I couldn’t sell immortality at half price. I just don’t have the skills that are necessary to persuade people to part with their money. Which may explain my fascination with the pitchmen at markets and fairs. Not that I’m a sucker for all things that dice, slice, mince and macerate — though it’s always sensible to have the consumer equivalent of a “sober companion” standing near me as they begin to demonstrate the havoc that the SlashEeze knife might wreak on innocent vegetables or the shine that AmazoGlop could put on my car with only a simple wipe or two with a damp, soft cloth. I don’t need another thing in my life (unless Apple comes up with something new), so it’s not hard for me to keep my wallet in my pocket. It’s more that I’m in awe of skills that I do not and could not possess. The plastic dodads are beside the point; it’s the siren song for me, or as Southside Johnny once confided to us, “It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion.”
Part of my list towards the pitch comes from the fact that all through my childhood I’d hear a song about it (and the music of a pitch, so to speak, might just be part of the enchantment). I’m referring to Fred Heatherton’s “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”:
. . . Singing roll a bowl, a ball, a penny a pitch.
Roll a bowl a ball a penny a pitch.
Roll a bowl a ball.
Roll a bowl a ball. . . .
I wouldn’t even consider mentioning such an ancient ditty, except that I’m told it keeps cropping up in the most unlikely and popular places such as the Muppet Show and Disney’s The Lion King and The Jungle Book. But you really want to hear it done by an original, which is to say, by Alan Breeze with Billy Cotton and his band, from the early 50s: httpa://youtu.be/w28W_DYsGqU
Then you might like to look at a photo exhibition called “Life’s a Pitch!. . . and Then You’d Buy,” put online by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. And while the photographs of “the dying art of market grafting” are enjoyable, I was even more pleased by the background sound track, which treats you to various barkers doing their thing. (. . . “Ladies and gentlemen, in my case they might be too cheap . . .”)
But to bring it back to this side of the Atlantic, here’s a YouTube video created by Associated Press of county fair pitchmen explaining “what they call in the industry, ‘doing the grind.'”