For Pirate Weekend at the Oklahoma Renaissance Fair, the Castle of Muskogee hired a professional Jack Sparrow impersonator. After hours spent unsuccessfully attempting to get a decent picture of him, I returned to the booth to ballyhoo. “Ballyhoo” means sensational advertising. It’s what they used to call the man who stood outside the side show tent telling people to “step right up.” I learned the word from my maternal grandfather, who ballyhooed for the circus as a lad. Also, I like saying “ballyhoo.” Ballyhoo.
Standing in the walkway holding a display piece with both hands, I advertised our educational booth in the Children's Realm. "Make the assassins work for it!" I cried to a large crowd. "After a free armor making lesson from Miniver Mail, you'll be able to make chain mail to protect your vulnerable bits against all manner of ninja attack."
“Tori! Look! A pirate!” Noah said.
“Where?” I said, looking about hopefully for Johnny Depp’s doppelganger.
“Me!” he said.
I looked him over. Hands on hips in what I’m sure he imagined was a heroic pose, he looked more like Peter Pan than a pirate, despite his suitably billowy shirt and a wooden sword. Still, he earned points for trying. “So you are,” I said encouragingly.
To a man with an expensive looking camera, I called, "Chainmail is very photogenic! Stop by Miniver Mail and see for yourself!" The man shook his head and walked on.
"What's that mean?" Noah asked.
"Means it looks good in pictures," I said, then called after the man, "Chainmail is good for the soul! That empty feeling in your heart? It's because you're walking away!"
"You're funny," Noah said, sitting in the dirt at my feet.
A family of four approached. “You want to touch the chain mail,” I said, holding out the display piece.
“Cool!” said the boy, who might have been twelve.
“We give free lessons,” I said, gesturing to the booth behind me. Father and son took seats at the lesson table with undisguised glee. Mother stood close to watch, smiling beatifically.
Score one for the ballyhoo, I thought. Turning back to the wide dirt path, I came face to face with a thin girl, no more than six years old, sporting short spiked hair. “Are you lost?” I asked.
“No,” she said, pointing to the family at the table behind me. I remembered it had been a family of four. “I’m a knight,” she said, brandishing a wooden sword of her own.
Noah relinquished playing in the dirt to stand by the girl. “I’m a pirate!” he declared.
“Knights are better,” she said.
“Nu-uh!” he said.
As they argued, I stepped around them to continue the ballyhoo. “Ladies and gentlemen, there are two types of people in the world! Those who love chain mail…” dramatic pause “And those who do not yet know they love chain mail! Stop by Miniver Mail for a free chain mail lesson to determine where you stand.”
“Can I be your assistant?” said the girl. I looked down to see her smiling cheerfully while Noah looked sullen, probably because knights really are better than pirates.
“Sure,” I said, handing her the display piece, smiling as Atlas had smiled to Hercules. “Hold this.” I flexed my unburdened fingers and faced another crowd. “We at Miniver Mail promise that chain mail is one hundred percent zombie proof! If your chain mail fails under zombie attacks, we guarantee a full refund on the price of your free chain mail lesson!”
I was interrupted when Noah startled the crowd by clumsily slashing his wooden sword at the girl, who deftly swung the display piece up to defend herself. Grabbing Noah’s collar with one hand and the chain mail with the other, I said, “As you can see, chain mail is the best defense against both zombies and pirates.” Then, for good measure, I added, “And zombie pirates!”
“I say, chain mail isn’t much defense at all against zombie pirates!” said a familiar voice. The crowd parted for Captain Jack Sparrow. “I’ve been a zombie pirate, so I should know!”
The man I had been trying to photograph all morning stood two feet from me, while my hands were full of children and chain mail. I am being punished, I thought, for some wickedness that I have not sufficiently regretted yet. As soon as I figure out what it is, I’ll repent good and proper.
The two children stared in awe as Captain Jack carried on, “Nor, might I add, is it any defense against Krakens!” Turning to the crowd, he said, “But I’ve not yet tried it with mermaids! If you’d like to see how I fare against the likes of them, my new movie opens next Friday.” He bowed for the crowd, which began to disperse, then swaggered away.
“Hold this,” I said, shoving the chain mail at Noah to chase the man down for a picture.
When I returned to the booth, the girl and her family were gone. Noah stood with the display piece. “Chain mail is nice!” he called to people passing by. “Come see the chain mail!”
“That will do, Noah,” I said, holding out my hands.
Smiling, he passed the piece back to me and played in the dirt once more.
The ballyhoo commenced.