Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The G

In hardly any time at all after opening the book, you were in' you knew it still belonged; you'd made the right choice.  By "the book," you meant Herb Gold's The Man Who Was Not With It,"a narrative of, among other things, the the illusory world of the carnival.  For a time, you were with it.  Although you have only published one thing about "It," you have never got past, over, around, or beyond the implications of being with it.

Only today, as you dawdled through toast and coffee, prompted by your reading of The Man Who Was Not With It, you were back with It, learning about the basic unit of It, wherever It is.  In this case, you were with your entry ticket to the world of It, a person you knew little about except that while you were attending Los Angeles City College and UCLA, he was attending Atascadero, which is a secure forensic hospital, and San Quentin, which is a correctional facility.  He was also an able-bodied seaman, shipping out on merchant vessels, bound for Asian and European ports.  Let's call him Stan.

Shortly after you'd completed your first job with It, which is to say with the carnival and the fraternal and sororal order of men and women unlike anything you'd seen before, you were being "broken in" at a job from which the expression "Close, but no cigar" originated, The Hammer.  Players at the time paid twenty-five cents to swing a medium-weight mallet at a padded target resembling the sprung cushion of an old sofa. The Hammer appears to be straight, Newtonian physics.  You hit the target with enough force, a marker rises up a ten-foot vertical channel, embedded between two long boards.  At the top of the vertical channel is a bell which, if hit by the marker, clangs a loud greeting.

"You're sure your friend here understands how this booth works,"  the owner, who was about to become your boss, asked Stan.  "You're sure he understands this booth pays rent and has to account for itself?"

"I showed him all about the G,"  Stan said.

"We'll have to see, won't we?"  the owner said.  "He looks kind of green to me."

"That,"  Stan said, "is his strength."

Within minutes, you were in the booth, a money apron tied about your waist, the mallet in your hand.  As a group of middle-aged men, laughing and stumbling along, passed the booth, you caught their attention by ringing the gong twice, once by holding the hammer in one hand.
"Easy as pie, boys," you called out, extending the hammer to the one who seemed drunkest.  "Here, have a swing on me."

He did.  In fact, he rang the bell even louder than you had.  "Shoot,"  you said.  "You'd a been swinging for real, that woulda got you a cigar or anything on the first shelf.  

"What about them other shelves?  Teddy bears.  Dolls.  That portable radio."

"You got to ring that gong two times to get you up on the second shelf. Course you got to pay in advance for two swings."

"Suppose I miss the first time?"

"You already saw how easy it was.  How you gonna mess up, big guy like you?"

As you recall, you worked that group of men for the better part of forty dollars, using a combination of Stan's previous instructions, and the basic unit of carnival life, the G.  Thanks to some adventurous psychological researchers, the term "The G" may have a sexual connotation.  In this case, it was short for The Gimmick.  In the case of The Hammer booth, where you indeed got a job and where, indeed, your appearing green or naive or untested, worked to your advantage, the G was a pedal with which you could control the height, or lack thereof, the counter rose toward the bell.

You were thinking this morning of Stan, of the G, and the carnival ethos which held among other things that those of us who were with It were contributing to the enjoyment of the Mark by using techniques you later began to recognize as being resident in story.  A Mark earned his stuffed animal by paying for it; it he earned it too soon,it was suspect.

You were also thinking of Stan, coming to get you in a 1940 Cadillac, he'd purchased from Freddy Fastpants,a Gypsy in Medford, Oregon.  There you were, in a garage in King City, California, the hood of the Cadillac open, billows of smoke wafting from the engine vault.  "Hey, guys, commere," the mechanic, whose name was Manny," called to his garage mates.  "You gotta see this."

Soon, four or five mechanics were huddled about the car, laughing.Your auto-related Spanish lacked the vocabulary for the insider's laugh, but when Manny asked Stan where he'd got hold of such a car, you began to get the drift.  When Manny offered to buy the Cadillac for one hundred dollars, the drift became heavier.

"I paid two thousand for that damned car,"Stan said, which provoked gales of laughter from everyone but Stan.

"All right, all right,"  Manny said.  "You got screwed is what.  I'm gonna work with you," by which he meant he was going to sell Stan a late model De Soto, the only thing wrong, and I'm telling you up front, she burns some oil.  "Throw in the Caddy, you and your buddy gonna be driving a late model De Soto outta here right now.."

Two days later, when you were in Salinas, working the Salinas Fair, and the De Soto had needed towing, you were working what turned out to be your favorite of all booths, the baseball throw.  Six lead milk bottles, stacked in a triangle.  Three balls for a quarter.  The G:  three of the milk bottles had two-pound lead weights in them.  If you happened to stack the weighted bottles toward the pyramid, a good sneeze would topple them.  If the weighted bottles were stacked at the bottom, a fast throw could easily bounce back to ricochet off the thrower.

Stan nudged you.  "What goes around comes around,"  he said, pointing down the midway.  There, stumbling along, enjoying the ever present smell of grilling onions from the cookhouse, clutching a paper cup of beer, was Manny, the mechanic from Salinas.

"My turn,"  Stan said.  "He's on my turf now."

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