He fishes in his dirty tennis shoes and pulls out a $20 bill. The carnival game talker changes the bill from an apron filled with coins and the player resumes pitching dimes at a steady pace.

"Don't talk to me now, sweetheart. I'm in the middle of a hot streak."

Mike is part of a special breed, the carries say.

He is one of a small number of people who follow carnivals from town to town, spend a few dimes and leave with a carload of prizes -- some say to resell illegally.

He is a master of the dime pitch game. His skill earns him the admiration of some carnies, the contempt of others.

They call him a sharpie.

Mike lives in Los Angeles, but he follows "a few big fairs" in California to San Diego, Ramona and Sacramento.

A former junior high biology teacher. Mike ("They call me The Teach") says he hasn't taught for a couple of years and is considering going into real estate now.

The carnies say he makes a living reselling the big stuffed animals he wins playing at their booths.

He says he has only been pitching dimes for a few years and boasts that he wins at every booth he plays. And he won't leave until he does win.

On a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] June night, Mike has spent $30 to win a 4-foot-tall gray teddy bear.

He is annoyed that it took him 300 pitches to land a dime in a red circle but relieved that the bear is now his.

"It's a gambling compulsion," Mike admits, sitting beside a gaudy menagerie of stuffed dinosaurs, coyotes and bears.

"If I hadn't won that bear when I did, I probably would've kept going 'til $500."

Tossing dimes is a science, Mike explains. He has a 'complex theory to explain his skill -- involving physics, the amplitude of the dime and plotting its arc.

After a few hours on the midway Mike leaves with nine of the big stuffed animals. He ties them together with a belt and slings them over his back.

He admits he "sells a few" of the animals but denies hiking the prices.

"That's illegal, isn't it?" he asks with mock innocence.

"I keep a lot of them and give the rest away as Christmas gifts or baby-shower gifts," he says.

One game operator, however, says he once caught Mike trying to sell the animals on the carnival lot.

"He's a punk," the man says angrily. "He's taking business away from us. It's illegal."

Other carnies say Mike is known to make a living off carnival prizes and that a feud has long been raging between him and the angry talker (whom the uninitiated might call a barker).

Mike, it seems, takes great pleasure in antagemizing the man. While he shows up at most booths after dark when a lot of people are around, he comes to this talker's booth in the morning and cleans out his stock.

Mike, who plays mostly on weekends, says he provides a certain amount of advertising for the games because people will follow a person with a lot of prizes, hoping to follow his example.

At one booth, Mike pitches a dime and climbs over the railing to convince himself that the dime isn't entirely within the small red circle.

He stops playing for the night "when I can't carry more animals."

Mike works carnivals "a couple of solid months during the summer."

He's at his best "when I've slept well and when I'm sober. If I play when I'm drunk, they own me."

Although "a lot of guys come up to me and want to know how to win, my knowledge won't help their inexperience," Mike says. "Everyone should know their limit. The fair makes a lot of money off people's naivete."

Mike's spending limit is about $80 a carnival. Carnival employes say Mike has been known to depart after a few night's work with merchandise that will later net him more than $500. The angry talker stands protectively beneath his stuffed Saint Bernards.

"That creep spends a dime, then sells them for $20. He sells them without a license -- that's illegal. He sells them right on the lot sometimes.

"We don't care if parents win a prize and give it to their kids and make themhappy. But we're trying to do a business and he's ruining it. Illegally."

Yet another carnie smiles at the mention of Mike.

"Oh, you mean The Teach. He's a con man -- a beautiful con man. Can't you see it in his eyes?"

On this Saturday night, warm and sticky as cotton candy, Mike isn't the only sharpie prowling the midway.

At a booth with smiling stuffed foxes, a gray-haired man watches closely as his 18-year-old son pitches another dime. It lands in the red.

Arky Jones and his son David have won six animals each and as they carry off their catch a talker at the next booth calls out to David. "Hey, stop that kid, he stole my store!" The joke is taken in carnival spirit and the dynamic duo head for home.

Arky and his son have been pitching dimes seriously for four years. They win at least one prize each at every booth, according to Arky, spending an average of $3 for each stuffed animal.

They follow the carnivals, Arky said, and like the other sharpies, they play only the dime pitches, which offer bigger prizes for less money.

How does a sharpie get started? David, Arky recalls, "used to always want money to play the games at carnivals, so I'd give him $5 and he'd lose it.

"One time, he won one of those plates at the glass booth. Well, I made him practice with that plate until he could do it right and finally get even for all the times he'd lost." David doesn't lose anymore.

Although father and son agree that winning is a combination of skill and luck, Arky describes a certain backspin they put on the pitched dimes.

Success is not without its problems, however.

"Friends are the worst problem," David says. That night alone, he says, he had been approached by 19 "friends" asking him to give them one of his animals or win one for them. A teen-age girl blocks David's path on the midway. "Why don't you win me one of those?" she purrs. "Meet friend No. 20", David guips. Arky and David insist that they give their animals away to churches, schools and friends.

"I remember one time when we had 400 animals in the house," Arky says.