Monday, November 18, 2013

Freak me out

I used to work at the Florida State Fair selling beer. More often than not, I spent at least as much money as I made out on the midway. That was how another beer seller, Rod Zeratsky, and I found ourselves behind the freak show tent late one Saturday night, watching a guy do horrible things to himself with metal skewers. We had been in the regular freak show, which is mostly a rip-off. Somebody billed as half human/half spider will put their head through a hole in a wall that has a big, fake spider body on it and everybody chuckles like, "Okay, you got me". But there are still some legitimate freaks out there who do freaky tings. Such was the case with the emcee of the show who sidled up to us on the way out and half-whispered, "If you guys want to see some real shit, meet me in back of the tent in five minutes." We could only think of about a dozen things that could possibly go wrong with a proposition like that so of course we went back there. There were five or six other people to whom he'd made the same offer. He came out from the back of the tent, we all ponied up an extra $10 each and he started torturing himself with metal spikes. At one point I said, "that's real blood!" and he said, "no kidding, I'm pushing real metal spikes into my real skin". It was disgusting, awful (and a little bit sad, as I got the impression that the family friendly, midway version of the freak show probably didn't pay that well) and we were glad we did it. Because who doesn't like to freak themselves out every once in a while? There's an odd sort of comfort that comes from knowing that people exist who do things that you, or anybody you know, would never do.
When I was little, it was easy to be freaked out. Things like women with tattoos, men with earrings, anybody with green or blue or purple hair and interracial couples. All those things existed but were unusual enough to draw attention. They didn't scare me, but they fascinated me. They were so different from what I was used to. Now all those things are commonplace and mainstream to the point of being boring. Some of what was once considered freaky is just people doing their thing. Sadly, a lot more of it is people affecting freakish traits in order to look like they're doing their own thing. That's downright tragic and really boring. The harder people try to stand out from the crowd, the more they're look like everybody else. There's a basic non-conformist uniform these people wear. Tattoos, piercings, a stupid hat of some kind and at least one earnest attempt at casual irony. True freaks are few and far between.

"I'm unique, just like everybody else."

The other day, somebody said they saw a bearded lady. Not a woman with some hair on her face, like she missed some whilst plucking, this (apparently) was a woman with a full-on, lumberjack-style, normally-seen-on-a-man beard. "I thought about coming to get you so you could see." Of course you should have come and got me! That's interesting! I need to see that. And apparently she agrees or else she'd shave. I'd be doing her a disservice not to come look at her. I don't need to point or laugh or even stare, but I need to know that she, and people like her still exist.

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