Wednesday, October 5, 2011

“You've got to find out
what's eating them”

Success in a carnival’s mitt camp (fortunetelling booth) requires close-reading skills:

“Sometimes they come for a lark and you can always spot that kind. But more often, even though they’re keeping up a bold front, they are worried deep down. If you’re going to be a mitt reader you’ve got to find out what’s eating them. Take the other day, a girl about thirty-five comes in. I spotted the mark on her finger where she had taken off her wedding ring — often they’ll do that to try and fool you. I could tell she was married, all right — an unmarried woman is looking out, this one was looking in. I figured she had at least two small children — she had that hunted look. Her clothes had been good last year, but this year they’d been made over and she was no seamstress. To me, that meant less money this year than last. She had no servants — I got this from her hands. I spotted her as conservative and unimaginative, from her clothes and hair-do. And timid from the expression of her mouth and eyes. Also some anxiety and self-pity. Anxiety alone might have indicated worry over illness in the family — husband, children or herself. Anger, either on the surface or boiling underneath, would mean another woman. But anxiety and self-pity together work out as a rule to money worries.

“You can see from this how closely you can peg them before they even sit down; but you’ve got to have good eyesight and be pretty quick to observe. After all, I pay fifty a week to the carny management for this spot on the midway and when we hit the fair dates it goes up to a hundred. When you have to get up ‘the nut’ that way every week, you’ll really sharpen up your brains if you have any.”

William Lindsay Gresham, Monster Midway: An Uninhibited Look at the Glittering World of the Carny (New York: Rinehart, 1953).
A related post

comments: 0