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July 28, 2011 9:15 am

MY LOUSY WORLD: Your fairs versus your carnivals

Written by Tribune Staff

By Doug Blough

Ah, the fair — the sincerest of summer fun, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the kids are not pouty all day.

Just like at a Dairy Queen, everyone is smiling at the fair. Even at the Beer Garden, from what I remember, the mood is light and breezy and no one is sitting around analyzing who can whip who.

When I was a tyke in Pennsylvania, my sisters and I always wanted to go to local carnivals. Mom and Dad thought the county fair clean fun within the parameters of our holy-roller upbringing, but carnivals were wicked and sinful. I think the bearded lady and the human lobster might disagree, but we were living under Dad’s roof, so there would be no family carnival day.

Maybe that’s why, when I came to Cody for my first summer at 16, I was immediately drawn to the carnival near Cody’s city park. It’s where I cemented my reputation as a foreigner to be depended on in the heat of battle. There comes that pivotal point when every “new kid in town” must prove his mettle.

I had secured the third base position on Cody’s Legion team with a sterling tryout when I barely beat out Dave Beemer. To this day, Beemer tells a slightly different (and by different, I mean historically inaccurate) version, but the facts is the facts. I was accepted on the field, but my social status was still in limbo.

Tony Martoglio was our power-hitting first baseman, and one evening I ran into him, Jay Peaze and a young stud named Grant Kinn at the carnival. Tony was sweet on a fetching gal named Mary Smith, who had decided maybe wild Tony wasn’t her cup of tea and was considering her options.

As we were strolling the grounds of this sinful carnival, my youthful, innocent senses being assaulted by the smell of cotton candy and the seductive shrieking of the barkers, Tony noticed a huge Teddy Bear that he just knew would recapture Mary’s affections. We all took our turns throwing balls for that top prize, but the bottles only wobbled, even when hit directly.

“Maybe Mom and Dad were right; these games almost seem rigged,” was my cynical conclusion. We huddled up and the talk soon turned to securing that masterpiece in a less than ethical manner. None of the suggestions jived with my Church of God beginnings, but then again, I was no longer under Dad’s roof for a few months. No need to draw straws; I stepped up to the plate.

My cohorts would leave and wait on the other side of the fence while I malingered for an opportune opening, at which point I’d snag the prize and throw it to my sergeant-in-arms, Tony. My window arrived when I noticed the tattooed Bob Barker was distracted, and I reached around the corner, deftly lifted that bear from the hook and sprinted to the fence like the speedy third baseman I was.

These carnies were obviously ex-third basemen, because three of them had me in a rundown as I tossed the bear over the fence and started climbing. When I hit the ground, that bear was all alone – my new crew of buddies had beat a retreat well before the dust had settled. Even with three enraged carnies only steps behind, I wasn’t about to abandon the proof of my bravado, so I scooped up that bear and ran through the courtyard like a cheetah.

It crossed my mind that the gentlemen chasing me were possibly urologists, since I heard one of them swear they were gonna cut off a part of my anatomy I knew I might at some later time need for reproduction purposes. In retrospect it was moot, but that threat increased my gallop to a pre-op speed I never knew existed.

I lost them just before the alley, where I stuffed the bear in a dumpster and kept running. Eventually I reunited with the crew and we returned to retrieve Tony’s stuffed love offering. Later that night, alone, I prayed God would forgive me and I’d not spend eternity in hell, putting all the blame on Martoglio.

If I recall correctly, sweet Mary accepted the bear but didn’t reciprocate Tony’s desire to reunite. I didn’t care; I had done my duty and the new kid in town was now a bona-fide star. All I had to do to keep my status from there on was to never miss a ground ball, and if I recall correctly, I never did.

Carnivals are fun, but they’re all smoke and mirrors and can damn your soul. Your best bet is the good clean fun of the Park County Fair, although God might have an issue with greasing up and rasslin’ those sweet little pigs.

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