Saturday, November 17, 2012

Your First "Hey, Rube"


In the unlikely event you’d want a written resume of your work as a carnival concessions stand employee, you’d call yourself an agent, which meant your pay was twenty-five percent of what you brought in at a historical time where a quarter was the standard entry fee for playing at a booth.

If you did well, the owner of the booth invited you to continue in the next city.  A booth owner thanking you on the last day of a fair without inviting you to stay with “the joint” in the next city was not the equivalent of being fired; after all, you’d been allowed to finish out without being told with great specificity not to come back tomorrow.

 You were only fired twice in your five years of being “with it,” moving through and away from such arcane booths as inducing individuals to toss tennis balls into muffin tins with each cup being given a strategic number.  The customer got three balls.  A score of under nine or over nineteen produced a winner, a feat of near impossibility to the point of the teddy bear prizes beginning to look old and shopworn.

From “Add-‘em-up pans” you moved to throwing darts at balloons, dunk ‘em, which involved hitting a target with a softball that triggered a chair on which a clown sat to dump said clown in a vat of water, a hit the bell with a hammer contraption, a basketball throw, a ski-ball booth, and what emerged to be, as Teddy had predicted, your arrival at your talent, the baseball throw.

Six metal milk bottles arranged in pyramid shape on a platform mounted on a vertical automobile tire. Three of the “bottles” were weighted with about a half pound of lead.  The others were merely their “normal” metal self of about a half-pound worth of weight each.

You or your spotter routinely stacked the weighted bottles on the bottom, decreasing the chances of a customer tipping over all six with the three balls his quarter bought.  Putting the weighted bottles on top greatly enhanced the potential for all six bottles being toppled with a well=placed throw, thus your G or gimmick.  A girl and her boyfriend were prime targets.  If you could “help” her win by tipping all the bottles over, particularly with her first throw, thus winning her own teddy bear, the boyfriend became your mark.  He’d need to show that he, too, could tip over those bottles.  With the average price of a teddy bear about a dollar and a quarter, such strategies as loading the bottle stack often produced ten or fifteen dollars worth of income from the frustrated boyfriend.  Arranging for the little lady to win yet another seemed to send out invisible waves of excitement, often drawing large crowds.

At one such venture, the boyfriend bore down hard on his throw, hitting a weighted bottle with such force that the ball ricocheted to hit the thrower in the forehead.  “No wonder I can’t topple those damn things.  They’s all weighted.”

By this time, you’d come into your own.  You reached for the offending bottle, and then handed it to the boyfriend.  “Damn straight their weighted,” you said.  “You mean to tell me a guy your size can’t tip over a bottle with a half pound of lead.”  If that didn’t do the trick, you could always, and sometimes did hand three baseballs to the girlfriend again, rearranging the bottles for a potential third teddy bear and quite possibly the end of the romantic relationship between the young couple.

The event with the Marine in Visalia, some nearby carnival workers theorized, could have gone any of a number of less dramatic ways than it did.  A Marine in his late twenties, impeccably neat in his dress tans, strode down the Midway hand in hand with a statuesque, well-dressed woman a few years beyond the teen demographic.  They seemed ideal for a stratagem you’d been longing to try.

“Hey there, Marine,” you called to him.  “You won a prize for the lady you were with last night.  Why not get one for this special person?”

Her response, an immediate and infectious smile, was exactly what you’d wanted.  The Marine’s response was not.

Within seconds, the Marine advanced on you and slammed you into the outer railing of the booth.  “I was not here last night,” he said, his face close to yours.  “I was not here, understand?

The Midway code for a worker being in such trouble as you from a customer is called a “Hey, Rube,” a term covering any number of complaints or acting out.  You were aware of a few calls of “Hey, Rube.  Baseball.”  Quickly, almost momentarily, carnival workers surrounded the Marine.  As if materializing from the air, someone thrust a large swirl of cotton candy into the girlfriend’s hand and the couple seemed to be swept along by a cadre of ushers to the outer path of the Midway.

A few moments later, one of the Hey, Rube group called out to you in passing.  “Hey, Baseball.  Good gimmick there.  Got to try that myself.”

Later that night, at supper, Ron, who’d been in the escort group, observed, “We take care of our own, so that makes you one of us.  And you know what that means.”

You pretty well knew.  The next time there was a Hey, Rube, you were expected to be part of the escort group.


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