Tuesday, October 5, 2010
When I was a kid my Mom would find all kinds of things for my brother and I do. On those long summer days when Mom needed a "babysitter" she would often drop us at the multiplex. She instructed us to watch a movie and then move to the next theater and watch another. She would pick us up about 4 or 5 hours later. Everyone in a better mood.
If the State Fair was in town she sometimes dropped us off there. I remember the midway at the fair. The huge ferris wheel, cotton candy tons of lights and my favorite, the air guns that were used to shoot targets.
This was the late 60's early 70's. This was Mobile, Alabama. Things were different. What was different you ask? Well to start with blind faith wasn't just a rock band, but a way of life. Drugs, pedophiles, child slave labor, who knew? And if we did know we had to tell ourselves "not in Mobile, this couldn't happen here". And it didn't happen here. No one ever bothered us, no one ever tried to get us to try drugs or tried to get us to get in their van with the offer a cute puppy or candy. Good thing cause I would have gone for it.
Just like I went for Lobster Boy, god bless his soul.
See my little brother and I are at the fair. Alone. We must have been 9 or 10 years old, so no big deal. It wasn't like it was night time or anything. Back then "freaks" were a big part of these traveling carnivals. You know the bearded lady, the fattest man in the world, the 2 headed cat and so on.
The one that attracted us was a sign for Lobster Boy. Pincher's for hands and feet. Step right up ladies and gentlemen and little kids to see the freakiest freak on earth. Little brother stubbed out his cigarette and said "hell yes" that's for us. So we bought our ticket and entered the tent. I'm am 48 years old now and still remember how weird this was. Just me, my brother and Lobster Boy. He was in a cage like the ones on wagon wheels. He was about 3'tall and was no boy. He was a full grown, 3' tall man with what looked like the meat of lobster claws for hands and feet. They were the shape of pincher's, but all flesh. He was sitting cause who could stand on feet like that? He was smoking a cigarette and told us to come closer. I remember us standing right in front of the glass panel between him and us and my jaw was just hanging. So was little brothers. He spoke through a microphone and it gave his voice a crackly, scary sound. He smoked and told us of his condition. He ask us if we wanted to buy photos of Lobster Boy. I bet we didn't say shit. I bet we just looked at him as if he was some kind of freak. He probably had to tell us to leave cause I'm sure we were to stunned to do anything. Some of you are now saying to yourselves "that explains a lot about those Hartley boys".
The reason I'm telling you this is cause the other day the fair was in East Point, just around the corner from where my wife and I live. It is in town often and often we go for a walk just to check it out. The other night Stacey and walked through the midway at night. I wanted Stacey to get some photos. It reminded me of Lobster Boy. I told Stacey all about it and how much these traveling fairs have changed. No freaks. But, Stacey did get some cool photos.
I remember reading Confederacy of Dunces not long after it was published. I remember the story of how the authors mother talked Percy Walker into reading it which led to Tulane Press publishing it. Dunces won a Pulitzer Prize. This all happened years after John Kennedy Toole, the author, had committed suicide after being rejected by publishers.
The novel was an instant classic and it was passed around among my friends. This was 1980-81. I think about Confederacy of Dunces and Ignatius J. Riley, the main charter in the story, when I'm in NOLA and I come come across a Lucky Dog Vendor. And I laugh out loud. There are lot's of laugh out loud parts of this book. It is such a well written book. It is full of very unique characters. And the dialect of each is perfect. From the well educated , pompous tones of Ignatius to the hip, jive, soul brother talk of Jones the floor sweeper at the local bar. There's the cop, and the mother and her friend and the stripper and the lady bar owner and many others. They each have a very distinct way of talking and it came through in the book. And it is a big part of what makes this such a good read.
So my moms calls and tells me she read that Confederacy of Dunces was being offer as live stage production put on by The Theatrical Outfit. The Theatrical Outfit is in downtown Atlanta, on Luckie St. We caught one of the last shows and enjoyed very much. If you have read the book you would know why I worried if they could pull it off. To start with the characters in the book are so distinct I thought no way they could do them justice. Well they did. All except the jive talking Jones, the "flo sweeper". It was still a great show.
The actors would sometimes bring the stage set with them as they came on stage for their scene. While on the other side the stage was being set for the next scene. It was a brillant way to handle scene changes. The play was in two acts. The background, a New Orleans cityscape with the D. H. Holmes clock in the center, never changed. Like I said some of the set pieces were carried or pushed on stage by the actors in a particular scene. When that scene was finished actors came from another part of the stage with other set pieces, put them in place and started acting. The set pieces were simple. Like a small kitchen table with 2 chairs and maybe a phone, a bottle of booze and and a candle on the table. Just enough to get the setting across. Then the actors grabbed the chairs and pushed the table away when they were done. I thought it was a great way to present a play.
You should go to this link and read a review of the book. It will give you an idea of what Ignatius was like. http://www.spikemagazine.com/1104johnkennedytoole.php
I read the next day in the paper that there is a effort to get the play to NYC. Hope that happens.