Touched By A Carny

The carnival came to town. Well, not my town, but the town I grew up in, which is now part of the Montreal megacity, so I guess it’s my town all over again. I was in the neighbourhood, so I went to check it out. Once or twice a year, this same fly-by-night collection of rickety rides and crooked games sets up shop in the same mall parking lot, bilks people out of as much money as possible, and then moves on to the next mall parking lot one borough over. I don’t go on any of the rides. I just like to watch and wait for the bolts to break. Sometimes I place bets with the personal injury lawyers who prowl the grounds.

The amusement park atmosphere appeals to me. People-watching there can be highly informative if you’re making a case study of trailer trash. There’s not a single trailer park to be found anywhere on the island of Montreal, but somehow the carnival brings these folks out of the woodwork just the same, mullets and all. I think they come to breed with the carnies, thereby perpetuating the species. The cotton candy energizes the males for the mating ritual, the spinning rides make the women kin woozy for the seduction. That’s the theory of my thesis at least.


When making an anthropological study of your subjects, I suggest you adopt a strict look-don’t-touch policy. It helps maintain your scientific objectivity and inhibits the spread of disease. Sadly, my own personal distance barrier was violated last night during my expedition when I ran the gauntlet of game booths.

I didn’t want three balls for a dollar, or five darts for two bucks, or any of the other deals being offered. One carny, however, would not be dissuaded from the hard-sell. I made the criminal error of looking in his general direction. I didn’t outright break the no-eye-contact rule, but I came close. And close was too close. One vague glance drew him to my side like a magnet. He must have been really jonesing for a mark, because he abandoned his booth by a good fifty feet while trying to snag me. That must have been a distance record for the night.

And then he touched me.

It was a simple tug on the sleeve, but there are laws against that sort of thing. And for good reason. It’s unsanitary. No one knows where these carnies have been, not even the carnies themselves. I could have complained to the cops in the squad car who were keeping a close eye on any suspicious piercings on the underage, underdressed girls in line for the Kamikaze, but I decided against that course of action. The touching incident was my own fault, ultimately. I committed several tactical errors that made me a marked man. First, I was with my wife. Second, I was wearing half-decent clothes. Foolish, I know, but a visit to the carnival had been a spur of the moment thing. I’d come unprepared, and my mere presence was provocative.

There’s a set of rules to adhere to when attempting to travel carnival grounds unnoticed – pivotal “don’ts” that you ignore at your own peril. For example: Don’t travel as a couple. The carnies will assume, quite naturally, that your female companion is going to insist you spend lots of money to win her some piece-of-crap stuffed animal stitched together by child labourers in China. Don’t look like you’re on a date. This only compounds the coupling issue, as the carnies will also assume that you’re out to impress your new gal pal and earn her sexual favours by winning a gigantic stuffed Tweety Bird knock-off that stands in flagrant violation of all recognized copyright and trademark laws. Don’t look like you can afford to piss away ten or twenty bucks on a game of ring toss that’s impossible to win. The carnies will push even harder to separate you from your money, resorting to stealing your wallet behind the parked vans after beating you half to death with a six-pack worth of empty beer bottles. And don’t look like you’re stupid enough to think you can win at a game of ring toss that has been engineered by NASA to be unwinnable. Because, really, who wants to give a carny the impression that he can outwit you?

Over at YTV, a favourite network among both carnies and their marks alike, Fries With That? has been aired an almost shocking number of times in just a few weeks. There will be fifty-two episodes in the can by the end of June, and YTV seems utterly determined to blow through them in record time to get to the real bread and butter of the show – incessant reruns. Ratings overall have been very good, and word through the grapevine is that we have the highest rated Canadian show on the network. Of course, SpongeBob and at least one other American show beat the crap out of us in every timeslot they appear, but apparently we’re running a strong but distant third, which I’m told is a good thing. Everyone involved with the show who values regular employment hopes this bodes well for a third season.

News of additional employment is pending following an upcoming journey to distant lands at the end of the month. Stay tuned for all the gory details, as well as the inevitable multi-part travelogue in which I’ll make fun of a foreign culture like a good ignorant North American tourist.

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