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Most of all, I loved the bearded lady. Come to think of it, the bearded lady was also the fat lady. It was a low-budget show.

Every year, when the Clyde Beatty Circus came to Lighthouse Field on, yes, Erie Avenue, my friends and I would take two buses and a trolley to get there. Spared no expense. We would buy our tickets at the front gate and make a beeline for the freak show. That’s what the sign said. “The World’s Strangest Freaks.” And they sure delivered on the promise.

Zola the Bearded Lady wore a big house dress and a shiny crown on her head. She was big and fat and sported a scraggly black beard. The barker said she was married to the alligator-skinned man. And my cousin Roselle couldn’t get a date.

But, in this small world of human oddities, it was the Rubber Man who scared the bejeezus out of me. Rubber Man could bend over backward and put his head between his legs with his face facing forward.

It was an incredible sight, a sight that would dominate my dreams for months.

Of course, this was back when men still threw knives at women, back when it wasn’t politically incorrect to call a man who could tie his legs in a knot a freak. This was back when, for a nickel extra, you could pull the beard of the bearded lady. You can’t do that today.

The circus stopped doing freak shows a number of years back, when they realized that a 300-pound lady was no longer a novelty. But that’s when the freak show simply changed mediums. Humans, such as we are, seem to have an inherent need to look down on people who are worse off than they are. This has been the subject of many studies. And the sole basis for reality TV.

For some reason, enough of us want to watch the 800-pound boy and his 600-pound mother. Or the 78-year-old woman who’s married to the 28-year-old man. Or the little people with the big family. Or the hoarders with nowhere to sleep. Or the little glamour puss named Honey Boo Boo.

Now that I’m retired, I get to watch my share of these shows. I don’t know why. It’s like a train wreck. I just can’t look away.

My favorite now is a show called “Abby and Brittany.” It’s about a girl with two heads. Or two girls with one body. I’m not quite sure.

You see, Abby and Brittany are Siamese twins. Between them, they have two arms, two legs and two heads. I’m not making this up.

Abby and Brittany are two college students, just average girls making their way through life. They have average friends. They do average college girl things. In the episode I saw, they went to a campus bar.

Abby likes to drink. Brittany doesn’t. So they argued a lot.

Then they were preparing for their first job interview. Abby wanted to dress conservatively. Brittany wanted to show a little more flair. They said they wanted to be elementary school teachers. They said they wanted to be paid one-and-a-half times a normal salary because, well, two heads were better than one.

The amazing thing about the show is that no one treats them strangely. When they walk into a room, people don’t even stare. No big deal. Just a two-headed girl.

Seems like times have changed. Where I grew up, kids made fun of my friend Mike Hutkin because his eyes were two different colors. But he never got his own TV show.

I guess the reason people watch these shows now is the same reason I used to pay money to watch the Rubber Man. And the Rubber Man never seemed to complain. Abby and Brittany? They don’t have it so bad, either. Their friends like them. I like them. And, after all, there are worse fates than having two heads. At least they don’t have two beards.

January 2013
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