In the summer of 1976, I met the Snake Boy at a carnival in Maine.
I have no photos of that night, but I remember being intrigued by the sideshows, with their ridiculous signs like these. There was one sign that caught my attention. It read, Snake Girl Wanted!
Camp Waziyatah Girls go the the Fair
I was 19 that Bicentinnial summer. I was working as a camp counselor, teaching boating to young girls who got bored easily. Fencing, tennis, horseback riding, gymnastics, theatre ...they'd done it all before. There was one thing most of the girls had never experienced, and that was a traveling carnival with sideshows and carnies...at night!
So much to see
Before spotting the Snake Girl sign, I wandered with a small group for a bit, absorbing the atmosphere. First I enjoyed a funny exchange with the corn dog man, who announced with a wink that he had connections and could get me a free ride on the YoYo! Then I tried out a stupid Ring Around the Milk Bottle game and felt a little jolted when the fast talking carnie grabbed my hand and asked me to run away and marry him that night. "I have money!" He assured me. Then we were distracted by an angry young man who staggered through the crowds screaming that he was going to kill someone. Just when he disappeared into the crowds, there was a mechanical thud and a crowd gathered nearby to help a young girl who had been hit in the head by the seat of a double Ferris wheel. Suddenly this carnival felt like a Hitchcock movie. There was nothing whimsical or humorous about the characters anymore. My Wazi Girls were beginning to cling a bit.
The Snake Girl sign was a curious distraction.
"Hmm?" I wondered with another counselor. "What does a snake girl do?" Probably she would not be dressed like the woman on the left.
The girls decided that I should inquire, so I stepped up to the cashier at the sideshow and asked about the job. She told me to head into the tent and talk to the Snake Boy. I paused for more instruction. "You can't miss him. He'll be in the snake pit." The girls and counselor encouraged me on.
Once inside, I found the Snake Boy standing in a round structure that reminded me of an above ground pool. He held some kind of snake, while others slithered over his feet. I don't remember what he wore, but he seemed scrawny and spacey, with long stringy hair.
Suddenly I was being interviewed by Snake Boy and his manager for a job! I found myself going right along as if I were playing a character in a play. I said I was planning on quitting college and was looking into my job options...and no I wasn't opposed to going on tour with them. I asked Snake Boy more details about his job and he told me he got paid $85. a week. When I asked about accommodations he answered blandly. "Well, sometimes I just sleep right in here with the snakes."
Thanks, Snake Boy!
Every stranger teaches me something.
I always kind of wondered what it would have been like to have lived a life on the road with characters like you and the others I met that night.
Snake Boy, I wasn't planning on quitting college. But you taught me to not even joke about it!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers