Stories from the 1981 Tennessee State Fair
By Spalding Gray


PT - 9


September 21. Breakfast. I waved to Priscilla, "Hi, Priscilla." She was spraying her driveway. She waved back. Maybe I could get something going with her. I hadn't seen her up close yet. 1 was afraid of seeing her up close. Randy was talking about buying a couple of highstrikers. The highstriker is that contraption you hit with a hammer, and, if you hit it hard enough, it pushes a lead weight up to ring the bell, but the lead weight rarely gets up to the bell. He said we could make $ 1,000 in a weekend. He was starting to get the money craving, and I was starting to catch it from him, because there's nothing else to catch down there. So he was saying we could make $1,000 if we bought highstrikers and the guy only wants $475. The guy who wanted to sell the strikers lived in a trailer next to Randy's truck. He wanted to sell everything. He even wanted to sell his trailer. He said he'd throw in the highstrikers and the house trailer and the congo bars and the widgets, and we could have the whole thing for $2,000.

So Randy said, "What do you want just for the highstrikers?" He said, "$475." I said I was not so sure but I was beginning to get the idea: maybe I should buy one. I could make a lot of money at Washington Square when I got back. Or I could go down to Canal Street to the flea market. I'd wear sunglasses. It would be a good chance to make fun of macho men. I could get behind the highstriker and say, "Hey, big boy, got your eyes full? Take a quick look. Want to win a prize?" But I could never think of what prize to give. I felt it had to be a good prize. Randy said, "Oh, give them junk. They don't give a shit; they just want to lose their money." So I walked down to the midway, and I saw people indeed did want to lose their money. The big guy who ran the highstriker hit the bell before anyone came into the fair, so he knew how much strength it took, and then he adjusted it. If a bigger guy came he could just reach under and adjust it. Nobody ever rang that bell. Nobody ever won any of the junk ashtrays.

I gave up on the highstrikers and walked up the midway and came across a most insidious recording coming from one of those white milkshake trucks where they sell milkshakes out the back. These people lived with this recording day and night. And it ran slightly slowed down, so it was even weirder:  Walk right in. Let's all have one now. How many please? Cold, sweet, refreshing. Everybody have one. Come in. Come right in. By golly, you'll like this all right. It's so good you'll be surprised. How many?

Come in everybody. Let's all have one. How many please? Yeah, you'll like this all right. It really is good. Everybody's entitled to one. Come right in. It's cold, sweet, refreshing. So smooth and sweet. So rich and creamy. How many please? Yes sir, yes ma'am. Come right in, you're next. We made one for you. Come right in and have one. Here you are. What flavor do you like? We made your favorite flavor. Cones and shakes for everyone. Come right in. Walk right in. This went on from ten in the morning 'til one in the morning. These people worked with it all day.

I felt assaulted by the carnival and went up on the hill to rest under an elm tree. It was very warm, and I kind of dozed there. That particular day I watched nine-year-old boys practice pick pocketing: one would stick a piece of paper in his back pocket and the other would walk up and bump into his friend and grab the paper and go, "Oh, excuse me, sir!" and then he'd say, "Did you feel it?" "Yeah, I felt it... you better try again."

I went down for my cocktail hour... five o'clock ... life was beginning to be a holiday ... put down the back gate. Randy started trying to get me drunk during the cocktail hour. He thought he could get me to geek so he could take my picture. Wanted me to go into the pit with the snake. So I did get a little drunk, and I said I'd give it a try. We started over. When we got there Maurice said that if I had a subconscious fear of the snake it would pick up on it and might bite me. So I said, "I'm not going in there." I don't know my subconscious because it's subconscious, so I figured there's no sense taking a risk. While we discussed this a sonic battle began. The Giant Himalaya had its sound up so loud that no one could hear the B. J. Reed show. So Maurice turned the B. J. Reed show recording way up. And then the Pickled Punk Show couldn't be heard so they turned theirs up:  "World's strangest babies ..."

And "I can't get no satisfaction . ..," coming from the Himalaya.

The cacophony was driving me completely mad, so I walked off the fairground and got lost in suburban Nashville. 1 didn't know where the fairground was, and a cab came rolling by me slowly, making a hissing, raking metal sound and pulled to a stop. The old guy behind the wheel said, "I lost my brakes. I was coming back from the airport and I lost my brakes." And I said, "Well, how do you get back to the carnival?" He said, "Well, I'll give you a ride." So he gave me a ride without brakes back to the fairgrounds.


To be Continued


Special Thank to Kathleen Russo, the Estate of Spalding Gray and 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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