Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Carnival Series ~ Chapter IV: Carnival rides, games, other unique attractions and Mark, who is Mark???

Trashcan covers! Creepy....

This is the part where I wish that I had taken photos.  Back then you could not take photos with your cell phone.  Lots of people didn't even own a cell phone!  I would have loved to show you photos of our games, but my colorful descriptions will have to do.  JB had been doing Wax Hands for quite sometime before I came along and he felt it was time to take his business on the road.  After September, Ocean City Maryland slows down, waaaaaaay down.  Living there year round is hard, not many jobs, not many tourists.  Many residents or summer inhabitants flee, until the next season starts again.  JB would take on house painting jobs to hold his family over the winter season, until he met us. 

"Wax Hands!  Color them, shape them, hold a flower for your loved one, fill them with plaster and get a perfect replica of your hand.  We wax babies, we wax kids and we wax adults - it's fun for the whole family."  EVERY DAY.  Hundreds of times a day I said those words.  I did get to listen to groovy, funky, fun music all day while working.  You would think being crafty, artsy and all, that I would enjoy running the wax hand stand. - not so much.  The wax was a special blend that JB ordered and had to be heated to a particular temperature, but I couldn't tell you what that temperature is because none of us knew.  The proper temperature was when the wax didn't burn your hand or too cold and clumpy.  The wax was heated using griddles (like the kind you make pancakes with) and cooled with ice water.  If the ice water wasn't cold enough, the wax wouldn't harden enough, but if it was too cold, you risked breaking the wax and it crumbling apart.  So you see, it was a science.  Not an art.  However, getting people to pay for them WAS an art.  JB was great at getting people to do them!  Big grin, blasting funky music, always had something funny to say......the kids walking past NEVER needed a reason to get one, Mom, Dad or Grandma had to be convinced.  Or it was the complete opposite.  Those were the screamers.  The kids so scared of being burned they cried and cried and cried.  Parents coaxing them, bribing them all the while.  Nobody was ever actually burned (besides us), mostly because we were always dipping our hands to show people how safe it was to do.  I did have the softest hands for two years!  JB always told me - I want to see you dipping your own hands all day, making new displays (we had shelving behind us showing all the different poses and colors), smiling and having a good time.  $5 a hand.  I loved doing babies, but they were also the hardest customers.  When we would remove the wax hand at the end, the customer NEEDS to relax their hand.  Babies, kids and even some adults had trouble with this, then we would need to start all long as I worked there, we only ever turned away two people.  Knuckle crackers, hardest wax hands to remove - when you crack your knuckles it makes your joints swell.  Best customers - deaf people.  When they see the "I love you" pose, it's immediate, they are handing me $5.  Learned some sign language to boot!!

"Monster Paintball!  Shoot some monsters!  Knock off a rat, win a prize."  This attraction was not my particular responsibility, however, I did need to help out at times and run the stand, clean up paint, reattach rats, monster masks or the like.  It was messy and slimy and DARK!  There were two booths made out of wood and each booth was painted black.  Each booth contained two motors spinning wheels full of styrofoam heads wearing monster masks.  Giant rubber rats were attached to each head and could be knocked off with an average of three to four hits or the occasional direct hit that would knock off a rat in one shot.  Everything inside the booths was lit with black lights - the monster heads and paint from the paint balls glowed - it was pretty awesome.  $3 to shoot 10 rounds or $5 to shoot 30 rounds.  Prizes were stuffed squeaky spiders, bats, snakes and the biggest prizes was a Gossamer - the big hairy red monster in the Bugs Bunny cartoons.  All prizes were based on the number of rats knocked off and bigger prizes were gained by trading up smaller prizes.  This game made $$$$.  It was a lot of fun, very groovy with the black lights, exciting to shoot a gun, but this game also has its down sides.  For one, it's dark in those boxes (they are only big enough to stand inside - think telephone booth) and a tarp creates a roof so you can't shoot over the boxes, everything is SLIMY from all the paint and there is a danger of being shot by paint balls from jerk customers who think it would be funny to cause you harm.  Periodically the rats need to be reattached to the heads, paint needs to be cleaned up and sometimes the masks need to be touched up or replaced on the styrofoam heads.  All in all, it was a stellar game and JB created it all on his own.

Those were our original games and we had others too,  Ping pong ball toss, Gone fishing (no live fishes and our kids games were prize every time - swords or princess wands) and the Rope ladder, they need no explanation or description. They were standard games and you have seen them at every carnival.  Unfortunately, I won't be going into the ins and outs of winning any carnival games or giving up any secrets.  This may disappoint some of you, but I have the Carny Code to uphold.


Meaning rules for behavior.  It's a different world on the carnival lot, for good reason. Let me explain. On the lot (as one Gibsonton resident said in a documentary about carny life) "You’re a stranger in every town you go, so we only have each other." The rule has been reinforced through experience since outdoor entertainment became organized in medieval times.

The townies draw that line, wherever you go. The fine upstanding church-going citizens of Anytown U.S.A. always look with suspicion on these odd people invading their town ... weird people who have no stake in the local community, who have no fixed address, who look like they just got out of prison yesterday, who certainly don't play by your rules, and who have come for the express purpose of getting your money. Surely they'll cheat you and maybe if you're lucky you'll get a stuffed bear.

There's good reason for the mutual suspicion. If you're a townie, you know, because the posters all say quite prominently, that the carnival is here today and gone without a trace tomorrow. If you're a carny, the locals have no reason to treat you fairly (you've got a pocketful of the citizens' money, surely the Chief of Police could find some infraction for which you could be made to give it back), and many of the things about you that make the locals suspicious are true.

On the other hand, the carnival is a setting where a person can work for a living even if he's lost most of the resources society likes a person to have. Try to get a job anywhere else when you've lost your moorings ... maybe you're not content settling down in one place, maybe the road is better than whatever you've left behind, maybe you've got a troubled past, maybe you're just not cut out for the nine-to-five life. All those things could be viewed as signs of a free spirit, or they could be marks of someone who's just not fit to be among decent people, it depends which side of the fence you're looking from.

So a carny needs some rules to be able to get along in such company: don't nose into anyones business, don't screw up anyones game, and when the trucks leave the lot all debts are paid. And you need to band together to protect yourselves (and to make a buck): don't give 'em your real name (after all, there was that little disagreement in the last town just a few miles away), and stand by your fellows (shout 'hey rube' and rowdy locals usually find that you have more and bigger and meaner friends on your side).

I'm sure I've forgotten something, but in essence that's "the carny code": it's us against the world, it's been that way for thousands of years, and it'll always be that way, so deal with it.

The carnival is exactly as "good" or "bad" as the locals want it to be. It can be a well-scrubbed family park, or a temporary "bad part of town".  The choice is yours.


When darkness falls, the ride lights go on, promising thrilling, mind blowing, screams of a lifetime.  Rides of any kind were always MY fascination.  Being with the carnival and being a girl, I could often schmooze a few free rides out of the ride operators.  The Zipper is my absolute favorite, Gravitron/Starship is fun, Round up was comparable, Hurricane/Himalayas is a rush and the Pharaohs fury/Pirate Ship is exciting (I can no longer ride this particular ride - maybe riding it too much threw off my equilibrium or something - I get very nauseous now)  There are so many other rides, but these are my go to rides since I was a kid.  Getting to know the ride operators is key in schmoozing a free ride and waiting till nightfall to ride so as to not be spotted as being with it (carny lingo for "I work at this carnival (or at some other carnival)." Generally pronounced "widdit!" Some claim that it is not really used at all, favoring "on the show" as the actual term. A carnival term not used in the circus. If I was walking down a midway and an agent or a talker tried to call me in I would say "with it," in other words "you're wasting your breath talking to me.").

Other unique attractions and my strange addiction.....sideshows.  Yes, I know.  Creepy, but intriguing at the same time.  Carnivals are the place for sideshows.  I have seen several different sideshows while traveling with the carnival.  Some were a big joke, like people sticking their heads through a hole in the table pretending to be snake boy and some were REAL.  I have seen the sword swallower, the reptile man with scales tattooed over every inch of his body and his tongue split down the middle, the fat lady, the bearded lady, the contortionist, the wolfman, I've seen people eat glass, eat bugs, hang weights off their body piercings, spit fire, swallow fire and women narrowly avoid swords while trapped in a box (I've actually seen the woman inside the box contorted around the swords - pretty cool and cost me an extra $5, but it was worth it).  My weirdest addiction (hardly anyone knows this, but now you will) is freak animals or still shows (carney lingo for (also called a museum show) an exhibition of stuffed freak animals, sometimes even a freak show using only photographs of famous freaks.)  I never missed seeing a freak animal show or museum, even if I had to pay for it.  I love the taxidermy, real or fake, there is nothing like seeing two headed ducks, cows with five legs and chickens with two heads.  Sorry if this grosses you out and feel free to judge me, but if I could, I would have an entire room filled with these oddities (because you and I both know that if I placed them throughout the house, people and my husband would think I had a problem - maybe I do....*wink)

And lastly, on to Mark.  Who is Mark?  I didn't know either, but the other carnies kept saying there he is and pointing him out.  "How do you know his name is Mark?", I asked somebody during my first week and was met with intense laughter, filled with snorts and deep belly laughs.  Mark (carny lingo for a townsperson you focus on as a victim. When a carny spotted a towny with a big bankroll, he would give him a friendly slap on the back leaving a chalk mark so other carnies would know that this customer had lots of money. Often the ticket seller would mark the 'mark.' The booth would have a high counter, above the average person's eyesight, and the ticket seller would short-change the customer, leaving the change on the counter. If the customer didn't notice or didn't count his change, the ticket seller would lean over to give him some "friendly" advice about the best attractions, putting his hand on the customer's shoulder to point him toward the show he simply must see, simultaneously dusting his back with chalk from a hidden supply. If the customer instead complained about the wrong change, the ticket seller could always push the remaining change to him and say "I told you to take it." And what do you do when you spot a mark? You "play" him - that's right, just like you play a fish. But a carny truism is, "Always leave the mark a dollar for gas." With gas money he can go home (you don't want him stuck there growing angrier with you every minute)) is a widely used term and is in every town.  Next time you hear Carnies talking about Mark, you know what they mean.

Read more about my travels with the carnival:
Chapter V: The people, the life and what I learned

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