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"All Right, Gentlemen, Step Right This Way. For Fifty Cents, Only Two Parts Of A Buck, You're Gonna See a Show, the Likes of Which We Say You Ain't Never Seen Before. You've Gotta See This Little Lady...Get Your Tickets Now... No, Mister, We Don't Recommend You Bring the Wife and Kids"

"Lulu's Paradise"

By Ken Harper



Vol. 15, No. 6, August 1958

     Go down any carnival midway, all the way down to the end, and you'll see them, lined up like the stalls in a bawdy house. Big, flashy-lighted shows, with banners showing luscious girls wearing only skimpy bras and a kind of abbreviated diaper wrapped around their thighs, revealing what lies beneath more clearly than actual nakedness could.
    These are the girlie shows. The kootch mills, the pens in which hundreds of men stand every night on trampled grass, breathing hard, their desires stirred up by "exotic dancers" who can't dance a step but who know how to make a man shell out the dough to see more of their available charms.
    I've been talking a kootch show for almost a year, and this time next year I'll probably still be at It. Why not? The money is good, and if the company isn't-- well, at least it's interesting. If suckers want to pay good dough to watch some broad wiggle her backside, it's fine by me. Besides, I've got Betty Lee, and if I want to keep her I'm stuck with the girlie show. Betty is a real professional kootch. She wouldn't know how to do anything else and wouldn't want to if she could.
    I joined up with her down in Virginia, when the carnival she was with was playing a fair there. I'd gotten mad at my boss and jumped my own show.
    "Don't know," said the carnie boss when I hit him up for a job. "All the office-owned flat joints are signed up solid. The Skill-o, the Count Store--even the Swinger. Might get you on as an outside roan on the Swinger. Not much loot in it, though."
    Flat joints are crooked games in carnie lingo. The Skill-o is kind of like a roulette wheel, only it's crookeder than even the wickedest roulette wheel is supposed to be. And the Count Store is a joint where the sucker rolls out numbered marbles, trying to count up to 21. Nobody can out-figure a Count Store man. But the worst of all is the Swinger, where the mark tries to swing a hanging ball past a tenpin and hit it on the way back. Looks simple, but the laws of physics say it can't be done. Suckers never believe those physics laws. A real money-maker. One man works inside and about three or four outside pretending to be suckers
    "Not interested," I said half--heart'dly. This wasn't working out the way I'd hoped.
    Then I saw her. It was still early in the morning and the sun poked right through that kimono thing she was wearing and I would have bet my last nickel that under neath it she was naked as the day she was born.
    "Bulldog," she told the carnie boss, "I gotta have a talker quick. Chuck's gone and smoked about three sticks right on top of a drunk. He's sicker'n a dog."
    Before Bulldog could open his mouth I was right in there. "I'm your boy," I told her. "I've talked kootch shows from here to Louisville. I can build a tip out there on the bally and turn it before you can din two bumps and a grind. I'll have them suckers knocking down the ticket box."
    She laughed. Her teeth were white and even. "You've got enough gall, I'll say that." Turning to Bull dog, she asked: "Know him?"
    "Heard about him. Used to run a couple of shows a few seasons back. Got a rep for being mostly honest. With the show, I mean. Takes his best hold with the suckers."
    "Okay by me," said the girl, sticking out her hand. The sun glinted in her blonde hair. "I'm Betty Lee Hunt, and you got yourself a job. Fifteen per cent and half of the stealings."
    "Not from me, I hope," growled Bulldog.
    "Shortchange the suckers," Betty Lee purred.
    As we walked down toward the midway's back end Betty Lee asked me a lot of questions.
    "Got a car?"
    "Not yet." I looked her straight in the eye. She stared back, then flushed and turned her bean.
    "Don't give me those sloe eyes," she said. "I ain't sure about you yet."
    "I'm sure about you, Betty Lee," I told her calmly. "I'm just as sure as I can be."
    "Come on in the trailer," she said as we walked out in back of her show--a big two-and-a-half-ton truck with a forty-foot false front and a large blue top set up behind it. "I'll give you a drink."
    I didn't wait for a drink. We weren't inside the trailer two minutes before I reached out and tore that kimono right off her back. And I was right. Underneath it her body was all soft yielding curves.
    "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" she whispered.
    "I know what I'm doing, Betty Lee," I told her, drawing her closer. "One look at you on that midway and I knew what to do."
    And then there was no time for talking.
    The first thing I did taking over the show was to fire Chuck. Carnie life is rough enough without having to put up with a wino and hop-head combined.
    If you've ever been in a kootch show you know the setup. The whole shebang gets hauled from town to town inside a beat-up old truck. Once we get on the midway and the carnie boss gives us our location the truck is parked broad side, lined up with all the other shows. Then we take the front panels down from the top of the truck, where they're lashed for the jump from one town to the next. They're usually made of plywood and you stand them up on both ends of the truck, like a fence. They get propped up from behind with a two-by-four. One end fastens to the panel with a hinge pin and the other has a piece of metal curved out parallel to the ground, with a big hole in it. You drive a steel stake through the hole and it holds solid as a rock.
    Betty Lee's show had a long front that had been colorfully, if not too expertly, painted to resemble a tropical island, loaded with exotic dancing girls. "LULU'S PARADISE," said the banner. And, "Girls, girls, girls!"
    A stage on one side of the truck lowered to make a bally platform. A second on the other side became the show stage. We tacked colored canvas around both of them to hide the underneath part, and it looked pretty sharp.
    I hired two of the ride boys to set up and tear down for me. A lot of talkers, they pitch in and help, just to save the dough. Me, it wasn't worth it.
    The last step was raising the top. The canvas was spread out on the ground, with the two big center poles inserted in their slings. Then, at a signal, they were both raised and the ropes, which had already been measured out and staked into the ground, were tightened and held the top in the air precariously while one of the ride boys ran around with the ten-pound sledge and drove the stakes in deeper.
    That was that. We were in business. I went back to Betty Lee's trailer and had that drink. Later when I went up to the carnie of flee and got my suitcase I put it in the trailer closet with her things. She didn't say anything but her eyes got kind of heavy and I could tell right off this was a good thing I'd latched onto.
    The fair was going full boom by 3 o'clock, but it was a local rule that we didn't open the girlie shows until just before dark. By then most of the kid were off the midway.
    About 6:30 I went out and hooked up the PA equipment. Then I 'went back inside the truck. Betty Lee was squirming into a tight net bra. She had on a G string made of blue satin sparkling with rhinestones. And that was all.
    "You do your first show in that?" I asked.
    "Some of it. I start off in this play suit."
    She slipped into it. The black and white plaid gingham made her look like a high-school kid.
    "That's good," I said. "That's damn good. I never saw any kootch show start off like that."
    She looked at me cool-like. "I know my job," she said with pride.
    "I bet you do," I agreed. "I think I'll let one of the roustabouts take tickets so I can peep the first show."
    Her face darkened. "Ken, you know that carnies never go in the kootch show."
    "That's right. No carnie on this lot will ever see your show. But I'm not just a carnie. Am I?" She didn't answer and I pulled her over against me and held her tight.
    "No, Ken," she said, her voice soft and husky in my ear. "You sure ain't."
    Most of the other shows sprang about 7 o'clock. I waited until half-past when the midway was teeming with people, then ducked back inside and put on a record. Betty Lee was sitting on a trunk, smoking.
    "Ready, baby?"
    "Sure thing, honey."
    She blew a kiss at me. I went outside, the mike cord trailing behind me. I blew into it and heard the blasting noise from the speaker.
    "All right, folks," I said. "All right, all you men who want to SEE HER DO IT, something different, it's right over here, right over here at Lulu's Paradise--and it's all free."
    I kept that up for a few minutes and when I had a pretty good tip gathered I brought Betty Lee out. She was wrapped up in a shining red robe, with the cloth pulled tight around her, outlining her full breasts and the curve of her ripe hips.
    "Now I ain't gonna beat around the bush, fellers," I said. "You go to these shows, you see the girls come out and they dance around some and make a lot of promises and when you get on the inside you don't see no more than you did outside for free. Well, we don't work that way!
    "We're gonna give you a good show. We're gonna give you a show that will make you come back for more--come back for more because you liked what you saw and you want more of it! By the time we get through here tonight, you---each and every one of you fine gentlemen--are going to be walking advertisements for Lulu's Paradise!
    "You're gonna talk to your friends on the job, or maybe in the bar after work, and you're gonna say: 'Hey, did you see that show out on the carnival midway, that Lulu's Paradise?' And if your friend says no, you're gonna roll your eyes and dig him in the ribs and say: 'Man, man-oh-man, you just gotta go. I mean, you GOTTA GO! You ain't seen nothing like it, no man, nothing in this world, and I don't care if you been married six times and shacked up with every chippy from here to Richmond. This girl just absolutely goes AND DOES IT!"
    I'd been talking fast and low, my voice secretive and confidential. I had the tip right in my hand, I knew it for sure. I knew this was the way, that I didn't need any bally dance, any phony routine to lure the suckers inside. So I motioned for Betty Lee to go in.
    "She does it," I repeated, like the idea was stuck in my mind. "You want to see her do it, just go right on back there. Price is fifty cents, one half-dollar, and the show's starting RIGHT NOW."
    My stick, one of the ride boys I'd paid to shill, rushed up to the box, digging in his pocket for a half-dollar. As I'd told him to, he said loudly: "Boy, I sure have heard about this one!''
    The tip turned. They jostled into some semblance of a line and bought their tickets and hurried inside. I was taking in the money as fast as I could and every time three guys bought a ticket I only tore two, and that was another half a dollar stealings. Between that and what change I managed to hold back, we'd already made a pretty good buck before the night began.
    I stuck the cash box back in the truck and went inside the top. I called the stick over and stationed him outside the entrance.
    "This show's full," I said. "Tell 'em to come back.''
    We waited in the stuffy top, almost a hundred men awkwardly shuffling their feet. A record started, something lonesome and blue, and Betty Lee came out on the stage. She was dressed in the play suit and she looked as cute as a bug. As the music played she danced a little and spoke her words only it sounded like she was singing.
    "All you guys," she breathed, ''you see girls, pretty girls that look so pure and sweet that you'd never mention it to them, never think they would, because they're so virgin pure You never think they'd do it. They look so sweet, so little and sweet. That's all you ever see, those cute little scrubbed faces and those cute little suits.''
    She leaned forward and winked and that play suit just fell right off her Her breasts were twin mounds of creamy white inside the net bra and as she turned to hang up the play suit, her cute little behind jiggled.
    "Always remember, boys." she sang, "that underneath they're all the same.'' She went into her dance then as a blue trumpet wailed. She was good. The little stage shook as she twisted and contorted, and at the very end she dropped one shoulder and the bra slipped down--down and then she was inside the curtain, the first show over.
    Actually we'd seen far less than an ordinary kootch show gives in the first two minutes. But the way it was done did the trick. At least half the men in the top were perspiring, hands in their pockets.
    It was time to make the second pitch. Before anyone could leave I climbed up on the stage.
    "Boys," I said, "we all know what you came in here to see. Now you've seen a pretty good show already. I know there isn't a single one of you out there who doesn't think he already got his money's worth. But you came in here to see more than a set of knockers. And you're going to see A LOT MORE, I promise you. We couldn't tell you everything on the outside because you know there's women and kids on the midway. But back here just us men can talk right out. It's going to cost you another half a buck--but if it's the last fifty cents you have in the world, it'll be well spent, that I promise you.
    "Lulu's going to put on a show you'll remember the rest of your days. And there ain't no fooling, neither. She's going to come out just the way you want her to, and that's the truth. And that ain't all she's going to show you--no, sir, I promise you. She's the little lady THAT DOES IT! So let's have your half-dollars and get the show moving."
    Maybe four or five marks left. The rest shelled out and the music started again and Betty Lee reappeared.
    She was wrapped in that red cloak and after a minute it started to slide. It slid down over her slim shoulders and down past her breasts. Then the cloak was around her ankles and she stood before a hundred men and every one of us hungered for her. She danced a little, her breasts and buttocks jiggling in time with the music. The record was over too soon--even for me.
    "Boys," she whispered, wrapping the cloak around her, "maybe you don't know it, but us dancers, we don't get paid. Only what we get in tips. Now I'm going to show you fellows something you may have heard about but I bet you ain't never seen it. And if you want to stay for it, why your tips will be the only pay I get. But it's worth it, believe me. You'll thank your lucky stars you did--and with what you'll learn tonight your lady friends will thank those stars too. I ain't going to do nothing else now but give you a little hint. When I start this little private show--just for you and me-- there ain't going to be but two things on this stage, me and this--;" She reached inside the truck and got it.
    A soda pop bottle.
    You know the rest--Lulu didn't really do anything--it's ALL A GREAT BIG FAKE. We do that show more or less the same ten or fifteen times every night. It may not appeal to you--but you don't have to come. If you do, you know what to expect.
    Me and Betty Lee, we knock down a hundred and fifty, sometimes two hundred bucks, a night. You can buy a lot of booze with that kind of dough--and forget a lot of things you may be too ashamed to remember.

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