“Where Are the Real Carnies?” By Chris Zito

We took Vince to the Marshfield Fair over the weekend. He liked the farm animals and the rides. We found out he loves corn dogs (of course he does, I’m raising, a red blooded American, not an al Qeada member!) .


“Corn Dogs taste horrible, Atef!”
“So true, Osama. And they’re bad for you too!”


Most everything was as expected at the fair. The food was overpriced, there were plenty of chintzy prizes up for grabs, and the kiddie rides looked like they were last inspected during the Eisenhower administration.


Don’t worry, they wouldn’t let kids on it if it weren’t safe. Right, honey?

I first noticed the change when we stepped up to the dart/balloon game. The kid running the game couldn’t have been sweeter to Vince. He looked at us and said, “It’s usually 3 bucks for three darts, but I’ll just let him keep throwing until he wins something.”

Wait. What? What about, “wouldn’t you like to win the little lady a prize?” What about questioning my manhood if I wasn’t willing to waste $20 trying to win a 75 cent tiny teddy bear made under horrendous working conditions in a far off land? Nope. None of that. This guy had a clean shirt and a nice smile (you read it right, a mouth full of teeth).  He helped Vince kneel on the counter, showed him how to throw the dart, and sure enough let him throw until he finally hit a balloon. Vince walked away with a little blue bear and I walked away wondering what universe I was in.


Step right up! Stay in school! Just say no! Brush twice a day!

We had a similar experience at another game. Vince walked away with a cute little penguin and damned if the operator hadn’t helped him along and seemed genuinely happy that the kid had won something. The guy was so sweet and gentle I almost asked him he was available for babysitting.


When I’m not sleeping under the Tilt-a-Whirl
I’m available to look after your little tyke.

This went on all day until finally we came upon the last vestige of the great Carny Tradition. He was operating one of the kiddie rides, a train of some sort.
I pictured him putting it together with the classic Carny tool kit: half a pair of pliers and a steak knife with a broken tip.
He was about 6’2″, 150 lbs. He needed a shave. Some of his teeth, what were left of them, were yellow. The others looked breaded and ready to be fried.
He had a tattoo that read, “Born To Hit On High School Girls.”
He smelled like he had splashed on some cigarette and gin cologne that morning.
He rolled his eyes as the moms tried to pile their kids onto the ride.
When it was over and Vince tried to give the man his ticket, the Carny waved him off as if to say, “Kid, I could care less if The Man collects a dime today.”


Last of a dying breed.

I wanted to shake the man’s hand, but we didn’t have any sanitizing gel with us so I didn’t risk it. This guy had single-handedly brought back my faith in the danger, the drama, and the sheer thrill of the Carnival. If you can’t take your kid to a fair and wonder if the guys working there are convicted felons and registered sex offenders then this isn’t the America I grew up in. Thank God.

Thanks for reading. Tell your pals.
Chris Zito

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27 Responses

  1. Glad to have stumbled across your blog … great way to start a Monday … this is funny, funny stuff!

  2. Well, it sure wasn’t “Something Wicked this Way Comes” by Bradbury, was it? Vince must have been over the top!! What was the final take? (Great post, btw)

  3. Too funny!!! Yes, the last guy you encountered is defiantely the type I remember from the carny days of my youth! Guess they do background checks now?

  4. haha brilliant- I am glad you managed to find the last remaining traditional carny. I remember being 13 (and looking younger) and having the old carny men trying to get me and my friends into their caravans… oh the good old days!

  5. If you’re ever in need of a “carny fix” head over to us in the UK – we’ve still got ’em. Chances are you’ll get to see them fighting a group od local kids for stealing their girls…

  6. Great Post! This blog has really brightened up my day.

  7. Carnies should never change – it was part of the experience for all of us – part of the fun and certainly a big part of the memory.

  8. “If you can’t take your kid to a fair and wonder if the guys working there are convicted felons and registered sex offenders then this isn’t America I grew up in.”

    Hilarious perspective!

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalspins.com

  9. This was hilarious! It brought back memories of the time we went to the fair and my 7 year old brother learned what a Carnie was. From that day on, whenever someone asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he proudly replied that he planned on being a Carnie.

  10. Was almost “with it” myself; only worked one season. Carnies are definitely a colorful group. The loss of teeth has a lot to do with opening bottles with one’s teeth, something I quickly learned (but not good for teeth enamel). Taking cold showers with a hose in an upside-down ticket booth, shorting out the main generator, partying all-night, touching my finger to a 440-volt electrical connection, eating 5 or 6 times a day, getting the clap, climbing to the top of rides, driving all night, and working my ass off are some of the things I remember. Of course, there was the shoot-out-the-stars guy who liked cracking a whip at people, the motorcycle guy arrested, at gunpoint, for riding his bike around the fairgrounds track one night, the narc whose badge ended up in a crane claw game, locals in Skokie pushing dope to us, the sadistic foreman who kicked a man in the head, gay toothless Lester, and the space cowboy (boy, was he spaced). Few stay in it for life.

  11. thanks for the laugh!

  12. Oh carnies. How I miss living about a block away from the Canadian Legion property where they held a carnival every summer in my hometown. It was a fantastic experience to jealously hear the sounds and smell the food wafting across the open field to where the flashing lights of the rides went on into the night. But oh, the day that my parents decided it was carnival day…joy of joys! That was the day I lived for. I never understood the carnie mystique…not until I was older at least. And now, I can’t get the image of Joe Dirt running the ride at the fair out of my head. Thanks for the smile…

  13. Absolutely hilarious post. We’ve sort of paved over most of the country at this point. Carnies are all that’s left. They are the Wild West.

  14. Just when I was thinking blogging is all about the same old stuff… I like you sense of humour. I like the anarchic feel to your writing.

  15. I like the way you write, very cute, I love the picture of you and the kid, but what does Osma Bin Laddin have to do with anything?

  16. Lmao! very funny!!! Loved the pics! ;o)

  17. I don’t generally reply to content but I sure will in this case. Truly a big thumbs up for this one. I am really glad to have stumbled across your blog …

  18. Sorry to gush, but this post was so cleverly put together, I had to “take a gander”…& they’re all this good!

    Zito, your bizarre use of photos and strangely fitting captions is just subversive, and I mean that in the best possible way.

    (I’m now trying to imagine how you’d do stand-up without it. Or could you do stand-up Powerpoint?)

    Well done.

  19. Love the wide angle fair images..
    .
    …I once shot a doco-movie on a fair in a small village in the Palatinate at the Rhine in Germany.

    My own family being loosely related to the carnie people, I got a glimpse in to this world and love to see your American Version of it. Super funny!

    Thanks for sharing.

  20. Eager Aggregation! This blog has really brightened up my day.

  21. I like this site! Nice images i posts!

  22. Awesome! I’m so glad you have a blog!

  23. awesome stuff! great images.

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