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My Very Short Life as a Carny

My mother had a brother who by a strange coincidence was also my Uncle. My mother didn't like to talk about him, because he was a Carny.

Well, not really. He owned a traveling carnival.

My mother was always afraid that I would run away and join his little gang. (You must remember that until she died, my mom referred to my leaving for college as the time I ran away from home.) Unfortunately, he died before I had a chance to do this, so there Mom.

But when ever they were in the area, I was there. I learned a lot about how the attraction worked, and spent some time when I was twelve working a few myself.

We've all seen the ring-toss game at a carnival or a county fair. A guy looks slightly board, tossing rings over stakes with prizes on them. The prizes sit on top of the stakes where the stakes are cut at a slant on top, supposedly to better display the happy crap.

The board look on the guy or gals face is part of the play. He tosses and gets a ringer about every second or third try. Hey!!! How hard can this be? This duffus is not even trying.

You pay your buck and the pitcher gives you three rings. You toss all three and get nothing. Your nemesis goes back to his or her daydreaming and tossing. He's still getting most of his shots.

You give the person another dollar and ask for the ring he just used. You get a look as if to say, “You think I would use special rings?” and then you get three rings right off the stakes. And you miss three more times.

The secret is the slant on the stakes and the fact that “I Cant Be Bothered” is tossing from behind or just off to the side. From that position the toss is easy. From straight ahead, where you are, its twenty times more difficult.

My favorite was the Ring The Bell. You know this one. You get a great big mallet, hit a lever and a weight goes up a wire and rings a bell. Some kid with the body of Alfalfa Switzer hist the board and on the third try rings the bell.

Arnold Schwarzenegger steps up to win a cuppie doll for his best girl and can't do it. The pitchman says something about being too tense, try again. Comedy ensues.

The wire that runs up to the bell is continued on the ground and connected to a nail, so that it is just less than an inch off the ground hidden in the sawdust. The pitcher hands you the mallet and steps aside,but steps near the wire, which he can control with the toe of his shoe. If he doesn't put any tension on the wire, Stallone couldn't ring that bell.

But if the wire is tight, you could drop a good size rock on the target and get a ring. In my day it was three shots for a dollar. And with a little practice, the pitch man could make the wringer go up just a little more each time.

Many was the night I took as much as five bucks of guys. A rube on his first date was worth six or seven.

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