Working the Games – fifteen

Like many teenagers living in Chippewa in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I worked at Chippewa Lake Park. The first couple of summers, I worked the kiddie rides, but then I graduated to the games. Well, the Fish Pond and the Balloon Game.

The Fish Pond was an easy gig. My steady stream of customers consisted of small children. They would play their quarter, pick up a duck, and win something. They won whistles and tops and plastic sheriff’s badges and rubber spiders. They were happy with them all.

The Balloon Game was a little more interesting. Pop a balloon and win a large, medium or small prize. Generally speaking, people won whistles and tops and plastic sheriff’s badges and rubber spiders. Oh, and some times inflatable doll-like things. Okay, there were stuffed animals. They were the large prizes. Yeah, some times people won those too.

I recall one warm summer day working at the Park. Locals didn’t come to the Park very often. But this day one couple did. I never knew exactly why. They were classmates of mine. Using the same super-secret code I used with my last high school story, let’s call the guy JT. The girl was BB. (yeah, the same BB as the last story.) For some reason they were together at the Park. For some reason JT decided to win BB a stuffed animal, at my Balloon Game. He bought his darts and broke his balloons. Once a balloon was broken, I’d look at the tag hanging behind it to see what kind of prize he won. JT won whistles and tops and plastic sheriff’s badges and rubber spiders. I think he even won an inflatable cat. He kept trying. And trying. And trying. Then he finally decided to quit. After all, he wasn’t getting the stuffed animal. I couldn’t resist. “Now, don’t walk away just because your luck is bad. Why not let the little lady try it?” I used my best “carny voice”. JT gave me a rather unpleasant look, but BB was all for it. “One more try, dean, here’s a quarter.” BB threw her dart, popped a balloon. I checked the tag and wouldn’t you know it, she won a LARGE prize. Yes, her choice of any of the stuffed animals I had. It was a miracle!

I worked the carnival the summer after high school. Most of the time it was the Fish Pond and the Balloon Game. But one time I got to run the Pool Game.

We were working a carnival on the corner of E. 55th and Kinsman in Cleveland. I had the Pool Game. The Pool Game was a topless box about 2 or 2 1/2 feet wide and maybe 6 to 8 foot long. The bottom was covered in a cheap green felt. The last foot or so dropped about 3 inches. About 6 inches from that edge was a black circle. It was about 3 inches across, set dead center. Sitting in the center of the circle was a cue ball with a silver dollar (I think) balanced on it. The object of the game was to knock the dollar out of the circle. The player had another cue ball and a not completely screwed up cue.

It was a very straightforward looking task that nobody could do. Well, at least not unless I wanted them to do it. It was evening, maybe 9 o’clock. Several gentlemen wandered over from the bar across the street and decided to give my game a try. They tried many times each. Failing to accomplish the task, they insisted I do it. So I did. No problem. They asked me to do a second time so they could study my technique. I told them they’d have to pay to watch. They paid. I shoot. I did it. They tried several times more each. It was a buck a shot. After about five more tries each they told me to do it again. I did. I explained that I could do it because I got to practice a lot during the day when the crowds were thin. They tried again. And again. And again. Then they wanted me to do it again. At this point they’d paid for about five of the stuffed animals I had. So I did it again, but decided to set it up so the next guy would win. The guy gives me his dollar and is about to take the shot when he stops and says “Wait. I got it. You, switch the balls around.”


“Switch the balls.”


“Switch the damn balls.”

“Why? It won’t make a difference. Just take your shot.’

“I said switch the god damn balls around!”

So, looking dejected and defeated, I switched the balls. He shot. He lost. They went away.

Sometimes lucky is better than smart.

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