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From The Collected Edition Of The Carnie Letters — Vol IX: The Carnitelligentsia Strike Back

By: Jason Rhode

Burke’s Guide the Peerage:


The proper address to give to a carnie in polite society is not “Hey Rube.” “Mr. or Mrs.” will be fine; however, as carnival folk attempt to uphold the medieval guild system in all matters of social intercourse, the preferred title to a full member is “Master _____ of (Ride Name).” Quelle atroce invention que celle du bourgeois, n’est-ce pas?


Ol’ Blasphemin’ Joe


An Open Letter The New York Times:

We, the Carnies of America, wish to state publicly our dismay with your paper’s heartless and mean-spirited hucksterism in publishing a sensational expose — it has not a soupçon of truth to it. Also, glowy swords for the kids are $10 dollars by the funhouse gate this Tuesday.


Doctor Shudders


To the editors of The Atlantic, and James Fallows in particular:

As a carnie, I am licensed, and, quite frankly, expected to leer, and occasionally spit. Perhaps if you chain-smoked your nights away next to the nerve-destroying Tilt-A-Whirl, you’d develop what your reporter described only partially unfairly as a “nightmarish, phlegmy cackle echoing from the bowels of Hell with its chorus.” Purple prose aside, this was an unfair dig.

A carnie is not a Bernini or society belle; we will not simply stare and remain in silence forever, but must return sallies (but no refunds). We do not stomp to death those poor souls who have already shuffled off from this mortal coil of tears; we stomp those kindred spirits who can fight back. To be called a commensurate liar by the Atlantic is like being called accident-prone by Red “Fire Trap” Willie. And unlike the Atlantic and its neo-con pals, carnival folk have not helped start a war since the late Russo-Japanese unpleasantness.

Let your readers know this: carnival folk are god-fearing folk, just not yore god.


Big Sizzlin’ Mike


To Harper’s Weekly:

No, Madam, I assure you, Carnie Lent IS a holiday, let’s make no bones about it. It most certainly is not “a tax dodge for a gilded bracket of bovine loafers and maladjusted tricksters” (what then is journalism, one might ask?) nor is it “a postmodern reflection of American society’s blue-collar woes.” The Big Wheel took one of my fingers. Let me give you one more finger, if you know what I mean. I trust you will discover my meaning.


Sherry by the Dockhouse


To the Editors of The New York Review of Books:

Alas! My disappointment in you, combined with a recent detainment in an Alabama hoosegow, have made me a martyr in more ways than one. Is American scholarship now as compromised as the ancient canons of the backlot bottle-fight? It would seem so. You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. I wonder what you mean when you cite Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, c. 1898: “Car’ney: To wheedle, to keep caressing.”

Did you not look at the following entry in Brewer’s, which reads, “CARNIVAL: the season immediately preceding Lent; shrove-tide. Ducange gives the word carne-levale. (Modern Italian, carnovále; Spanish and French, carnaval.)”

That is the source of our name, not some spurious provenance drummed up by an author who, I doubt, has ever knocked down the milk bottle, or bested a dog in a fight for the very last clean steak.

Yours in Christ,

Stinks McArdle


To Nature:

To whom it may concern,

Jared Diamond has erred greatly. His analysis of our ills is, at best, creative. As far as our death rate goes, stabbing greatly exceeds rickets, although not by much (Please see Brussels: Academie Royale des Sciences des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1952, Vol. 2, pp. 38-56).

What Diamond calls “an unusual form of epilepsy” and we call “the hollers” was more common in the last century, especially in the fin de siecle years before the “State Fair Purges” of 1913.

The “hollers” were due less to what Diamond euphemistically calls “cousining” and more attributable, I think, to the carnie diet of the time, which included voles, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, shrews, dogs, cats, little brown bats, mouse, vole, rabbit, coyote, fox, muskrat, rat, woodchuck, wolf, bear, weasel, “the furry lizard,” various domestic animals, and drifters (rarely).

Also, our ticks are Ixodes angustus, not Ixodes scapularis. A common, but careless, error. Diamond makes a good case for Rhipicephalus sanguineus as the species behind “the carnie’s curse” — so what? A blind pig can find an acorn — although he cannot, apparently, find a revolver on command.

I assure you there is empirical truth behind both of these sayings.

Regrettably yours,

Barry “Bigcoat” Fitzpatrick