the Tilt-A-Whirl...

This is not what I wrote for today -- it seems to have disappeared!  Enjoy this re-post from August 2011 while I try to figure out what happened to what I wrote last night...  

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.”


Shelly said...

I always wanted to be part of a carnival sideshow, but didn't have anything odd enough about me. Now, though, that middle age is working its wonders on my body, it might be a different story.

Buttons said...

Oh you make me laugh every time. Your Dad was very wise though:) . My Dad always called me someone else I find myself calling my daughters by my sisters names maybe it is genetic. Lucky me and maybe you?
Hope you find your post I hate when they get eaten by Google. B

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

rassin frassin cheaters

Bossy Betty said...

Love it!!! Hey, anything the cops bust in on is my kind of scene. Sigh. I miss "Cops."

P.S. Bitey took your post you are looking for. He thought it was for scratching.

joeh said...

SOmetimes just witnessing the scam is worth the 50 cents. Wasn't your Dad in that Gene Shepard movie "The Christmas Story"

Also some of your stories have a "Shepardesque" tone. Were you a fan? Or was he only on NY radio.

My mom got the names mixed up as well. She always got the one she wanted last. "Jim, CHris, Joe" meant she was calling me.

love your posts

TexWisGirl said...

laughing at the 'show'. but what got me in this post was your use of the word 'mumma'. my sister still refers to our mother this way... must be a wisconsin thing.

Pearl said...

Shelly, we may have spoken of this before, but you know I've always wanted to be a sideshow freak. :-)

Buttons, I have it saved at home, but how confusing!!!

Delores, confarn it!

Bossy, :-) Scratchin' post.

joeh, I think Shepherd must've been a NY thing. And I'm going to take that as a compliment. :-) Now off to look him up...

TexWis, I wonder! I think it's a Scottish thing, too...

Ms Sparrow said...

Now we are left with the yearning for the post that has been denied us! What have we missed?

Pearl said...

Ms. Sparrow, it's saved at home and will probably be posted tomorrow. :-)

Simply Suthern said...

Havent been to a fair since the Dunking tank guy got me all worked up and threw out my arm.

bill lisleman said...

Your intro disclaimer and then "...mental alertness" in the first line had me off to laugh from the beginning.
I suspect you back then you would not of said "dress as a policeman" but then you were a lert so who knows.

Joanne Noragon said...

My nephew did run off with a carnival, slightly after the age of majority. His stories might fill a book, but only if he told them.

Still love this one.

Joanna Jenkins said...

Grrr to Blogger for losing your post. I hate when that happens.

Sorry I've been away for so long but I just spent 30 minutes catching up and am still laughing about the fuzz in the back of your fridge. I'm pretty sure I have some too.

xoxo jj

Jacquelineand.... said...

Ah yes, the name game....

My gramps could run through all the kids and grandkid's names and still manage to get it wrong, lol.

Kana said...

The Alaska State Fair happens over my birthday weekend every year, and this year I took my crazy room mate Riley, who is delibilitatingly prone to conpiracy theory. In his world, EVERYBODY is out to get you. Walking around the fair with him was tightrope walk of his commentary making/ruining my birthday. He and your dad oughtta get together. And we oughtta film it.

Indigo Roth said...

Hey Pearl =) I love this one, it's wonderfully evocative. Indigo x

Susan Kane said...

I always wondered where "a-lert" came from in your blog. That is one awesome story. Gotta love the carnies. They made summers memorable.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

When you published this in 2011...that was how I learned that the sideshow "freak" acts use projected images. Now I never have to waste my money going to one.

Bodacious Boomer said...

When I was growing up our dad always took us to the carnival and the sideshows too. Now we can just see all those people on TLC and Discovery Health.

It saves us a ton on cotton candy.

Stephen Hayes said...

I wonder if those guys bursting in and shutting down the show were actually part of the show.

Belle said...

I love this story. Your father kills me.

I remember my father telling me the same thing. Don't trust those guys. I was pretty scared of them but of course I had to try to break balloons and throw dimes in a pretty dish. Never won anything.

R. Jacob said...

ladies and gentlemen
here he is
the world's tallest midget! Tadaaaaa!

and so started my journey into the world of show biz!

jenny_o said...

My parents never had to worry about carnies taking advantage of me. I was only too happy to fork over my money for the privilege of betting on Oscar the mouse. Although when I reached the age of reason and realized they were running Oscar (all of the Oscars, actually) to exhaustion, I never went back. Mouse-torturers!

There are such wonderful lines in here. Hope you can extract your slippery post from wherever it's gone :)

Fragrant Liar said...

Yes. Carnivals and carnies as metaphors for life. That about covers it. ;-)

Jocelyn said...

I'm just worried about what you wrote last night--and how you're dealing with the frustration of having put in that time on something new...only to have it disappear.

Screaming on your behalf here,
I remain,

Rose L said...

I have never seen a carnival other than one the parents put on at our elementary school. I missed out!!

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Oh, I hate it when my swimsuit top becomes "fascinatingly close to losing its cargo."
Always love your family stories, Pearlie.

Suldog said...

Great stuff. I don't know if I commented on this when it originally ran, but if I did this may seem like deja vu all over again.

I was a carney for a year. I won't go into that story in detail here - I've done so at my blog - but I will tell you that I knew the woman who did the ape-girl gig at our shows. She was the daughter of a fellow who ran one of the midway games. She invited me to see the show one night and it was fascinating to see the reactions of the people watching. Some were blase, expecting to be ripped off and seemingly delighted to be proven correct. Most were entertained by it and didn't complain even though they knew it was a scam. A few, perhaps slightly short of fifty-two in their decks, were genuinely frightened once the "transformation" had taken place. They ran from the tent before they could get hurt!

Eva Gallant said...

Rassin' frassin' carnies!