Sunday, August 8, 2010

Baby Cried The Day The Circus Came To Town

Ah, late summer in Kentucky. Stiffling heat, smothering humidity, and an over-all sense that you may sweat yourself to death walking from your house to your parked car.  This glorious period of time is also County Fair Season, for reasons I can only guess involve paying back some sort of debt owed to the Devil himself.

I have never been a big fan of fairs or carnivals.  I never had to be warned by my parents that carnies were a dangerous lot of people.  From the first time I laid eyes on the workers of the carnivals that rolled into Hyden when I was child, I knew to avoid them.  They were pierced and tattooed in places people were not pierced and tattooed in the 1970's.  Most of them limped, if they even had all their limbs at all.  Those that did not have all their limbs did not use proper braces or medical equipment, they just stumbled along dragging a clubbed foot or hopping on one leg.  This was, at least, how I saw them.  If for one minute, anyone thought that these people could be responsible enough to set up and safely operate rides that went in excess of twenty miles an hour, then that person deserved to be flung into the river by a runaway Tilt-A-Whirl cart or missle-like swing.  I had a No Ride rule, and I strictly adhered to it.

Despite my No Ride rule, I always attended the fairs and carnivals that Hyden hosted.   Make no mistake, it was always a social function, and I was never one to shy away from a social outing.  It was at a local fair that I discovered my love for the game of Skee-Ball.  This is a game in which the player has 8 or so balls to roll up an inclined plane and off a ramp in hopes of hitting a target of holes in the center of circles.  The smaller the circle you hit, the more points you earn.  If you score enough points, you receive tickets from the game which can be redeemed for prizes.  It usually takes around 1,600,000 tickets for a plastic keychain.  My love of Skee-Ball runs deep and true. The carnie that introduced me to this game was a long-haired man who wore no shirt and could only move his left arm by taking his right one and basically flinging the left in the direction he wanted it to go.  For some reason, his name was Lefty.  One August in 1982, Lefty and I became great pals for a week, as I became completely and totally addicted to Skee-Ball.  During that week, I attended the fair every night and stayed until closing, ignoring all other games but Skee-Ball.  I won enough tickets that week to win a small, palm-sized stuffed animal.  As the carnies packed up and started heading out of town at the end of the week, I rode my bicycle down River Road to watch them leave.  Usually, I was filled with relief seeing these people leave my safe hometown, but this time I was a little sad.  I saw Lefty driving one of the trucks pulling the Merry-Go-Round out of the parking lot.  He noticed me, rolled down his window, and yelled "See ya, little buddy!" as he shoved his right arm under his left flinging it into the sky as a wave goodbye.  I remember hoping that the truck he was driving was not a standard shift vehicle.

I have only broken my No Ride rule one time, and that was years later at the Laurel County Fair in London.  My cousin Tracy, who has the same fears as I do about carnival rides, convinced me to go with her under the pretense of a free candied apple and a funnel cake.  Once there, she somehow decided that she wanted to ride a contraption called the Twisty-Turn.  I aruged that neither of us did such reckless things as ride carnival rides, and had she seen how fast it went?  I was sure it did not meet any safety codes and the man operating the ride had one tooth, one eye, and oddly enough, one shoe.  Tracy insisted that she wanted to ride it, that it looked fun, and that if I didn't I was a big sissy.  Because I always end up giving in and doing exactly what Tracy says, I agreed to hop on the ride. 

As the operator strapped us into the seat, Tracy made a point to say to the operator that she wanted the full experience of the ride, not to hold back, and then asked if he was winking at her.  With his only having one eye, he did not think it was funny, and I had already entered my "safety mode" which consists of looking straight ahead and saying nothing so I could not apologize to the man.  The ride then started slowly going through its motions.  We were barely creeping along when Tracy started screaming.  You would have thought she was on the Space Shuttle during liftoff.  As the ride picked up steam and really started its twists and turns, her yelling became wails and shreaks.  I said nothing and looked straight ahead.  Everytime our seat passed by the operator Tracy would alternate pleas of desperation and threats of death.  As we passed she would scream to him, "Lord, Honey, please let the Lord tell you to shut this thing off and let me off here!!"  The next time we passed by it was, "Stop this *&^!! right now, you @((#$#!!, !#%&$#*$*#, piece of @#($$$$!!"  I sat staring straight ahead thinking that a man with one tooth, one eye, and one shoe had our fates in his hands, and that I just hated Tracy.

Finally the torture ended and the ride was over.  We hopped off and walked to the exit of the ride area.  Under such duress, Tracy's mind had apparently allowed her to block out the entire experience as she looked blankly at me with her hair askew, mascara running down her face, and tear marks on her cheeks.  "How about a funnel cake?" she asked.  I wanted to just leave her there and go home, but it was funnel cake we were talking about, so I agreed.  We never spoke of the incident again, but I am sure that neither of us has been back on a Twisty Turn ride again.


  1. As a matter of fact, you are correct. I have never been, nor will ever be, on a Twisty least, not without you!

  2. Remind me to tell you about my own horrid experience with the Laurel County Fair!