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Thursday, April 4, 2013

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 last 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.

“Shhhh!”

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 (whirrrrrrrrrrrr) 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, mask-like, 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.”

29 comments:

Shelly said...

I always wanted to be Zambora. Or anyone in a side show.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
An early version of the chick with the church letter, methinks! Much more fun though.

Wonder what kids of today will be recalling; "remember that time you and I nearly died in that burn up in Super Mario?" or, "I saved my little brother from learning the facts too soon by poisoning Lara Croft"... Is there such a thing as innocence any more?

Pearl said...

Shelly, I can put in a good word for you. :-)

Yamini, that's a good question. I think there is -- I think children change very little -- it's only the influence of the parents that change. My parents would not have allowed some of the talk-back that I sometimes hear going on around me, but then again, there were children in my own childhood who behaved and spoke outrageously...

vanilla said...

You still remember Zambora; and I bet Kevin does, too!

Pearl said...

vanilla, I think few people forgot her. :-)

Christian at Point Counter-Point Point Point said...

And to think I almost named my daughter Zambora.

joeh said...

Loved this!

Very Jean Shepardesque

jenny_o said...

Technological miracle, I'd say. In the early stages of the craft. But still.

Pearl said...

Christian, :-)

joeh, thank you!

Jenny, oh, Jenny. I wish you'd been there!

Lorna said...

This is a phenomenon that I missed, having grown up in Hawaii till age 16, when we left for Southern California.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

oh, Pearlie - I swear - these posts from your childhood get better every time I read them. :)

Mitchell is Moving said...

Sounds to me like it was a good thing you only ALMOST got to see her top fall off.

wellfedfred said...

My pop did the same thing with names, dog and all. He terrified carnies. though.

Eva Gallant said...

I enjoyed this again as much as the first time!

Optimistic Existentialist said...

One of my grade school teachers was named Zambora :)

Daisy said...

Hahaha! Sounds like 50 cents well spent. :-D

I only have two sons, but I call out both their names when I want one of them. It is just easier that way.

HermanTurnip said...

Reminds me of a traumatic circus experience from my youth. I'm sure it was just a case of me being so small and the world being so big, where woman sported beards and barkers called me "Sonny Jim". If my dad hadn't promised me cotton candy I'd have never agreed to go.

Rose L said...

I can remember my dad chanting, "come one, come all, see JoJo the dog-faced boy. He walks, he talks, he crawls on his belly like a reptile." I never knew where that came from and never met JoJo.

Geo. said...

Enjoyable post! I went through a climacteric similar to Zambora's between the ages of 12 and 14, but have never operated a tilt-a-whirl and would very much like to.

Birdie said...

I wonder what would have happened if it got to the point of her top coming off. That is stuff that changes the direction of the universe.

Jo-Anne Meadows said...

Thank you for ending my blog reading today on a high note...........I enjoyed this made me smile and feel good inside............but then I have been feeling good and happy all day.............

Murr Brewster said...

"Over-taxed swimsuit!" You make my day. Most of them come pre-made, but they can always perk further.

River said...

My brother and I spent most of our carnival time following semi-drunk teenage boys who were trying to impress the girls and we'd pick up every coin and note they dropped. We weren't interested in the side shows at all.

The Savage said...

I know Carnies don't like it when you figure out one of their tricks. I didn't figure out the sledge hammer and bell bit. I got the scoop on that by working with a former Carny who was disillusioned of Carny life when states started passing the, "you can't bamboozle the kids" laws.
They still didn't like it, however, when I rang the bell all five times my five bucks allowed...

Esther Montgomery said...

What fun! Haven't come across anything like it. Sounds very nineteenth century. (How old are you?) Glad to know your dad was warning you against carnivals not carnivores. Thought for a while we had gone even further back - to the dinosaurs!

Jinksy said...

A bit of fairground fantasy, eh? :)

savannah said...

y'all are a real gem, sugar! LOL xoxooxox

Daisy said...

Can't stop laughing! Oh...the images in my head!

Reynolds Potter said...

I'm with Murr: "over-taxed" is memorable.