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Stories from the 1981 Tennessee State Fair
By Spalding Gray

 

PT - 4

 

So they started this show, and we went in. They turned a tip, that is, they brought in enough people to start the show. The way they do it is by saying, "All right, I'll tell you what we're going to do. Since this is the first show of the day, we're going to ask our ticket seller to please take all the adult tickets and put them aside, and we're going to sell you children's tickets. That's right, half-price tickets to get this show going. Now I'm going to tell you something. It's like a sale, like any sale at Syms, at K-Mart, or Neiman-Marcus. If you come back a little bit later, you're going to have to pay double. You're going to have to pay for the regular adult ticket." This routine began to bring people in, and the show began with a not very good magician named Doc Richmond, who travels with his wife and often falls asleep while driving and crashes. His wife, Ruth, is always the one that ends up in the hospital. He never does. So his wife, Ruth, was not with him this particular time.

 

Meanwhile, Randy and I had started talking with Mrs. Perlow. Mr. and Mrs. Perlow run the freak sideshow and Randy was trying to get work there. She told Randy he could help run the blade box with the Rubber-Skinned Girl. She's not rubber-skinned at all; she just knows how to get in a box so the knives won't hit her when they stick them in. She's kind of a contortionist. The blade-box act needs help because the youngest Perlow son about twenty years old is too nervous to run the show by himself. He's a philosophy major, and he's not sure if he wants to be in carnival life. He chain-smokes Kool cigarettes and he's got the shakes. He's so ambivalent he doesn't even "talk" for his show; he uses a tape recording. While Randy helped steer the crowd to where they could look down into the box, I talked to Mrs. Perlow. She told me how the carnival was not making any money” No one's making any money this year” and how there's about to be a war, a limited nuclear war because the two Super Powers know that the only way they're going to make money is to kill off all the eighteen-year-olds. She said, "It's an old story but it's going to happen again."


After the Rubber-Skinned Girl, Popeye appeared and began his act. He was a little sloshed by then and he said, "All right, everybody, watch my right eye” and POP! out went the right eye about an inch. All the women in the audience began chewing on their dates' shoulders and looking the other way, getting real queasy. When he saw this, Popeye said, "Oh, don't you hug him so much, there. You gonna smother him. You-all can go neck after the show." Then he said, "You watch the left eye” and POP! out went the left eye. And then he said, "Now I'm going to ask you to look out. I'm gonna do the eyeball twist” and he popped both eyes out and rotated them. Then he asked for a woman volunteer from the audience to come up and stick out her palms while he popped his eyes out into them.


Now, after this comes "the blow." The "blow" is a small tent at the end of the big tent where a show is shown that isn't advertised outside. That's where the show makes some extra money. I asked Randy what the derivation of the word blow was, and he said, "Once the people see what's in the blow, it's time for them to go." I thought it had something to do with when they said, "Now we're charging an extra fifty cents," that everyone said, "Let's blow this joint, let's get the fuck out of here." Or it  had to do with the fact that Emmett the Alligator Man often gets so drunk that he "blows" his lunch. Those were the three derivations I could figure out. Well, Mrs. Perlow came out dressed in a stylish light green pantsuit outfit. She's a very handsome, together, smart woman. She even owns a gun. A .22 revolver that she keeps in her Wolverine. It's got a pearl handle. Mrs. Perlow came out and said, Right now, like all traveling organizations of this kind, we too have a extra, added attraction. One that was not mentioned on the outside, one that we take an extra charge for but, hear me out. ... Everyone began to grumble a little bit.


... Hear me out, and then make up your minds whether you'd like to pay a visit or not. Behind this curtain, on a high elevated stage under bright lights is a human being so strange that, should it appear on your downtown street, this city or any other city would experience the worst traffic jam it has ever seen. Now, when you pay this attraction a visit we have one request to make of you: when the garment is removed from around this body, and this body is shown to you as plain as you see the palm of my hand, please do not laugh or make any snide or vicious remarks, as he could no more help being born in this condition than you can help having blue or brown eyes, black or blond hair. Now, as I told you, there is an extra charge. Its fifty cents. You walk through this doorway and come out the same way you came in. You miss nothing on the center stage we pause for a brief intermission so push your way forward to the young man.... Her youngest son was standing at the door making change....If you need change he'll make change, but try to have the correct change whenever possible. Now it's real, it's alive, it's a human being. Something you won't see on television, something you won't see in your local neighborhood theater, something you may never have the opportunity to see again. When you come back out, you'll see the feature of our show, Priscilla the Monkey Girl. You'll see the funny old magician, you'll see the Popeye Man, you'll see them all!


We walked in and there, on a high elevated stage under bright lights, was this chair that looked something like an electric chair. And Emmett the Alligator Man strolled out, rather elegant in a bathrobe and slippers, climbed the steps to the stage, and began: We are going to continue with our never-ending program here at the circus sideshow. First of all, if you'll bear with me a moment or two, please, while I disrobe, I'll tell you all about myself.  Then, because it was very cold that particular night, while he was taking off his bathrobe he cracked a little joke. He said, By the way, when is it going to snow? It's about time to. It's getting cold enough for it.

 

And no one laughed; because they'd been told not to, outside. As he took off his robe you could see that he is indeed like an alligator man. His entire skin is covered with scales. He has no sweat glands. And he said, limbo, and I decided to go plug my ears with toilet paper. So I went into what was loosely called the Men's Room, which was a cement bunker. I was overwhelmed. I couldn't imagine doing anything in that room. It was about a quarter-inch thick in beer and piss. It had a couple of big open urinal troughs, and three toilet booths, and a lot of men hanging around very drunk, falling down. I plugged my ears with toilet paper, ran back to the truck quickly, and then pulled into my sleeping bag. Then I couldn't sleep after about an hour because I had to take a pee, and Midnight Madness was going full swing, and it was very cold. I couldn't imagine getting out of the truck, but I couldn't find an empty jar. So I was ravaging through everything in the truck and finally I found the rolled-up Schlitz poster. I opened the back window of the truck and put the Schlitz poster out and....

To be Continued

 


Special Thank to Kathleen Russo, the Estate of Spalding Gray and www.spalding.com official website of Spalding Gray

All stories are re-printed with the permission of the Estate of Spalding Gray

All stories are copyrighted © Spalding Gray & Spalding Gray Estate and posted here with their expressed permission,


 

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