The Carnival Barker

As a girl growing up in lower North Mankato, the annual community celebration dubbed “North Mankato Fun Days” was a highlight of my childhood summers.

Watching the crowds throng to the usually quiet Wheeler Park, now aglow with the Trabant, a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and the predictable selection of small-town carnival rides, was far more exciting than swinging with my friends on the playground or singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” and crafting “God’s eyes” with the college students hired as youth activities directors for the town’s summer recreation program.  (This was the early ’70s, mind you.)

To walk the carnival grounds was to smell corn dogs, mini-donuts, cotton candy and the adjacent beer garden–but above all, that was where the “carnies” aggressively urged kids like me to release the scant dollars from our fists in the hope of replacing the money with “fabulous prizes,” like pink teddy bears, green stuffed snakes and other useless trinkets.

Of all the aspirations I have harbored in my life, working for a carnival was never among them–and I especially had no desire too be the guy trying to get kids or teenage boys to slap down 50 cents or a buck to throw some hoops, break a plate or knock over a pyramid of bottles.

So imagine my great surprise when, upon recent reverie, it became apparent that I now resemble no one more than those questionable carnival barkers.

No, I’m not talking about their long greasy hair, unwashed clothes and skin, vacant eyes, grungy money aprons and jingling belt chains–I’m referring to the fact that I, too, am reduced to constantly hawking goods (of sometimes dubious quality), all in the name of something greater.

This transpired merely by virtue of being an involved parent, in a day and age when that mantle means helping one’s children participate in fundraisers of every type, year-round.

I’ve peddled cookies, calendars, candles and chocolates; shilled for cinnamon rolls, butter braids, raffle tickets, concert tickets, magazine subscriptions and pizzas; coaxed and cajoled for beef jerky, nuts, popcorn, wrapping paper, greeting cards and memberships; and sold for spaghetti suppers, waffle feeds and pancake breakfasts.

Emails have been sent, phone messages recorded, personal visits made and testimonials delivered.  Lately I’ve noticed that, despite my unwavering assurances that friends and acquaintances need not feel any obligation to buy, said friends and acquaintances have begun to politely, if warily, ask, “You’re not selling anything today, are you?”

It is my fervent wish to NOT be selling, believe me.  But another week passes and another fundraiser begins, or another student trip is planned “and here’s a great way to make your cash outlay a little less,” soothes the organizing teacher/coach/leader.

And soon, there I am again, sometimes with a child by my side, sometimes not, back in the same old position I have now recognized as being quite similar to that of the carnival barker.

A common huckster, that’s what I’ve become–don’t think I’m completely ignorant of the fact.  Please, if you’ve been offended by my repeated entreaties to buy, buy, buy, try to understand that I’m just doing my job as a parent and following through on the “too good to refuse” offers tossed our way.

And if you don’t want to buy, or even have this now-experienced carnival barker breathe your way, by all means feel free to say so.  I have only three words left to say:

My sincere apologies.

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