About 10 years ago, I spent the day with the owner of a traveling sideshow for a story I was writing on the county fair.
He and I sat in his trailer — which smelled of well-loved dog and old bowls of generic Spaghetti-Os — and we talked for a long time about human oddities and the dying freak-show industry.
Back in the day, his shows featured a cadre of people who were born on the wrong side of normal — people with extra limbs or alligator-like skin; people who were way too tall or way too short; unfortunate women with plush hair everywhere (Pause for just one second here: Can you imagine? I’d be Nair-ing it up from dawn to dusk like a Kardashian sister if I were born looking like a werewolf. No way would I ever leave the house with hair peeking over my V-neck and out from under my capris. And invite the public in for a look-see? Nope. Think again, full moon. Unless it was my husband because, well, let’s face it, he’s seen worse — after all, marriage means you get to trade your shaving cream budget for secret trips to the shame bakery. Am I right, ladies?).
Anyway, the shows also included morbidly obese people (which at this point, yawn) — oh and people born with lobster claws for hands, bowling pins for heads or both male and female parts, respectively known as “Lobster People,” “Pinheads” and “Lady Gagas.”
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The sideshow owner didn’t like the term “freaks,” though (I missed the pre-sideshow-tent sensitivity workshop at which I ostensibly would’ve been taught never to say things like, “CVS has a cream for that now, you know?”)
The old guy spent most of the interview lamenting modern medical science, which in all its cleverness deprives him of new oddities — because these days when people are born less than satisfied they have options such as limb-removal, laser-hair treatment and shows like “Glee,” which teach us that a well-choreographed “Queen” number could make anyone feel better about an awkward crustacean grip.
In other words, bye-bye freak shows. Hello, gawk-free world of health and acceptance.
So so wrong.
Recently, I saw something that made me remember that the freak show is in full swing, baby. And we don’t need to leave the house to pay a dollar and peep through curtains.
Behold, TLC’s “My Strange Addiction.”
The reality show chronicles the plight of people who can’t stop chewing on their couches, dressing like babies, eating their own hair or glass or bathroom cleaner or drywall, sleeping with their hair dryers on, sniffing gasoline, mothering their teddy bears or pulling hair out of shower drains.
One particularly horrifying episode, the finale of season two, was about a woman who can’t stop ... ugh, I don’t even know if I should tell you ... fine, I will. She can’t stop EATING HER DEAD HUSBAND’S ASHES.
I’ll give you a second to clean up what just happened on the floor in front of you.
She estimates she’s eaten a pound of former flesh already and is seeking help because ultimately she doesn’t want to die at Ye Olde Urn Pub & Grille.
So, um, Mr. Sideshow Owner ... sir. I'm pretty sure they don’t make a cream for this one ...
Liz Farrell is the editor of Lowcountry Current. Follow her at twitter.com/elizfarrell.