“Yeah, Bo,” said Count Victor Justin, putting on a thick Southern accent, “good old Dixie, the great Southland, is heaven for Yobs with white suits and string ties and Ladyfolk with their long dresses and fancy-ass tucker–but it’s pure unadulterated hell for horses, and black folks, and anybody who idn’t from round them there parts, which definitely means Cazarnies and their crazy hangers-on. Here’s the thing I learned when working as a Mentalist at the Ten-in-One–nobody, but nobody, other than some entertainment-starved rube down in the Big Stick Country–in Howdytown, or Chump Junction, or Yeehaw City–population 202–nobody but some leisure-starved bumpkin would ever go to a carny in the first place; it is, in essence, a criminal enterprise intended to rob you of your ducats and clean your pockets out for good measure.
“When we speak of the rural areas, the town carnival is a bucolic gathering place for honest citizens who are usually sane and rational in every particular; only, the bright colors and swirling electric lights combine with the scent of cotton candy and burnt popcorn to render these ordinarily level-headed farmers and small businessmen totally non compos mentis. They will pay exorbitant sums of ooftish to either buy or “win” gaudy junk and other cheap and worthless slum which on every other day of the year they would turn up their noses at. Stuff that even a dog would refuse, and, if the brute had the poor taste to hanker after any of it, I would have him shot. The shoddiest manner of cheap truck: A tin whistle. A rubber pencil. The world’s smallest jack-knife. Of course, the profit to be made from vending such trifles to a bunch of slack-jawed yahoos is partially offset by the substantial bribes the carny manager has to pay to fix the town clowns, so that if trouble erupts and the lot lice cause a ruckus the coppers won’t jug everyone connected to the carny to cool their heels overnight in the local hoosegow. And, the next morning, the local magistrate–usually a slack-jawed, tobacco-chewing country Younker–whose pappy was the town’s number one slavemaster–won’t be there to hand out exorbitant fines.
“And I’ll tell you what–here’s something else–here’s the real danger of the carnival–it’s a known fact that you are risking life and limb by setting foot onto on any of them carnival rides. They are all of them, at the very least, threats to life and limb, and the worst of them are positive death traps. How so? They are put together in great haste at about four A.M. by surly hungover drunks and drug-addicted roustabouts who ain’t any too bright in the first place. Now, the chances of winning a prize at one of the thoroughly gaffed games is practically nil, unless you are a shillaber. But at least you lose nothing by playing them, except a pocketful of change. The chances of being crushed or mangled on one of the shoddy jerry-rigged rides is high, very high indeed, which is why no man in his right mind would ever even go near one. You never see a carny set foot on one of those widow-makers; not unless he absolutely has to. The roller coaster is the worst. At best, the roller coaster is a ramshackle contrivance held together by rust and paint and wood glue and riding on one is simply nature’s best way of weeding out the weak and feeble-minded culls who are too stupid to duck down low when they see a wooden beam hurtling at their heads at sixty-nine miles an hour. Nearly as bad is the Ferris wheel. It wobbles on its ill-fitted hub as though it were ready to pop off at any moment and come crashing to the ground, killing every eejit stupid enough to shell out the fifty cents it cost to ride it. Small boys like to ride it so’s they can spit on people’s heads. Young lovers like to spoon in one of the gondolas and snatch themselves a few moments of privacy–but the hayloft would be a much better bet, even given the prospect of being prodded in the ass by an angry hayseed with a sharp pitchfork.
“No–your average Carny is not the shiniest marble in the purple velvet bag. More often than not, he started life as a bastard and was forced into becoming a runaway; more likely, he was an orphan who got tired of the Orphanage run by the Sisters of Perpetual Punishment; or maybe he was a foster child who just couldn’t take being constantly malnourished by a mean farmer. By the way: Lots of Carnies seem to come from Indiana. Don’t ask me to explain why; it’s just a well-known fact. But…remind me not to go there.
“So: Our little Oliver Twist decides to leave his place, which is little better than a jail, and when he’s just about old enough to shave he ventures forth to seek his fortune amid the bright lights of the midway. Suffice it to say that the life expectancy of the average carny is not long. Most of them are completely used-up by forty, and by that point they are only good for running the bobbing goldfish game, or playing the part of the gibbering geek at the Ten-In-One. Now, being a waiter or a waitress in a big city restaurant is a lot more strenuous than working the lot and traveling from one dusty burg to the next. But compared to the carny, it’s a cushy platform. Mostly because there’s a certain dignity in even the lowliest restaurant work. Take it from me–I’ve washed plenty of dishes and bussed plenty of tables in my hey-day. Leastways, in a restaurant, you get to eat well. And people will give you tips. There is also room for advancement. After three years of making salads, provided you’re not a totally hopeless drunk, you just might be given a chance to become an apprentice to a bonafide chef. Even if you stay on as a waiter, if the dining establishment is any good at all, you get to mingle with the customers, who are nearly always a better class of citizen than the purblind yawps who stumble onto a carny lot, looking for some kind of degenerate thrill–something that will fry their cookies.You don’t see too many dead ringers for Professor Charles ProteusSteinmetz at the carny. Instead of the world’s smartest man, you’re more likely to meet the world’s stupidest man. And, like as not, he will be screaming at you because you swindled him out of every cent he had. So now he wants his money back. Haw! Well, as for that, the suckers in hell all want ice water–but let me tell you something–they sure ain’t a-gonna get it.”