Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Last Sideshow? Part 5

Okay, I admit the ending to part 4 was a little heavy handed. Outside, fantasy is sold on the bally stage. Inside, under the red and blue striped canvas, the show is the reality. The traditional freaks advertised no longer work the show. They are surgically “repaired”, surviving on disability or working the Iowa call center for Verizon. These days the tent shelters “working acts”, these are magicians, fire-eaters, sword swallowers, jugglers, contortionists, etc. But, let’s go in...

Entering the tent, I see red, no, not from anger. The inside of the tent is dark. What little light the gray skies emit on the outside filters through the red of the tent hanging a bloody pall in the air. The light lacks the strength to penetrate the blue of the alternate stripes. Those stripes morph into the black of an aging bruise.

The floor is a concrete slab. It is damp and pot marked with small puddles. This is not pleasant, but an improvement, one day earlier I would have been standing in a foot of water. A hail and tornado generating storm closed the first day of the fair. And, not wanting my head caved in by a baseball-sized piece of hail, kept me in my hotel room that night.

Running the length of the back of the tent is a long, narrow stage. On display, from end to end, are ominous cabinets their forbidden contents hidden by glittery curtains and menacing contraptions sure to be put to no good use. In front and a step down from the main stage is a smaller platform, about 10 feet wide and 5 feet deep, it holds one box, a coffin painted red and black with oriental dragons. Seating is not provided, the audience, numbering about a dozen currently, stands in front of that stage. They watch as a tattooed and heavily pierced girl removes several large spatula-shaped blades from the coffin.

Although outside repeatedly I heard since “I was in line, I was in time” but the “coffin” is one of the greatest blow-offs in sideshow history, the Blade Box. This is the end of the show. Yet, it is also the beginning. This show goes on and on and on. They are doing a continuous sideshow. Meaning from the start of the day to the end the day, excepting an hour meal break, the show never ends. We can roughly estimate: they are performing around 50 half-hour shows a day. On the bally stage, they repeat the talk around six times an hour that is 72 ballys in a twelve-hour day. To quote the show, “stay, when you see an act twice, you know you’ve seen it all; you can leave.” Think about that the next time you bitch about the length of your workday.

After the blades are removed, a slender, tattooed and, somewhat disturbing, blonde jumps from the box and takes a bow. She and her partner turn the stage over to the first act, Professor Chumley, the human blockhead.

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