Try as I might, as life goes on I just can’t shake my intense fascination with all things freakish. I am obviously not alone, or run of the mill human parasites with no particular identifiable set of marketable skills or talents like Jerry Springer or Maury Povich wouldn’t have been able to rake in more than a comfortable living showcasing said freakishness for multiple decades now.
Freaky people…freaky places…freaky events – I love them all! Anywhere I can sit off to the side and observe a conscious gathering of weirdos, wackos, oddballs, goofballs, mooks, kooks, flukes, flakes or all around idiots – and the dumber the better – I like it. It keeps me entertained.
It also gives a crystal clear perspective and assures me that no matter how deeply my personal situation happens to slide into the abyss at any time at least I’m not one of “them.” I don’t claim to be better than “them,” but I do think I was given at least a few more tools in my box from the factory than a frighteningly large percentage of fellow planet walkers. I am not at the bottom.
Is it wrong to proudly walk among countless hordes of unwashed lowlifes at any random event silently beaming inwardly that I’m not them? Then declare me guilty. How much worse will my punishment be than having to live on a planet where “they” rule the roost? I’m just an onlooker.
The first experience that ever rocked my world with Richter scale proportions was at about age six when my uncle and aunt took me to the Wisconsin State Fair. Why they wanted to subject me to this environment at such an impressionable age still baffles me, but I had no choice. I was in a place I didn’t ask to be with no foreseeable way out. All I could do was try to act like I belonged.
But I didn’t. And I knew I didn’t, even at such a tender age. Something inside screamed loudly that I was a stranger in a strange land and wasn’t where I had ever been before – kind of like that stray bug that gets smuggled in on a load of bananas at the supermarket. There’s no going back.
Walking through the State Fair with my uncle, aunt and cousins was a symphony for the senses at every turn. I could barely take in all that was going on around me, but I knew it was something I was not prepared for. Nobody told me anything other than I needed to stay close to our group or I would have to go home with somebody else’s family. I think it was a joke but I’m still not sure.
The most vivid memory I have all these years later oddly enough is the aroma. Nothing smells quite like a State Fair, and I have to believe the Wisconsin State Fair takes a back seat to none of the other 49 in the stomach curdling stench department. Countless tons of fresh from the factory manure combined with roasting meat and corn on a humid 94 degree day spell two letters – P U.
The first whiff of that putrid odor on my six year old nostrils put me down for the count with a single punch. I knew I couldn’t hold my breath the entire day and attempting to breathe through my ears wasn’t working. Going into the bathroom stall later ended up being a breath of fresh air.
The next experience that busts out from the confines of my memory like El Chapo out of a Mexican prison is seeing the midway for the first time. It was the best and the worst of times simultaneously. On the good side I remember how bright and colorful the lights were and how scary yet enticing the rides looked. I had never been on one before but I knew I wanted to tilt, whirl, spin, flip, rock, roll and/or Ferris.
On the ugly side, I got my first gander of what a carny looks like. That was like witnessing the landing of a UFO. It was terrifying on one hand but absolutely fascinating on the other. All of the people I had seen previous to that day in the world in which I lived had teeth basically one color.
The only comparison I could make with what I saw was the ear of Indian corn that hung behind our first grade teacher Mrs. Molter’s desk at school. I was only six, but even with the significant amount of teeth I happened to be missing at the time I still had a few up on these dental midgets.
Next on the agony agenda was being forced to sit through not just one but two types of music I took a hating to from the get go and learned to loathe even more as life has gone on – polka and old time country. I had never seen any live music played to that date with the possible exceptions of the lady at church who played the organ and the ice cream truck that was in our neighborhood.
Halfway through the first set of polkas that all sounded the same played by four or five fat old farts ridiculously decked out in leather lederhosen I was ready to barf up the burnt bratwurst I’d just eaten, sauerkraut and all. But my uncle and aunt were lifelong Milwaukeeans, and polkas are right up there with cribbage and duck pin bowling on the list of holy things never to make fun of.
After the tent full of Pabst smeared Schlitz kickers tapped their last toe I thought I was finally off the hook, but NO. After waiting in line for a cream puff – a tiny taste of heaven – we walked through the buildings where people were pitching products like vegetable slicers and floor wax. Six year olds aren’t the target market for that stuff, so again I sat back and watched the masses.
There were examples everywhere of every size, shape and circumference waddling through the barn with blank looks on their faces. These were not the kind of people that lived anywhere near my neighborhood, even though we did have a few nut cases lurking in the weeds. But everybody knew where they lived and we stayed away from those people. The Fair was loaded with them.
By this time I recall being overwhelmed with sensory overload and wanting to go home. Ha! It wasn’t to be for at least a few more hours as we trudged our way to yet another tent to watch yet another concert of yet another style of music that made my tonsils ache. I couldn’t decide which was worse, the polka or the country – but does it matter? It’s like picking a favorite way to die.
That day at the State Fair seemed like it would never end. Then I got roped into going the next year and it was pretty much the same only this time we had to sit through a clown show. I never thought there would be anything that would make me pine for a polka, but watching a bald man with enormous yellow shoes and a sponge nose twist balloon animals for an hour made me flip like a funnel cake. I vowed from that moment on I never wanted to set foot in a State Fair again.
But as the years have gone by and I’m now older than my aunt and uncle were when they took me to that first State Fair, I find myself looking forward to the experience whenever I can get it. I have been lucky enough to have spent my entire adult life on the road and have seen everything up to and including State Fairs, County Fairs, craft fairs, carnivals, festivals, flea markets, flea circuses and everything in between. I enjoy the assortment of mixed nuts that come with the deal.
And I even find myself tapping a toe to a polka or country song once in a while. What kind of a seed was planted all those years ago that something I found so repulsive at first now has a charm that makes me wax nostalgic. And that smell. Manure and meat mixed make my mouth moist.
I absolutely believe that aliens exist and that they have visited us in person. If you don’t think so, take a walk down the midway at any carnival or fair. They’re here…and they’re operating the Tilt-a-Whirl.
Dobie is a stand up comedian and writer from Milwaukee. To see him on stage at his next hell-gig, find his schedule and other rants at dobiemaxwell.com