A new path at the Kitty Striker
ALTAMONT — Just past the flying swings, in the middle of the asphalt path of the midway, a man with hazel eyes looked into the faces of fairgoers passing by, a mustache spreading across his smile. His diamond earring glinted. He was leaning on a bin of blue, plastic balls — prizes for the Kitty Striker.
“The fair is good at night. The lights. I think it shouldn’t open till night,” said Daniel Wood, almost two weeks into his new job manning the striker on the fair circuit.
The 25-year-old said he was born and raised in Union, S.C., a city with nothing but cotton mills, where his father worked repairing the looms all day, and a skating rink for fun. After years of working for Jerry’s Carpet Cleaning and Janitorial Services, Wood said, he thought his cousin’s offer to join her working fair games sounded like fun.
Two L-shaped towers with bells on their tops stood behind him. For five dollars, children under 10 hit a five-pound hammer to knock a puck up a shaft to ring the bell. The game is a small version of the high striker tower meant for fairgoers to show off their strength, but Wood rings the bell even if the kids fail. Players always get a prize.
Wood likes to see the kids smile when the bell rings. He says the fair is for fun.
“I always went every year; everybody did,” Wood said of the Union County Fair. “It’s the only time you have fun.”
Wood doesn’t have a nickname, as the others do. “He hasn’t earned one yet,” Larry Massey said. “‘Carolina,’ I think I’m going to call him.”
Massey works the basketball hoops. He said he’s known as “Redneck.” They both work under a man they call “Papa.”
Massey, 37, said he was first on the working side of fairs with his mother when he was 7. His stepfather beat him, he said, and, when Massey was 11, put a hatchet in his head.
“He was a drunk,” Massey gave as the reason. He said he got his start in fair games after his stepfather had given his mother a bloody nose. A game owner named Rattlesnake intervened and asked Massey if he wanted a job.
At 17, Massey ran a break-a-plate game, where fairgoers would try to break 9-inch plates. Within two years, Massey said, he had a fishbowl game and a “poster joint,” where fairgoers aimed darts at posters in his stand.
The money isn’t as good as it used to be, he said. “Where you normally seen 10,000 people, you only see 4,000 people.”
Massey pulled cash from his pocket and flipped through the singles. “I have made seven dollars in, what, eight hours,” he said. Massey and Wood get 20 percent of what they take in.
The afternoon was becoming evening and Wood had only two visitors, a brother and a sister, at the Kitty Striker.
A group of three boys sauntered by. Wood recognized them from earlier in the day and called out. One walked up to the striker holding a large yellow cup with a neon green straw curving out of its top. He stomped on the striker, ringing the bell several times. The boys walked away.
Wood said he likes his new life. He meets different people and keeps in touch with Karla, his old girlfriend, through Facebook on his smartphone. He and Karla broke up just before he left Union for the fair. She was jealous, but she didn’t have a reason to be, he said.
“You eat somewhere different, you might ride a different ride you don’t usually ride,” Wood said of his perks. “I go play other people’s games just for fun. They let you play, but won’t give you a prize, which I don’t want a prize. I’ve got a whole truck full of prizes.”
Just the day before, Wood said, he worked 36 hours without sleep, loading games and moving to Albany after a 14-hour shift at a fair in Malone, in the Adirondacks. There isn’t much free time, Wood said, but there is plenty of downtime while the weather is bad or it’s a slow time of day.”
“I didn’t never see a Wal-Mart with two floors,” Wood said of the sights he’s seen. “I actually posted the pictures to Facebook…I actually got a lot of comments about it on my Facebook.”
Wood said, when he was growing up, his father was working all the time, and his mother hasn’t been very involved in his life. He can remember going to the fair with his father, who, he said, died when he was 12. He thinks it was a heart attack.
“I think Chance actually got me out of school and I knew something was wrong when he got there,” said Wood. Chance Allen was, at the time, the boyfriend of Wood’s cousin and took him in to raise him until he graduated from high school.
Allen worked as an electrician in the mills of Union. When Wood was 16, Allen tattooed his right arm with the picture of a woman wearing a skull using homemade ink and needles.
“The last time I seen him, him and some guy was going to the fairgrounds, getting it ready for when the fair came,” Wood said of Allen. “They were putting in a new building, and that was the last time I seen him.”
As the rain poured on the Altamont Fair Tuesday, Massey stood underneath the awning of a nearby air-gun game. The only reason he’s working in the fair, he said, is to save up enough money to fix the furnace of a 16-bed shelter for battered women he’s established in Gloversville.
“My mom died a little over a year ago and I promised myself I would do it, so I bought it six months ago,” said Massey.
Massey said he sees men playing baskets, shooting hoops at his booth, while women hold their things or stand off to the side, bored.
“I enjoy making people smile. I enjoy meeting people,” Massey said of the fair. “I’m bringing women into a man’s game. When they make that basket, they don’t forget it.”