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Dan Conradt: Chance of a lifetime teaches a lesson

My stomach was full of butterflies as I approached the tent with two quarters clutched in my fist.

We'd stopped on the edge of the midway, and Mom dug the coins out of her purse.

"You can spend this on anything you want," she cautioned me. "But when it's gone, it's gone."

I went through the motions of debating how to spend it … if I bought an ice cream cone, I'd still have enough to ride the merry-go-round once and play the ring toss. If I rode one of the little ponies, I could still get a hot dog, and I might have enough left to try to knock over the milk bottles with a softball.

Who was I kidding? I already knew how I was going to spend one of my quarters because I'd been thinking about it for the past year.


The butterflies started fluttering as I made my way through a wall of smells that mixed doughnut grease, cotton candy and sweat.

I'd spotted the tent as soon as we got to the midway. Like the year before, it was set up in the shadow of the Ferris wheel, on the edge of a row of battered travel trailers.

Canvas posters hanging from the front of the tent were a testament to the unusual, garishly painted with images of things too bizarre to be true.

I took my place at the back of a line of people waiting to hand over their quarters for a peek at the unnatural, and a carnival barker piqued my curiosity: "Step right up! See the one-million-year-old man, found frozen in ice in Siberia! See the world famous Goat Boy — he's half goat, half boy! See the man with three arms! See the bearded lady! See the Human Alligator! One thin quarter for the chance of a lifetime!"

The line snaked forward, and I handed one of my quarters to a man whose arms were covered with tattoos. He dropped the coin into the pocket of his jeans and gave me a wide smile that revealed a gleaming gold tooth.

As I waited for my turn to enter the tent, I started to have second thoughts: would I have nightmares if I saw a boy with hooves instead of feet? At the same time, I was curious to see if a three-armed man could shake hands and clap at the same time.

The guy in front of me pulled the tent flap aside and stepped into the gloom. I took a deep breath and followed him; one thin quarter wasn't too much to pay for the chance of a lifetime.

When I stepped out of the trailer 10 minutes later, my stomach was still filled with butterflies, but for a different reason.


The million-year-old man was tucked in a freezer like the one that held Fudgsicles and Push-Ups at Red Owl; the glass windows were so covered with frost that the thing inside could just as easily have been my grandma's winter coat as a million-year-old man.

The elastic band on the bearded lady's beard was slipping, and her facial hair covered part of her neck and most of her left shoulder.

The man with three arms appeared to be a man with two arms, wearing a shirt with three sleeves.

The Human Alligator looked like a regular guy with an unusually large mouth and a bad case of full-body psoriasis.

The Goat Boy must have been grazing behind the trailer, because he sure wasn't in the tent.

"Whaddya think?" the tattooed guy asked as I stepped outside. I was squinting as my eyes adjusted to the daylight, but I could still see the gold tooth shining through his grin.

"I wish I had my quarter back," I thought.

I used my second quarter to buy a hot dog, and had to stand and watch as a kid about my age won an enormous stuffed panda by knocking over a stack of milk bottles with a softball.


It was a disappointed 10-year-old who left the fair that day, but I'd learned a valuable lesson: I'd once heard a grown up say "There's a sucker born every minute", and now I knew what it meant.

My turn came at 3:17 on a Tuesday afternoon more than 40 years ago.

But I have to admit, I'm still kind of curious about the world famous Goat Boy …

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