Monday, September 19, 2016

Up the Lake: Childhood Fair Years- Part 2

Aside from crowding together to laugh at each other at that old time picture booth, once we hit our teen years, our folks let us wander the Fair on our own with set check in and return times and locations. Note to modern parents: we pulled this off successfully year after year without the use of cell phones.

Yes, Up the Lake people do have a limited form of telepathy.

Also known as: “Fear of the wrath of a worried and angered Italian Mother after a missed check in.”

As teens we became more concerned with the end result of the early arrival schedule our parents had devised.  The main reason for this concern stemmed from the masses of local farm girls that were coming in to spend the evening at the fair while those supposedly entrusted with our future were dragging us kicking and screaming out of the entrance.

There were a couple of encounters with the fairer sex however.

Well…there were definitely encounters caused by the fairer sex.

Every year a Jacuzzi and hot tub vendor had their wares on display under a large tent in one of the major cross roads of the Fair.  In later years, it was only the tubs, and no issues arose.  When we boys were reaching the “old enough to prowl the grounds on our own” years the company had multiple bikini models hired to be on display with their other wares.

As I said there were encounters.

In the hundreds of times we made sure to pass through that cross roads on any given day, we’d have encounters with other pedestrians, parked strollers, street lamps, food vendors… 
Pretty much anything else in that area, we’d walk directly into it at least once.

Contrary to my normal totally disastrous attempts to interact with girls at that age, there was one year at the Fair that I had many interactions with an excessively cute young lady working there.  Most of the day involved me repeating those three little words all women want to hear:

“An eggcream please.”

This devastating little blonde was positioned behind what looked like a small wooden pulpit.  She had a supply of local milk, bottles of chocolate syrup and a hose running from a nearby food booth with a seltzer squirter on the end.  She also had a small jar of pretzel rods on the tiny counter, allowing me to occasionally vary my order.

OK, I never did work up the nerve to strike up a lengthy conversation while ordering my favorite beverage, but I did spend a great deal of time with her as I believe I consumed twice my weight in egg creams that day.   There may have been a distinctive sloshing sound every time we drove around a curve on the way home.

When not practicing for a lifetime of embarrassing myself around women, I hung out with Nick and Skip in and around the rides and games of the Midway.

Nick had some firsthand experience how Midway games worked from travelling the Fair with his Dad.
He always had admirable basketball shooting skills.  Besides having a hoop set up at home, he had one set up on the road Up the Lake. With no area of ground greater than three square inches being flat up there, dribbling would cause the ball to rocket off at a random angle with each bounce. Therefore shooting practice was all that was available to him.

After multiple frustrated swooshless attempts at making a basket on the Midway one year, George demanded that the game attendant prove his son’s mishaps were not manufactured artificially by putting the ball through the hoop.  The teen game worker attempted to explain he was not allowed to do that.  George simply and calmly repeated, “I want you to put this ball through that hoop.”   The barker kept trying to refuse, but refusing the request of a man capable of lifting a cabin with his bare hands rarely goes the way the refuser hopes.

Eventually, Free Throw Attendant Guy relented and placed the ball on the rim…where it sat, immobile.  In later years we’d sneak around the side of those booths where the ovalness of those rims causing the con, not visible from the front, was clearly seen.  In that year, George made the con clearly seen by bellowing to everyone in earshot that the game was rigged.

This experience meant that even though he could be egged on into trying games by barkers well trained in getting the dander up of passersby, Nick understood what he was up against and could walk away after controlling his dander.

I never had much dander to begin with.  Plus my geekhood was beneficial in this case at spotting how the games with the good prizes violated rules of physics, geometry or arithmetic.  (Roll the ball and add up the numbers anyone?) My danderless state also helped me to count up how many “small” (translation: sub-worthless) prizes needed to be won to trade up to the “large” (translation: something you might marginally want, and could probably buy for a couple of bucks) size.

Unfortunately, Skip was born with a major clinical overdose of dander.  At least once a year, Nick and I would be forced to bodily lift and carry him down the Midway, and away from the barker while both of them screamed insults at each other, at the same time yelling at us that Skip was “Juuuuuuuuuuust about” to take home the giant prize.

There were two Midway games we all played that required no egging on from the Fair folks we forked over our cash to.

The first one we all played because of its obtainable objective. It was a dollar a dart game.  Instead of targets, the wall was covered with small posters. Hit a poster, win that poster.

No, not the poster with all the dart holes in it. There were fresh copies under the counter, pay attention.

We tried to frequent the “nice guy” booth, where the posters were all hung normally in a grid, without spaces between them.  This was in stark contrast to the other booth where the guy made sure all the posters were cross covering each other in an unintelligible mass, with many little bits sticking out, and bare spots. His set up almost guaranteed nicking a sliver of a image the thrower did not desire, (or no image at all) and requiring the expenditure of multiple dollars to obtain the mini-poster that would retail for about fifty cents in those days.  Needless to say, after accidentally choosing his booth when we couldn’t find the other one, the first booth earned its “nice guy” title, and he earned a title not printable in a family friendly fair fable.

The second game had nothing to do with the game being winnable…

At all. 

It was a typical carnival ring toss game.  Instead of getting the small plastic rings on oversized, bounce inducing glass bottles, the targets were knives.  All various shapes and sizes were stabbed into the play area; with the fanciest ones up on little turn tables. 

We all aimed continuously at the giant, Rambo era, survival knives with match holding compartments in the handle covered by a compass in the pommel. 

We all also missed continuously as, in hindsight, that pommel was probably bigger than the rings, and ended up winning tiny faux wooden handle folding pocket knives, which for some inexplicable reason always had sand ground in where the blade folded into.

Oddly, as time has passed and concern over children filleting someone has grown, this game disappeared.  The increase in the price of posters also closed the curtains on the dart game.

There was another activity we all tried to win at.  It was not on the travelling carny run Midway, but was clearly organized by the locals.  It also vanished as time passed, likely due to a whole different set of health concerns.

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