In the late 60s, 1968 or 1969, I went to the Florida State Fair with two older guys, seniors at the Christian high school we all attended. I can’t remember what put us up in north Florida around state fair time—at the time I (we) lived in Miami. As I recall, our school choir had performed up there or up further in Georgia.
I had no money, so mainly I just stood outside while Buddy and Carlie paid the money to go inside some of the attractions, including a freak show. While I was waiting for them, doing nothing, some of the human oddities came outside, not the extreme ones, the ones you had to pay to see, but the fat lady and the dog-faced boy and a few others, sitting in folding chairs with boxes of 8x10 glossies, which they autographed for anyone willing to pay the two bucks (or whatever) to buy one.
As I said, I had no money, but it broke my heart—for some reason—to see the “performers” or “exhibitors” or whatever you’re supposed to call them so grimly signing photographs in hopes of making some extra money. Nobody was buying. I wanted to, though, even though I knew it was a rip-off.
The two guys were giving me a ride home—we were well acquainted but not really friends because I was two years younger than they. When they came out of the sideshow, I asked if I could have some money to buy the autographed photos. “Are you crazy?” one of them asked. “You didn’t even see the show.” And the other one assured me it was a waste of money, and, besides, it’s just as likely they didn’t have the money to lend.
That’s about all I remember of the external facts of the event, but what remains a more lasting impression, for some reason, was the deep sadness of seeing the fat lady and her coworkers so earnestly playing at being celebrities—with an imaginary fan base who would want to keep and treasure those photographs as mementos of having visited the state fair.
Today, actual celebrities—and wannabes like Nadya Suleman—sometimes evoke in me the same odd sense of ludicrous sadness.