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When I first joined the carnival, my ambition had been to learn all the various side show acts. Now that my Fire and Sword routine was running smoothly, I decided to branch out a bit and pick up another act. My choice here was limited. I couldn't very well be a fat lady and May was very fussy about letting anyone handle her rattlesnakes. So I resolved to learn old man Krinko's torture act.
There's always a good future in show business for anyone who can do a
first-class torture act. The public loves to see a performer sticking hatpins through his cheeks, driving nails into his eyes or dancing on broken glass. Krinko had even worked out a nice piece of audience participation by letting someone drive a nail through his tongue. The old fakir was billed as "The Oriental Pincushion" and he put on such a fine demonstration that in a couple of communities his performance was barred by the police.
Why people enjoy torture acts is something of a mystery. I suppose it's basically the same reason that kids like to watch a friend wiggle a loose tooth or crack his knuckles. Recently, the motion pictures have caught on to this important principle and it's a poor western that doesn't show the villain stamping on the hero's hand with hobnailed boots or working him over with an iron-toothed rake. Murder mysteries have very much the same appeal. As long as the public will fight for a newspaper that carries the headlines SIX KILLED BY HATCHET MURDERER they'll go to see torture acts. And the grislier the exhibitions are, the more the public will love 'em. When I first joined the show, I took for granted that Krinko must fake his routine. After all, when you see someone pouring molten lead into his ears, walking on sharp swords, and sewing buttons on his eyelids, you naturally come to the conclusion that the guy is either a fake or not quite right in the head. Krinko was a smart old boy, so I supposed that the old man's routine was "grifted"-which is carny slang for faked.
I was wrong. The real explanation of Krinko's routine was considerably more astonishing than the effects themselves. He did use some trickery, but it wasn't the kind of trickery that most people would care to employ.