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  • Robert Bruce Adams

The White Tiger

(Legacy Essays, 2017)

MY YOUNGEST SON DAVE AND I STUMBLED upon a traveling carnival in the harbor town of Frankfort. It was a Thursday evening in the middle of July. It brought back fond memories for both of us and set the stage for an entertaining new experience. We were joined by Dave’s young family eyeing the various rides and concessions as we sauntered around the park. The nearly empty Ferris Wheel was spinning around and trumpet-shaped speakers hung from its spires blasting rap music over the sparse crowd. Flashing lights were everywhere and odd voices were floating in the evening air challenging you to knock something over, or pitch something into an opening.

Ah, the buzz of a carnival

Dave and I had smiles on our faces in pure amusement. Liz’s thoughts were not quite as agreeable. Under her breath, just audible, she whispered, “How disgusting.” She giggled and smiled. I think her lightheartedness was out of respect for Dave, knowing his fondness for the carnival. The fact that it was staged in our lakeside open-space came as a nice surprise. But the real surprise to me was the lack of customers. Didn’t the locals know the traveling roadshow was in town?

I remember the decades I stood in lines waiting, and waiting. The crowds were immense back then. Watching Rob and Dave’s eyes sparkle with anticipation was so much of the pleasure. Such a pleasant memory as a father, and as a kid. Such rides as the Tilt-A-Whirl and Bumper Cars were my personal favorites. Bumper Cars offered a ride where you literally plowed into strangers and both drivers would wear big smiles after each “bump.” As a youngster, the metal floors always caused a bit of apprehension in me, fearing electrical currents passing through my body as I walked on the floors before and after the ride. I was warned to always wear rubber-soled shoes. The carnival’s concessions were manned by road warriors and drifters, those odd yet familiar characters. I can report this is something that has not changed in the last sixty years. The bloodline has continued. The concessionaires still feature tattoos and slick hair with a pack of cigarettes in the front pocket of their loose polyester shirts.

Dave was immediately drawn to the Balloon Pop. He approached the vendor with such enthusiasm admitting that it was his favorite game. The real attraction was the seven-foot stuffed white tiger displayed in the corner of the booth. It took up five shelves hanging vertically. Dave and I looked at each other, our eyes sparkled telling of our desire to win the prize for little Charlie. We had not at all comprehended where we would put the mammoth tiger in his already stuffed Ford SUV should we win.

First things first.

“Try your skill,” barked the carnie. He caught our attention and without looking away from us tossed a dart over his shoulder popping a balloon. He did it a second time, again without looking back at the game board or even taking careful aim. This guy had talent. Dave and I were impressed and moved our thoughts to how easy it would be to win. There were hundreds of balloons on the board and we snickered knowing that the lack of attendance favored our chances. Dave quickly peeled off a five-dollar bill. He was born to compete. I was not so sure the terms had been established, so I asked the vendor how many balloons did one need to pop to win the white tiger. I know he wanted to say, “Go away Grandpa, you’re bothering me” but instead said, “Sir, no one knows.” He finished with a wry little smile. I let it fly right over my head, seeing little sense in starting a ruckus.

It had me flash back fifty years, remembering some yahoo with well-oiled biceps, and tattoo’s, walking about the midway with a huge stuffed animal slung over his shoulder. It finally dawned on me, at the ripe age of sixty-eight, the fella hadn’t won the animal. He was part of the carnival showboating amongst the hundreds of attendees. Such marketing skills these showmen exhibited.

Dave popped only two balloons and was directed by the vendor’s long pointer to select a prize from the very bottom shelf. He chose a turtle. It was small, about the size of a submarine bun, appearing in three shades of green. The green dye came off easily on the corner of Charlie’s mouth. He was teething and obviously felt that a good gumming of the turtle’s head was in order.

I quietly remarked to Liz, "How disgusting."

Dave and I laughed heartily as we strolled back into town to our car. A new memory had been fashioned. We also came to the same conclusion: The tiger wasn’t as white as he appeared from afar. Dave was also of the opinion that his darts had dull tips, certain they had been altered by Carnie Joe.

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