October 1999
s m u g
by Greg Knauss

Note: We are currently seeking solicitations for Mysterydates: Field reports from places most people don't go - like CONS, boat shows, livestock auctions, large public niche events. If you have something in your area you'd like to write about, please write the editor at leslie@smug.com

Carnival of the Damned

Ah, the carnival! That grand American institution of traveling amusements! The rides! The food! The teeming throng of good and simple folk, out for a day of excitement and fun!

And, of course, the vomit. Oh, the vomit.

If there's a consistent theme to any day spent at any carnival anywhere in the world, it's "the vomit." Vomit is fundamental to the carnival experience, it's primordial ooze. Vomit, both figuratively and literally, permeates the entire notion of a carnival, brought on by either the rides, the food or -- of course -- the good and simple folk who are out for a day of excitement and fun.

This is largely because "good" and "simple" aren't the only two words you can use to describe the people who attend carnivals. "Fat" and "sweaty" also fit.

I sometimes play a game with myself -- and you can just insert your own joke here, thank-you-very-much -- where the object is to come up with the most disturbing two-phrase juxtaposition possible, using only four words. Before attending the carnival, the best I'd managed -- after a particularly egregious lunch -- was:

7-Eleven / Chicken Salad

Of course, that was back when I was innocent and pure, suffering only mild intestinal cramping instead of blindness and insanity. After wandering the carnival a few hours, I declare the undisputed new champion to be:

250 Pounds / Halter Top

Carnivals tend not to attract your more elegant crowds. The phrase "I'm going out in public, I'd better take fifteen seconds to make myself remotely presentable" is apparently not part of the standard pre-carnival regimen.

Of course, maybe there's no reason to launder the grease stains out of that undershirt, Senator. I mean, the people who are already at the carnival aren't exactly the definition of elegance, either. Nor, it turns out, are they the definition of dental hygiene.

The carnies -- scrawny and bedraggled men running the rides and games -- have the single worst set of teeth, shared among all two dozen of them, I have ever seen. Their mouths were filled -- or, more often, not filled -- with the blackened, twisted, shattered remains of what I can only assume were once teeth. On the odd occasion when a carny -- not paid to be pleasant -- smiled at me, my first impulse was to flee to the comforting safety of the porta-potties. For whatever horrors these men share in their pasts -- and many wore POW/MIA pins -- time spent at the dentist's office was not among them.

Or maybe they just eat at work. Carnival food is significantly more "carnival" than "food." Heck, it's significantly more "serious health hazard" than "food." Where else can you get regret served on a bun?

One booth -- little more than a tent over a card table -- offered the uniquely carnivalesque experience of three-quarter pound kielbasas, wrapped in fatty bacon and sizzling on a hot plate. A bored woman sat on a lawn chair nearby, less than fully enthusiastic about her fly-discouragement duty. As I walked by, she called out, offering to make me one, a bargain at three bucks.

You get called out to a lot at the carnival. Enormous, creaking rides anchor both ends of the midway, and running the length of the fairgrounds between them are booth after booth after booth of games. This is apparently more scenic than trashcans where you simply drop money in.

There is an art to carnival barking, and -- teeth or no -- these men know how to touch every hot button hard-wired into your stupid, primate head. Walking from the Ferris wheel to the tilt-a-whirl is a quick trip back to junior high, where the right words were magic spells, incantations to get you to do impossibly dumb things.

"Win the lady a prize! Win the lady a prize! Can't go home without winning the lady a prize!"

"Easy, easy, easy! Anyone can do it! Try now and get two-ice as many shots!"

"These are not the droids you're looking for! These are not the droids you're looking for! Place all your money on the table and back away! C'mon now!"

It takes the heady mix of testosterone and pride to blot out the fact that the stuffed animal you're just blow twenty dollars trying desperately to win has a retail value of about two bucks. And is covered with a layer of dust, from hanging out all day. And is missing an eye. And is flammable.

What makes it worse is that the games are no longer rigged. Carnivals are now forced to advertise the fact that the three milk bottles you have to knock over with the feather-light softball weight four and a half pounds each, that the basketball hoops aren't exactly round. Now when you walk away muttering, it has to be "I'm an idiot" instead of "Damned things are fixed."

The games aren't the only thing than aren't fixed anymore -- the rides fall into that category, too. There is simply no way that these enormous steel structures -- assembled at night, in a hurry, by people who aren't completely unfamiliar with wood grain alcohol as a form of entertainment -- should whirl around the way they do. Half the kick from being on a carnival ride comes from noticing the bolt rattling around on the floor and wondering where it came from.

Of course, maybe a quick death is preferable to actually completing the trip. I and my inner-ear are of an age where being upside down is a bad thing, where "thrilling" and "nauseating" are pretty much synonyms. If I've accumulated any wisdom during my time at the carnival, it's that if you see something that has to be hosed out on a regular basis -- a carny spraying water into a carriage four or five times over the course of an afternoon -- it's something to stay far, far away from.

Because the last thing a carnival needs is more vomit.


in the junk drawer

feature car
ac/dc gun
compulsion vise
posedown cheese
and such
and such
blab fan

·feature· ·net worth· ·ac/dc· ·smoking jacket· ·ear candy· ·feed hollywood· ·target audience· ·back issues· ·compulsion· ·posedown· ·the biswick files· ·mystery date· ·and such and such· ·blab· ·kissing booth·

·contents· ·freakshow· ·fan club· ·archive·


copyright © 1996 - 1999 fearless media