I, like approximately 1/3 of Americans, have a job. It requires me to interact with other people. To present myself in a courteous and professional manner and, no, I don’t wear a paper hat or a name tag. It’s a grown up job in a company staffed by grown ups ….. and me. No matter what I’m always going to have that one part of me that’s just that side of goofy. Depending on your point of view that’s either child-like or childish. That allows me to kind of take people as they come. I tend to be comfortable around people who are different than me simply because I enjoy the differences. I find that to be a blessing. Knowing people who are everything from porn stars to priests has given me access to insights I might otherwise have missed. And I do tend to see a common thread others seem not to. People really share the same core desires. They want a safe place to live, a roof over their head, food on the table and a better life or their progeny, biological or otherwise. So, yeah, I was appalled by Arizona and continue to be appalled at those who use religion as a weapon. As I noted elsewhere, I believe in God. Happen to be a big fan of His work. He did an exceptional job on the derriere of a certain red head I know. That being said, there is lengthy list of animals who are gay, so it’s not just a human thing. In other words there’s a point to their existence. And if they’re good enough for God then they’re good enough for me. Because, smart though I may be, I am not smarter than God.
One thing is true. Diversity is the backbone of this country. It’s the whole reason we exist. We are the freaking meting pot of the world. We are not a box of light, beige, crayons.
And, yet, there are those who judge. Often from ignorance and fear. “That’s not like me so it must be bad” is the mantra of the small minded. So it was with a certain modicum of joy that I ran across Michael Sean Comerford’s article about Short E. Dangerously.
The half man, all freak, who’s living large.
A tall, successful looking man in his early 50s next to me in the elevator was just making small talk when he asked why I carried so many books and notes with me.
I’m writing a book about traveling carnivals. I spent the year working and living in traveling carnivals and now it’s time to write a book. There was lots of hitchhiking involved too, I said.
“I used to work for the freak show every year at the Minnesota State Fair,” he said. “I used to pull the sword out of the sword swallower’s mouth.”
As I left the elevator I asked his name, later Googling his name to see what became of the Freak Show apprentice.
Vice chairman of General Motors.
Writer Amy Tan says she wonders if the “universe” is sending her material for her books when she’s writing, because so much comes her way when writing that inspires her work (they are good novels).
It happens to me too but my subject is carnivals, carnies and the ephemeral locus of American communities. With a subject that broad, GM vice chairman/former child freak show performers will happen.
You never know what you’ll see in a freak show, or who those performers are in real life.
For my last day in my year in traveling carnivals, I asked King of the Sideshows Ward Hall if I could work in his freak show for a token amount and for just a day.
I saw the World of Wonders several times when I was working the billiards game for Adam West’s crew in at the Minnesota State Fair last summer.
The “World” was playing the Florida State Fair in Tampa and I wanted to get a toe into the freak show side of the industry. Hall agreed and I took tickets and was a gopher.
Twenty-two-inch tall Short E. Dangerously is the only classic “freak” in the show, called a “half man” because he was born without legs.
At the World of Wonders show in Florida, people ate fire, swallowed swords and performed magic, including a guillotine routine with a head thrown into the crowd. Illusions, Ward said, are most of the show these days.
Hall blames political correctness for the decline in “human oddities” wanting to perform in sideshows. Hall has worked in the sideshow business for 60 years and knows his freaks.
“I’ve worked with hundreds of human oddities,” he said. “Giants, midgets, alligator skin men, bearded ladies, the monkey girl, pinheads, midgets, dwarfs, the armless girls, the living half men, all worked for me in the past.”
Maybe even a future vice chairman of General Motors.
Shorty started touring in sideshows just a couple years ago and now travels the world. He’s knocked out by the fame and travel. Before one performance, (performances run continuously almost all day), he looked back at fellow performer and beautiful assistant Sunshine and said, “I know, sometimes I can’t believe all this myself.”
It’s hard work as you’ll see in his interview.
I found his lack of neuroses compelling. He says he had a happy childhood. He loves music and women. He’s healthy. He makes money and travels the world. He’s a happy man.
Without a hint of self pity for the cards he was dealt, he proclaims himself a lucky half man and a rocker.
I’ve read experts who say otherwise, but I believe a man is happy if he thinks so. I also believe most of what we see, we should question.
You never know what you’ll see in a sideshow, on stage, behind the stage or in the corporate board room. You never know the shape of a happy man.
Click here to read the whole interview. You’ll be glad you did.
Short E. has a website, a hot woman who lets him throw knives at her and has written a loving tribute to his mom.
This is Short E. being a human flame thrower. And, yes, that’s as tall as he gets.
The point here is simple, because his mother accepted him for what he was he was able to accept himself. Because he could accept himself it made it possible for others to accept him.
Do you see the pattern here?
As my grandmother used to say, “We are all God’s creatures. It’s up to us to figure out why he put us here.”
I may not have all the answers, but hating all the wonderful people He’s graced us with doesn’t seem to be the right answer.