In the summer of 1971 I was down and out in Miami and I answered an ad in the Newspaper, a guy wanted someone to drive him to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to join up with a traveling carnival. Well that sounded like a grand adventure to me and much better than flipping burgers, so I called him and got the job. One week later I am running a carnie joint called The Crazy Ball.
Crazy Ball was pretty straightforward and not a rigged game. It just had bad odds. And after all these years I can still spout my rap. “Crazy Ball on your color, take your choice, you pick the color, the ball picks the winner. When that ball lands on your color, you take any prize, any prize you see, any prize you like, any prize your little ole heart desires. Right here at the ole Crazy Ball, largest winner on the Midway. Crazy Ball!”
The learning curve in the Carnival for this very naive, Tennessee boy was high. Every night the owner came around to each joint to collect “patch” money. This payola went straight to the local police department to help patch things, if anything went wrong. And they often did. The Wild Man from Borneo (who was actually from Puerto Rico) and who swallowed live frogs and chickens in the Geek show, went into town and drank a bit too much and his hat got knocked off. His 3′ long pony tail came tumbling out and some locals thinking he was a dreaded HIPPIE, jumped him and cut off his hair. He in turn pulled a knife and stabbed three of them.
I soon found out that the Fat Lady was really a Fat Man. None of the girls in the Girlie Show were actually female. A fact that I was at first reluctant to believe and that I am quite certain never entered the minds of the fine male citizens of Iowa. We had many draft dodgers from the Vietman war working the rides. There were some mentally disabled adults who were virtual economic slaves of the carnival. On many nights I watched some poor guy (also known as a rube) get conned out of large sums of money in rigged gambling games. And surprise, surprise, a lot of this money was not reported to the IRS.
When I returned to college in the fall I wrote a Sociology paper based on my experiences which I entitled “The Carnival, A Marginally Legal Work Activity”. I must confess that I learned more about life that summer than I did during the next three years pursuing a higher education at a fine university.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.