Fifteen years ago when we attended the Monroe County Fair, we got to see an honest-to-God freak show. There was a sword-swallower, a bald guy who pounded big nails up his nose, and a girl who played with snakes and thrashed around in a fake electric chair.
So, the next year, when we were told there were no more prodigies of nature --- "We're a family fair now" --- we gave up on this annual gathering of rip-off games and tepid rides.
Imagine our delight then, when we returned years later and found that the Fair promoters had gotten back to basics and rescinded the no-freak rule. There, in all its sordid glory, was a tent surrounded by lurid paintings. A constant recorded spiel exhorted us to "See The Batboy! He's only three-and-a-half feet tall. He only weighs 50 pounds. The world famous Batboy! Ask him how he got that way."
We eagerly paid our buck and filed in. This was no fake, no two-headed lamb fetus in a jar, as they'd had years before. Yes, indeed, there was a real Batboy. He required no cage. And though he's covered with tattoos and truly misshapen --- his ears stick out and his face seems to have caved-in a bit --- he was a very polite freak. He sat with a fan blowing on him and a boombox nearby to keep boredom at bay. He nodded and greeted his fans. He signed copies of his photo, "Nice to meet you." Even the kids who hung back exited more puzzled than afraid.
So here's what we found out: He's from California, he's 26 years old, he's only been doing this bit for a few months, and it was his idea. He does nine-hour stints with one hour for lunch. The general feeling was more of embarrassment than terror. He made a few desultory lunges at kids, but didn't give even a half-hearted growl or gibber. He seemed more like a bored TV viewer than a source of fear. "I see hundreds and hundreds of people each day," he said. He just sits there in his comfy chair and watches the parade of humanity pass by, and he's not terribly impressed.
But this is not to say the Fair had no terrors. For free, you could experience the nightmare that called itself The Puppetone Rockers. If Bertoldt Brecht had worked with the Muppets, if a forgotten Euro-trash disco act had its own cable-access kids show, if flea-bitten marionettes writhed in agony in the hell that yawns beneath Sesame Street, then they might approximate the angst generated by Puppetone. Worst of all, a section of the stage detached itself at one point and the two keyboard-pounders drove around the fair grounds like a float in a Heironymous Bosch parade. "Super-kids, super-kids," they kept chanting. We were trapped at one point as a giant pink monstrosity thrashed like a hanged man on the gibbet. Nearer and nearer it loomed as the drum machine ground out its deathmarch.
We escaped, but just barely, and went back to have another talk with The Batboy.