Hi. My name is Jimmy and I’m an addict. Not to alcohol(although during college that was touch and go). Nor drugs. Not to gambling or sex(well to sex a little but nothing that could be diagnosed clinically). I’m addicted to Bizarres. It’s been a few weeks since my last Bizarre and with the end of the summer quickly approaching, I fear my addiction will have to bide it’s time till next year.
Let me explain.
Going swimming. Chasing fireflies. Endless barbecues. Firework shows and getting sunburn so bad it hurts to just stand still. It is the summer(After the 14 hours of darkness and skin cutting wind chills winter gives us, what a wonderful reprieve to be able to rid yourself of the scarf, Gortex coat, gloves, and seal skins for a chance to gorge on grilled red meat and blister your skin in the sun).
One of the summer’s great offerings(besides the airport screening like randomness of a visit from Mr. Softee to your block) is the nomadic members of a travelling Bizarre setting up camp in your town.
Bizarres can bring a community together. It can be a reunion for faces you have not seen in years. People laughing. Kids crying. Parents yelling at the crying kids. There is something wholly nostalgic about knowing summertime brings with it Ziploc bags of goldfish, Funnel Cakes smothered in powdered sugar, cheesy knock-off prizes, and shoulder to shoulder people in line waiting for a soda cup full of French Fries and vinegar. All of it hearkens back to my childhood and enables my maturity level that happens to hover somewhere between my 7 year old’s and my 4 year old’s. In fact, I would consider myself to be a Bizarre junkie(better than a Black Tar Heroin junkie I suppose).
My addiction to them is in spite of knowing and fully acknowledging just how rigged the games of “skill” are(rigged like a taping of ‘Crossing Over’) and how little chance any of us have to win a prize with the first dart(or the fifth for that matter).
It started for me at an early age. Where I grew up, every summer, St Catherine’s of Sienna had an annual bizarre. The Bizarre, as fate would decide it, happened to be right down the street from where I lived which meant my parents had no choice but to take my sister and I there. I can still see the current of people walking past my house to get there or to get to their car, arms loaded with goodies. The sounds of the MC over the microphone introducing the next Polka Band to be performing still rings in my ears. I can still smell the fried batter, seafood, and the grease from the rides wafting to the open window at my room.
Every second week of June, from Thursday to Saturday, Mt Penn welcomed a Bizarre and games like ‘Guess your Speed’ pitching and the ball drop. The one where you had to drop an abnormally large Superball into the colored spot on a muffin tin enclosed in a plexiglass box. Fried Funnel Cakes with powdered sugar that had turned into a sugary cement because of the grease oozing from your cake that had encompassed your entire Dixie paper plate and a clam and beer tent that my father(and a lot of other fathers) seemed to enjoy spending copious amounts of time in(no wonder he volunteered to take us each and every night). The St Catherine’s Bizarre was where the entire town gathered for a few nights every summer.
My appetite grew more hungry after I attended the Beaver Springs Bean Soup Festival and the now infamous ‘Dime Pitch’ tent I conquered in 1992. I was like Jordan in the ’92 Finals against Portland as he rained three’s all over Clifford Robinson. Every dime flicked from my hand found it’s way to the bottom of a drinking glass with a ‘Genessee’ label on it. But that’s another story for another day. My point is, I enjoy a good Bizarre.
It seems as though the genetic apple does not fall too far from the DNA matrix tree because my kids share my love of Bizarres as well. When we are able to enter the arena of competitive dart throwing and other bar skills packaged in the inviting glow of flashing neon lights and transfatty foods, all three of us don’t hesitate for an instant. Knowing with five dollars we can get three chances to win a plastic framed picture of Dale Earnhardt’s number 3 car excites all three of us.
Sure it will take me fifteen dollars to finally win a Spiderman inflatable figure by spraying a stream of water at a tiny target, but being able to beat the 8 year old, who keeps winning, convincingly is what I truly crave and it gives me the high my addiction craves.
Between spinning around in a giant strawberry and attempting to roll a whiffle ball in the right hole for an eighty cent SpongeBob plush toy my wallet is empty…but the three of us are all smiles.
The ‘Dragon’ ride Emma and Hannah want to go on cost me $8 in tickets(Twenty five cents and they could have ridden something outside of K-Mart) and the basket full of ping pong balls used to win a fish Hannah is yearning for will cost another $10 before we finally wrap one up in our Ziploc bag. But it’s a Bizarre and I simply can’t help myself. Besides, the women in my family could spend double what I put out for my one time a year pilgrimage to a Bizarre with a Wednesday run to the Dollar Store, which coincidentally is where most of these Bizarres probably purchase their prizes.
By the time we are ready to leave, I have dropped enough money to get myself a box seat at the new Yankee Stadium and my addiction has been sated for at least one more summer.
Since the time I was able to walk down Woodvale Avenue to the Bizarre to my moment of glory at the Beaver Springs Dime Pitch, I’ve been addicted. And now, when I look at the faces of my kids as they disembark from a Merry-go-Round with the original horses from 1912, I know they are fully captivated by the Bizarre too.
As we leave, all three of us are clutching on to plastic Katanas and toting $20 goldfish(sure not to live past Labor Day) as if we had just been able to ransack Ramses II’ s tomb. So I had to take an unsecured loan to pay for the 90 second rides from the Truman administration and for the chance to win a prize so cheap the Dollar General wouldn’t stock it, but it’s summertime and I’m sick of barbecues, my sunburn has stopped sizzling and I can’t help myself. I have an addiction.
A Bizarre addiction.