August 17, 2013

TRAVIS LAZARCZYK: Even at the fair, we all want to win

By Travis Lazarczyk
Staff Writer

Everybody, meet Tom. A carny for 18 years, Tom is telling me how easy this game is. All I have to do is bounce the ball off of the picture of Ben Franklin and into the bin that sits directly below the picture. The ball is plastic, the size of a baseball, and full of holes, like a cheap, knockoff Wiffleball.

Bounce it off Ben and into the basket, win a prize. A tie-dyed teddy bear, maybe, or a stuffed giant banana with dreadlocks.

"It's like a basketball," Tom says. "Get some spin on it."

From his perch on the midway at the Skowhegan State Fair, Tom and his carny cohorts get us to show off our skills, or lack thereof, every day. The fair midway taps into our basic competitive drive. We all want to be known as winners, and what's more proof of being a winner than strolling down the midway with a stuffed animal under your arm? They don't just give those away. They must be earned, with talent and skill.

I can shoot a basketball. I'm no dead eye like Larry Bird, but I'm not an embarrassment, either. Shooting hoops is a communal slice of American life. Who hasn't picked up a basketball and taken a few elbow jumpers or free throws? Who hasn't played a game of Horse?

If you had a gym class in grade school, chances are you shot a basketball. So when Tom or Brian or any carny tell you to just get spin on this ball like you're shooting a basketball, you know you can do it. You should be able to do it.

I can't do it. I can't come close. My first try has too much spin, hits Ben's face at an odd angle, and bounces off to the right. The second hits Franklin right in the nose and comes straight back towards me, overshooting the basket by a foot. My final throw is the ugliest, and does not need to be immortalized here.

"Not enough spin," Tom says.

Ben Franklin stares at me. A founding father has never looked so disgusted.

Only three out of 10 who play win, Tom says, and while most shrug their loss off like me, some get upset.

"They want to start arguing, I'm like 'Hey, don't yell at me. I'm just doing my job,' " Tom says.

There was one guy a few years ago, at a stop in Richmond, Va., who spent $1,100 on a game called Cover the Spot. In that game, the player must throw five metal discs so that they cover a red spot.

"He got it figured out," Tom says of the big spender. "He won a bunch of stuff. He won his money back."

At the Skowhegan State Fair, you could try your skill throwing darts at balloons. If you could stand up a beer bottle using a pole, you could win a three-foot tall stuffed Peter Griffin, the father on the animated series "Family Guy." The stuffed Peter Griffin is the most terrifying stuffed anything you'll ever see in your life.

There was no hoop shoot, though, and that was disappointing. With my five bucks in the till, Tom is ready to move on.

"I'd like to chat with ya, but I've got to make some money," Tom says, and his attention turns to the passers by. "Come on, make your lady smile today! You ain't got to wait for Christmas, get something today!"

The Windsor Fair is in a couple of weeks. That gives me plenty of time to practice.

Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242

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