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Memoirs of a Sword Swallower Excerpt: Joining the Sideshow

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“M’boy, in carny life you’ve got to have a real sympathetic understanding of the public,” said the Impossible with what seemed to be genuine sincerity. “When I got this wheel from the manufacturer, it was just an ordinary wheel. Of course, they included printed instructions showing how to install the control button with a warning that dishonest operators occasionally resorted to such devices and offering to sell the necessary parts for a small additional sum. Being a reputable company, they naturally couldn’t install the device themselves. Well, I picked up the parts myself from a hardware store during the rush hour when the clerks were busy elsewhere. But the thing didn’t bring in the marks. So I sat down and studied the situation out.”

“How?” I asked, fascinated.

“M’boy, there’s nothing the public likes better than to feel they’ve swindled somebody,” said the Impossible, spitting on his soldering iron to see how it was coming along. “When I was busy trying to collect a tip – that means a crowd – some mark would always start fooling with the wheel when he thought I wasn’t looking. I hitched another stop-wire to this bar so I could work the map while I was at the other end of the joint. With a little quiet help from me, the mark would learn how to spin the wheel just hard enough to stop the light on a certain state. Then he’d call me over and we’d start betting. Remember that to be a successful businessman you must have a tender spot in your heart for the foibles of humanity.”

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