Monday, September 04, 2006

The Last Sideshow? Part 2

I shouldn't need to tell you, but if you haven't read part one, this part two will not make much sense. Part three should appear in about a week.

I am not the only one heeding the call of the sideshow banners. The banner line seems like it dropped out of its time and into ours and, thus, draws many gawkers. Little do they realize that the artwork is just the worm on the hook.

Under the center banners is the bally stage and what fish the banners didn’t reel in, the outside talker will. First please remember, if you want to be “with it,” don’t call them barkers. Call them outside talkers, spielers, or just talkers. Second, you need to know a “tip” in carnival lingo is a crowd of people. The talker’s job is to build the tip, freeze the tip, and then turn the tip.

Building the Tip

I walk closer and a small crowd forms up front, loitering, more away from the bally stage than to it. But, they are waiting, almost coyly, slightly tilted toward the stage in anticipation. Their wait will be brief; the talker wants to draw them in.

“Free show, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to have a free show right here. Right here on our front porch.”

The operative word being free. The crowd enlarges, but still steps away.

“We have a gentleman here who claims to be an escape artist. Well, I believe that. He evidently escaped to be here at the fair today. And, today he is going to escape from some chains. We’ll see if he can do it. Everybody come right over here and where you can see this and watch what we are going to do.”

The crowd still growing hypnotically follows their orders and moves forward.

“First, I’d like to tell you that this gentleman is Mr. Ralph DeMarco and Mr. DeMarco is a professional escape artist. Generally, he escapes from being trussed up in a straightjacket, suspended underneath a helicopter, but because the weather is rather inclement and unpromising. Today, instead of escaping from under a helicopter, he is going to escape from these chains. I am going to ask everyone to come right down here in close, because I am going to ask these young ladies here and this young gentleman to examine these chains. All solid? The chains are real, nothing trick or magical about them. This is not a magic trick.”

Of course, the women are satisfied that those are real chains and locks. Although there is something magical about them, they are a standard magician’s escape set-up. DeMarco let the audience members lock the chains around his wrists.

“Now, he is locked and cannot get free, but I will count to three and in less than thirty seconds he will escape, completely and thoroughly and freely. We’re not going to cover him up with a scarf. We are going to let you see him make this escape and I think it is something that will amaze you.”

The hook is now partially set, but now he will sink it in a little deeper.

“While he is getting all ready, I have a little man I am going to bring over here. Poobah, come here. And I want everyone to come a little closer because this is just a tiny little man, he has a tiny little voice, he refuses to shout at people because he says that’s just not polite. So please show him that courtesy, I thank you very much.”

Notice, he repeatedly brings the crowd in closer, but he always gives them a reason to move in. People will not just move closer because you ask them. They will move in if they see it is in their best interest. Moving them in also allows more people to fill in behind and force the inside group to stay for the whole story.

“Now I want you to meet this young man because he might be familiar to some of you.”

He is familiar to me, at least. Poobah or Pete Turhurne is a 76-year-old fire-eating midget. The story goes that Poobah was the youngest of all the 122 little people in the movie The Wizard of Oz, now he is the only one still performing. This statement elicits gasps from some in the crowd. He learned to eat fire when he performed in the 1966 Broadway musical, Carnival with Jerry Orbach. He is one of the people I am here to meet.

“And this afternoon, Poobah, will you eat the fire for us? Okay, he said he will do that for you, right out here. Now, we have the gentleman completely chained up, locked in there. Here are the only keys. I am not going to give them to him. I’m going to keep them right here, far from his reach. And, in a moment, I am going to count to three. He will escape from the chains and Poobah is going to eat the fire. Now these are only two...”

On the stage, a man has his wrists bound in chains and, we are to believe, at any moment he will attempt an escape in full view. There is also a three foot seven and three-quarter inch tall 76-year-old man with two burning torches that he will place in his mouth. You are surrounded by a crowd.

Where are you going? No where. No way.

Guess what? You are part of the tip.

Ward Hall just completed step two.

Consider yourself frozen.

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