I Was a Teenage Blockhead!

Part 3

by Walt Hudson  

 

I would like to start out by thanking all of the great people that have given their permission to use this story and their artwork in our "Good Old Days" section on Sideshow Central. I would also like to take a moment to let you know how it all came together.

 

Walt Hudson emailed me and offered to let us use his story "I was a Teenage Blockhead".  In returning his email I thought I should contact James Taylor since this article appeared in his publication Shocked and Amazed Vols. 2, 3 & 4 http://www.atomicbooks.com/43/shocked/index.html. James also gave his permission.

As I was reviewing the article, I really felt that the original artwork would be as important to the article as it was in the original publications.  So I contacted the artists and have received permission from Mark Frierson, Robert Kathman and Nicolas Wm. Aumiller to use their illustrations. 

 

John Robinson


 

"I Was a Teenage Blockhead" 

 Reprinted with permission of 

Walt Hudson, James Taylor, Mark Frierson, Robert Kathman and Nicolas Wm. Aumiller.

 

When last we left our hapless hero, Walt Hudson, he had become the only 16 year old with his very own two-headed pickled punk. Well, okay, a bouncer, but he did get his little gift after one of his friends, Muscles the Indestructible Strong Man, was brained by the owner of the freak baby show for trying to force himself on the owner's wife. Walt had already survived the death of Mr. King, the show's big snake, he learned all about gathering a tip, found out that a workaday tattooed woman can be the blow-off to the show if you pitch the act right (and if you've got nothing better to give the marks in the annex), and discovered sex on the midway in the form of the Wild Jungle Girl. Not bad for a kid working the show every day after high school. Rejoin Walt now as he readies to hit the road again and become the human blockhead he was born to be.

 

 

               It would be difficult and unlikely for an outsider to roam about without being

noticed or heard. Every one felt
uncomfortable thinking that the thief
was one of our group.

 

In our final installment, we rejoin oar hero as Tessie the tattooed girl and Mazie discover they have been robbed. Who could have done such a terrible thing? Could it have been the half and half Lorry-Lorraine? Was it the Gypsy fortune teller? Perhaps it was the senior citizen high diver? Will Walt solve the crime before he has to go back to high school?

"What? When?"

"It must have been last night after we closed. Mazie. Rose and I went over to catch Grandma Carver's high diving act. I must have left the trailer unlocked. I can't remember."

Mazie joined in, 'They took all of Tessie's money. About a hundred dollars. I had my money hidden so they didn't find it."

Tessie and Mazie left to check with Rose to see if anything was missing from her trailer and I stayed to wash and shave. When I finished. I left the trailer and found Emma, Doc, Tessie and Mazie talking to Rose. Rose had also been robbed, probably around the same time as Tessie. Doc and Emma were in their trailer and Grace was in hers, so they were not disturbed. Rose had a dog tied outside her trailer who constantly barked at strangers so whoever broke in had to be known to the dog because those in the other trailers did not hear any barking. Rose said she lost quite a bit of money and, although she never said how much, I know she was always giving private readings and made out well financially.

The way our cars, trucks and trailers were arranged, close together, in back of our tent, it would be difficult and unlikely for an outsider to roam about without being noticed or heard. Everyone felt uncomfortable thinking that the thief was one of our group. During the rest of the day when two or more of us got together the conversation turned to the missing money.

When we opened on Monday, it seemed everyone was pissed off. Mazie and Tessie had a lover's quarrel and were not speaking to each other. Doc Williams was complaining fiercely to the carnival's owner about a show that was booked and placed directly across the midway from our ten-in-one.

"What the hell's the idea of booking another ten-in-one on the same show?" Doc was roaring as I walked into the tent.
"Now calm down, Doc," the show owner replied. "It's not the same show as yours. It's a five-in-one and much smaller than your show. They have no freaks and won't be competition for you. The fair committee insisted on at least five live shows, so we booked them along with a torture show."

I left the tent while they were still arguing and went over to check out the new show, "Strange Girls".

The show was operated by a guy and featured his wife and two teenaged daughters. He had two fully illustrated 8' by 10' banners on either side of the bally platform. Inside at one end of the tent was a platform where all the acts were presented. These included sword swallowing, dancing on broken glass, the iron tongue act, a snake charmer and a bed of spikes which was the only act that was a duplicate of ours. The Girl In the Fishbowl was used as a blow-off.

I walked over and introduced myself and found Ricki Wiski and his family, who were from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to be very friendly. The mother, Micki, appeared to be young enough to be the sister of her two daughters, Nicki and Vicki. All three gals were voluptuous lookers and I was sure the show would do good business. The sisters seemed interested in what I did in our show.


I told them I would introduce them to Bobo and when I described his pin cushion act they were fascinated.

 

 

Vicki took her bow? from the waist? and all eyes watched her torso and wondered what kept her boobs from falling oat of the top of her costume.

Vicki and Nicki wanted to meet him, so I arranged for us all to get together during the afternoon. I had a good feeling as I left that this was going to be an interesting and rewarding week for the four of us. Bobo would be glad to hear I was setting us up with the gals.


By the time I returned to the tent Doc and the carnival owner had parted. Now it was Tony Dee who was complaining.


"I don't know how in the hell they expect me to talk at this location!"

'Tony, you always do a great job on the bally. What's the problem?" I asked.

"What's the problem? Are you blind? Look at our location. They got the Scooter Cars in front of us and a Loop To Loop ride on one side and that damn Motor Drome on the other. When they all get going there will be so much noise no one will hear anything."        


The owner of the Motor Drome, Speedy King, had signed on for the rest of the season. It was noisy. It was loud. It was damn noisy and loud! When they started revving the motorcycle engines on the bally it was impossible to hear much above the deafening din, and there were several ballys every night. Then, when the actual Wall Of Death show began, it was worse. Those of us inside the tent had to turn up the volume on our microphones to be heard.

I enjoyed the "drome" show and I managed to see it several times during the week. It was thrilling and worth the 50cents they charged for admission. (Those of us who were "with it" never paid.)

Speedy's spiel went like this: "A thrill a minute! A mile a second! Don't miss the opportunity to see these two exciting daredevils. Beautiful Miss Louise and handsome Hairy Harry ride the Wall of Death! Racing and driving around a board wall! Daring deeds to shock and thrill you! One slip could mean disaster and death!"

The Motor Drome was the only show that wasn't under canvas. It was a circular wooden structure about 30 feet tall. The inside of the drome resembled the inside of a giant wooden barrel. The riders, Louise and Harry, started out on a small slotted path around the circumference of the circle, then zoomed onto a small banked track, about four feet wide. From there they would rush up the sides of the wall-- a harrowing 90 degrees.

The "marks" stood around on a circular platform and peered down into the drome, their heads swiveling in unison as the cyclists crisscrossed, weaving in and out, missing each other by inches.

Viewers were protected from out of control motorcycles by a steel safety cable that stretched around the top of the "barrel." They whipped around the drome like they were on a race track, within inches of the cable, close enough to make the crowd duck back from the edge slightly. Louise did some of her perpendicular riding side saddle and some of it "no hands." And when Louise and Harry rode parallel, she reached across to put one hand on Harry's shoulder while waving her other hand all the time racing round the barrel at a 90 degree angle. It was sensational!

The drome show also worked a "ding." After they presented their short but dangerous act, Speedy would announce that because of their precarious employment neither Harry nor Louise could buy life or accident insurance (a lie) and so for an extra fee they would perform a really dangerous stunt. The money collected would go to the daredevils.

Then Speedy would send around two tough looking guys to collect the donations from the marks--who almost always contributed out of fear rather than sympathy. Speedy kept the money.



While we never saw them perform Micki's routine, both Bobo and I could vouch for the fact that the gals would have made good sword swallowers.

During the week, Bobo and I saw much of Vicki and Nicki. In fact, we saw all we wanted to see. We spent just about all our free time with them. We would even look across the midway and wave at each other when we were on the bally platform.

Ricki Wiski ran his five-in-one bally like a girl show. It was different from ours in which Tony Dee ran continuously. Ricki cut down the number of performances the gals had to do each evening. They did one complete show to our three or four.  
          
Ricki would bang on a bass drum and call out the gals, one at a time. They each came out in beautiful costumes, smiled at all the marks and Ricki told of the wonders these strange gals would perform. Then he turned the tip and the gals went inside.

Once the crowd followed them into the tent the show did not begin. Instead, Ricki returned to the platform and called out the gals again and repeated his bally. Again he turned the tip and another large crowd entered. If there was a large number of people in the tent, the show began. If not, he would bally a third time. Finally, usually after three ballys, the show would start. His wife, Micki, was the inside talker and she introduced Nicki and Vicki, who took turns doing the acts.

The show was well presented. Music was played in the background as the gals worked. Costumes were attractive and brief and the gals changed them each time they appeared to perform. That was no big deal they just removed part of the costume they were formerly wearing!

Mother Micki introduced Nicki who started off by dancing on broken glass. Nicki appeared and after a few dance steps, removed her slippers and jumped into a tray full of broken glass.  She Ground her feet into the hunks of glass as she did her bumps and grinds.

She then stepped out of the tray and showed the bottoms of her feet, which were unscathed by the glass. With a smile and a wink she went behind the curtain. This entire act lasted about three minutes.



The  24"x24" square tray with 2" sides contained real broken glass. The pieces used were thick and heavy, the pieces being made by smashing up beer and cola bottles. Several jagged bottoms of bottles surrounded the edges of the tray. The large pieces of glass in the center of the tray had their edges and points filed, rounded and sanded down so none of it was sharp and stepping on it was not dangerous. It was about as uncomfortable as walking barefoot on a gravel path.

Micki next brought out Vicki who presented the nail board. The routine was the same as Bobo's bed of spikes but much more eye appealing to watch. Micki had no trouble getting a teenaged boy up to stand on top of Vicki's torso as she lay upon the spikes. Of course. he removed his shoes first. Micki drew quite a few laughs with her by-play with the kid. In all honesty, it was a much better presentation than that of Bobo's.

Afterwards, Vicki took her bow -- from the waist-- and all eyes watched her torso and wondered what kept her boobs from falling out of the top of her costume. This act ran about six minutes.

Micki took over the stage and did a good non-faked sword swallowing act. I have never seen a sword swallower work the act like Micki did. Her act wasn't the best sword routine I've seen, but it was the most interesting because she actually explained how to swallow swords as she performed. Micki had several swords displayed on a velvet-covered board but only used three of them in the act. The blades were about 13", 15" and 18" long, respectively. They appeared to be narrow cavalry blades which had been cut down for her to use. Besides a sword board she had a large blow-up of an X-ray photo of a person actually swallowing a sword so the spectators could see that the blade really went down the throat.

Micki began her routine: "Ladies and gentlemen, you will notice these blades are not sharp. The edges and points have been rounded off and are smooth; other wise the sharp edges would cut my throat and the pointed end would puncture a hole in the lining of my stomach."

 

"Don't get too hooked on this freak show business or you'll never be about to get out."


She then picked up the first sword and slipped it down her throat. Then she slowly removed it from her throat and wiped it off with a soft cloth. The sword was then replaced on its hooks on the display board.

"It is not hard to swallow these blades, but it does take practice. The secret is overcoming the retching reaction you get when the cold steel enters your throat. Notice how I throw my head back so that my throat and esophagus are in a straight line and when I place the sword into my mouth and down my gullet it won't touch anything until it hits the stomach."

She placed the 15-inch blade down her throat and then removed it.

"You will notice that I wipe the blades off before and after I swallow them. This is to make sure there are no particles of dust on the blades which could make me retch or scratch my insides. I also wipe the blades after I've used them to remove the stomach fluids which would corrode the nickel plating on the blades."

For her finale she picked up the three swords and swallowed them all at one time! Micki presented a brief but impressive seven minute routine. She had taken the marks into her confidence and they appreciated it.

Nicki returned in a briefer costume and worked the iron tongue bit. The act lent itself to a risqué presentation as she apparently shoved a four inch iron hook (really a bent piece of coat hanger) through her tongue. Next she hung an iron bar suspended on a chain onto the hook and swung it back and forth.

Vicki, the snake enchantress, concluded the show with her snake dance using a thick, shimmering boa constrictor draped around her shoulders. While Vicki was performing, Micki left the stage and went to the other end of the tent to prepare for her annex act, which was the Girl In The Fishbowl.

Vicki concluded her snake dance and left the stage and Ricki called all the spectators down to the other end of the tent. He gave his spiel.

"And now, folks, if you will step this way you will see the strangest gal of all. Behind this canvas wall you are going to meet Minnie the Mermaid. See this little half-girl, half-fish, alive and living in a fish bowl. Guaranteed to be alive or your money back. Only  25 cents. Now is the time to see this rare creature."

He pulled back the canvas flap and Nicki and Vicki collected the annex money from the crowd as they paid and entered.


The large fish bowl was sitting on top of the cabinet. Inside it the marks saw an eight inch long Micki, dressed as a mermaid. They gawked at the tiny, half nude fish gal as they walked past the bowl and out of the tent. They had seen a good show.

When the tent was emptied,  Ricki Wiski went back to the bally platform and started the whole process over again. Both Nicki and Vicki told us that all three gals could do every act and often switched routines for variety.

While we never saw them perform Micki's routine, both Bobo and I could vouch for the fact that the gals would have made good sword swallowers.
                                       
It was the last week in August and my first summer as a sideshow magician was just about over. I would leave Saturday after the last show.    
                                 
Emma, Rose, Grandma Carver and I were sitting out back of the tent on a Friday evening. It was about half an hour before show time and we were trying to cool off after a day of one hundred, windless, muggy degrees.

"I can hardly wait to do my act tonight," said Grandma, as she looked over at her 80 foot high ladder which was the highest structure on the fair grounds.

"It might be a few degrees cooler up there. But the water in the tank has been sitting in that hot sun all day and it will be like jumping into a warm bath. I won't let them pour gasoline on the water and set it on fire tonight. Just  too damn hot. The marks will just have to be satisfied with my jump."

"Believe me, they will. There's not a single one in the carnival who has the nerve to do what you do, Grandma," I said to the seventy year old high diver.

"I may be the oldest high diver in the business, but I'm not the best by a long shot. No sir. Gimpy Lewis deserves that honor."

"Why? Did he jump from a greater height than you do?" I asked.
 

"No. In fact, his ladder rarely topped fifty feet. But Gimpy was the most unusual because he only had one arm and one leg! It was really a sight to see."

I imagined it was.

Emma joined in, "I remember him. Real good  lookin' guy. He quit the high diving business when he was about 40 years old. Work was too strenuous, having only one arm and one leg. Then he joined up with Col. Lou Alter's side show. Lou billed him as the Human Pogo Stick."

I asked, "What kind of an act did he do in the ten-in-one?"

"Did a  tight rope walking act."

"A one-legged  tight rope walker?" I asked in disbelief.

"He really didn't walk the rope. He kinda hopped from one end to the other. It was a real novelty."

I was sure it was. Rose changed the subject and asked me, "Walt, have you enjoyed your first summer with the show? Think you would like to return?"

"I have never had a summer like this one. Every day something new happened and I have learned so much and made so many new friends. I am going to miss all this. Going back to school will be a real drag. I'll be sitting in class studying while you will all be out playing fair dates until November. I wish I could stay. Maybe I should. I can always go back to school late."

Emma joined in, "No, you don't! You belong in school when it opens. And, let this old gal give you a piece of advice. Stay in school,  learn as much as you can. Go to college. The future belongs to the educated. Don't get too hooked on this freak show business or you'll never be able to get out. Get a real job. One that  has a future to it."

Rose agreed. "Emma's right. You are a smart kid. This life may be O.K. for a summer job while you're young but you don't want to end up like Tony Dee or Muscles or Bobo. Too many carnys are running away from something or hiding out from someone. Too many are just drifting with no goals in their lives. You've got a. future, kid. Get out of this business."

"Well, Doc's making a good living."

Emma replied to my comment. "Yeah, some seasons. But others are terrible and we hardly have enough money to get through the winter. If it's too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry the marks don't come. If there's a drought, the farmers have no money to spend on rides or shows. There are too many things we can't control that determine whether we make it or not. Doc is 65 years old and we haven't saved a cent. And not  because we haven't tried. We just can't. By the time you are Doc's age you should have saved enough to retire and enjoy your older years. Get married, raise a family and own a home. Live like most of the marks do. We live like gypsies."


Rose interrupted, "I'll tell you something else, and you don't have to be a fortune teller to know it. The days of the side show are numbered.


 It won't be too many years before shows like this will cease to exist! Each year it costs more and more money to run a show, and with the population increasing people are going to need houses, and the lots where carnivals now play will be turned into housing developments. Mark my word . . . this is a dead end business."

"I won't let them pour gasoline on the water and set it on fire tonight, Just too damn hot The marks will just have to be satisfied with my jump."

Grandma spoke up. "Another thing just startin' are the shopping centers that are appearing on the outskirts of the cities. People are building homes in the suburbs and need places to shop. There go the grounds used for carnivals and circuses. I played the grand opening of a strip of stores last spring about twelve miles outside of Columbus. Ohio. Don Castro built them and called it the Town and Country Shopping Center. I was with the Floyd Gooding carnival and thousands of people came from downtown Columbus. We were so busy I had to add an afternoon performance. Extra police had to be summoned to help direct cars. There will be places for a carnival to set up for a few years more but the days of the large traveling shows are numbered just like Rose says."

I listened . . . but I didn't hear them. I didn't want to. I had just experienced the most exciting summer of my life and I didn't want it ever to stop.  All I could say was. "I'll think about it, but I'll probably be back next summer."

It started to rain around 11:00 P.M. and it became a ragging storm during the early hours of the morning.  Water began to run into the tent and I was glad I was sleeping on top of the platform. After a very restless night I awoke to find it was still pouring out. The sky was dark and it was going to be an all day rain.

At noon the weather forecast on the radio was for another 24 hours of heavy rain. That was dismaying news because Saturday evening was tear down night and everyone hated to tear down in the rain on a muddy lot.

Around three o'clock in the afternoon, the carnival owner announced that the show would not open that evening. Even if it stopped raining the ground was so soaked from the deluge of water that it would not be possible to "dry it out" by covering it with sawdust, wood chips or straw in time for the evening shows.

Doc Williams decided there was no point in my hanging around any longer. "Walt, you might be able to get an earlier bus out of this burg. Get your stuff together and I'll take you down to the depot."

Doc and I got into his car but we had trouble getting on our way because the back tire kept spinning in the mud. Bobo, Bob and Tony Dee got together and pushed and shoved us out. The whole gang was standing under the tent top and waved goodbye as we pulled off the fair grounds. I felt sad as I waved back.

Doc drove me into town and I got on a Greyhound bus to Washington D.C. There I transferred to bus heading to my home in Philadelphia. As I rode along the many miles I felt sad when I thought about all the friends I was leaving behind.

A parade of faces of the dozens of people I worked with passed in my thoughts: Zero and Zina, Slim and Millie, Muscles, Roger the dwarf, Tessie, Mazie, Larry Lorraine, and Nicki and Vicki (the gals who taught Bobo and me how to do more than just side show tricks).


One thing I contemplated as I rode the many miles was who could have been the thief who broke into Tessie's and Rose's trailers. Although we never found out and no one was accused, I deducted that it must have been Larry Lorraine. She and Tony Dee were the only two around our area after the show closed. All the others were accounted for and Tony Dee rarely went behind our tent and nothing had ever been missing during the weeks he had worked with us before Larry Lorraine arrived.

Then my thoughts flashed ahead and turned to my friends back at home. Wow! Would I have a lot to share with them and I had photos to back up my stories. I could show them the human block head act and the nail board routine I learned because I planned to make up both of these stunts when I got home.

I arrived back in Philadelphia and started my senior year in high school. There was so much to do that thoughts of the side show were placed in the back of my mind for a while.

I remember that around the end of October I wrote to all of the people I worked with in the Congress of Human Oddities. I had most of their winter addresses and for those who didn't have a permanent address I sent them a note in care of Billboard, the showman's weekly newspaper. In all, I must have sent about twenty-five notes to the folks I had learned to like so much. Not one of them wrote back.

 

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