Tuesday, March 18, 2014

People Made of Dumb

Another dispatch from the road. I'm in sunny, tropical Miami this week and next. 

Miami is the last Florida fair and wraps up my "fair season" for the spring. There are a lot of really awesome folks in Miami, and I've had fun drawing some really cool people. 
Like this mother-son pair of zombie hunters...

And the owner of this fantastic head of hair...

And this married couple who had their kids drawn early in the day and then meandered back to get theirs too... 

And this young man, who excitedly told me he'd lost a tooth while eating a corn dog earlier that afternoon (how could I NOT immortalize that moment?).

So I cannot complain that everyone in Miami is annoying. I have met some delightful people and drawn their pictures. 

But, like any state fair, there are also people here that are made of dumb. I was having a conversation with a coworker last night about the new science show COSMOS, and whether it will make a dent in the scientific illiteracy that seems to plague America's youth. As if on cue, a gaggle of teens walked up and rattled off the super-typical "dumb fairgoer" comments and questions, in broken English. (These were not bilingual kids who spoke with an accent, no, I mean they just hadn't mastered their native tongue). "It's foh dollah! We could all get in there for four dolla!" No, we explained, it's $4 for the plastic protector; a drawing is $12 or $18 per person. They didn't get it, the "per person" concept was beyond them. They recognized celebrities on the wall but could only stammer "It's that lady off the Jesus channel!" about Dolly Parton and "it's that guy! That guy! What his name?" about Elvis Presley. 

I shook my head as they left and lamented that COSMOS won't make a dent. We're all doomed. 

Maybe I'm slipping into the "I hate the general public" mentality that seems rampant among seasoned veterans in this industry. The old hands I know in this business do seem to share that opinion of people--not individual people but the big, swarming, ugly mess of hoi polloi that walks by your booth every day asking "Y'all could draw all eight of us for $12, right?" and "Hey, why'd you give her a moustache! Har har har!" Caricature artists spend years crafting "fool-proof" signs and displays, only to set up and discover that there is no such thing as "fool-proof." Nature just spawns bigger fools who ask dumber questions. 

And I'm not going to name names, but I've known guys who take a "screw-em-they're-all-visually-illiterate" attitude and do shitty work on purpose because of their disdain for the public. 

That's when it's time to quit. Finding another job, away from the public, might be best. 

We are kind of in a catch-22 in this business. Most of the good caricature artists I know are good because they are observant. And, as observant people, they notice stupidity (or jerk behavior, or rudeness, or willful ignorance), and it bothers them. 

Just today, I witnessed a coworker draw a pair of jerks who shrugged and said "we ain't got no money" after he finished. Their pals had filmed the whole thing on their iPhone. They had the audacity to tell him "No hard feelings man, high five!" and expected him to think it was hilarious. He said the only high-five they deserve would be one in the face. Before that, a woman had walked up and said she didn't have any money but she respected my art and did I have any ideas for a cover-up tattoo? She then yanked down her sweatpants and showed me her vagina. At the fair. It said "Frederico" and was half-obscured by pubic stubble. Not what I hoped to see an hour into my shift. 

See, there are stupid people. And there are jerks. The latter is really more of a problem. Stupidity can be guided. I can explain to a stupid person why it costs double to draw two people, and if I talk slowly enough they eventually get it. But not the willfuly ignorant. That's a whole different animal. 

Many of us can tell whether a customer is going to be an ass even before they sit down. There's a look, a series of questions, body language, many little telltale signs that we have been primed to notice over the years. We develop prejudices--not to shades of skin or ethnicity but to certain behaviors. Every once in a while I am surprised, and someone I had mentally sorted into the "jerk" category turns out to be quite decent after a bit of conversation. 

That small margin of error is what keeps me from going "full carny" (the condition where you hate just about everyone, all the time, at every venue, and only view people as walking bags of money that should be shaken violently so that a few bills fall out for you to harvest). 

I really don't want to turn into that. But a long stint at several Florida fairs gets me about as close to that mindframe as I tend to be. The stupid can, at times, get really thick here. 

So, if you'll excuse me, I have to go rattle some walking bags of money for a while. 


  1. Back in 1983, I had just finished working the World's Fair and was desperate to get out of Knoxville. It was a month or two away from January and the only thing going on (that I could see) were Florida fairs. So I booked a few, including the Plant City Strawberry Festival. There was no space to rent in the regular fair so I ended up in the midway surrounded by carnies. I feel for you.. I don't know how, as a seasoned caricaturist you can still put up with fair business. I don't have the patience anymore.