A Carnival of Oddities
With summer fast approaching, I’m starting to sense something strange in the air.
Something manic. Something queasy.
Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Something that feels like funnel cake-fueled motion sickness.
Something that smells like tobacco-filled funnel cake.
Something that looks like a carnival.
When I was an infant, we lived in Orlando. My brother was practically raised at Disney World.
Try to imagine spending your after-schools at Uncle Walt’s house. Try to imagine running across the street to borrow a cup of sugar from Donald Duck.
Try to imagine that for just a second.
Then we moved.
And the closest theme park was a seven-hour drive. And we drove there twice. In 15 years.
I’ll pause to give you time to emotionally assess this hardship.
But fortunately for us, a carnival or two would blow in every summer. You could plan on it.
Sometimes it’d come for a county fair. Sometimes it’d come for a Rotary club fundraiser. Sometimes it’d come for no reason at all.
Sometimes you’d drive down the street and see one suddenly appear in a parking lot — a parking lot that just four hours ago had been empty.
Three days later — poof! — gone. Empty again. And a confetti of ticket stubs, some sugar-crusted cardboard tubes and a few dirty meth needles were all that was left behind.
It was magical.
Unlike Disney World, the rides of a fly-by-night carnival could never be staffed by lovable, innocuous college kids, the ones wearing bright matching t-shirts and color-coordinated zit cream.
No. But that’s what made carnivals more interesting. The ride technicians looked less like the babysitter down the block and more like the characters in a comic book. Missing fingers, extra fingers, full-body tattoos. Maybe a second face growing off of a bare shoulder. Perhaps steel shackles around the ankles.
But yet I’d think nothing of trusting these people with my life.
They’d promise me a good time and flash me a toothless grin, and I’d mindlessly jump inside their cars. Then they’d throw down the lap bar to prevent any last minute escapes. For added effect, they’d turn on some head-banging music that hadn’t been heard for half a decade, usually coming from a set of speakers at their stations down below at a decibel level that’d make a jackhammer’s screams seem like a store’s Muzak channel. And right about then I’d always feel quite safe and satisfied with my decision to get on the ride.
It was not uncommon that I’d notice, upon reaching the peak of a Ferris Wheel, that a few of the spokes were reinforced with duct tape.
It was not uncommon for a person to hurl.
I still recall the disappointment of a temporary ride shutdown — in one case, a kid had thrown up his chili dog inside the Zeplin Zinger. So we all stood in line for several more minutes as the ride operators — as if it happened every day (because it did) — jumped into action, quickly hosing out each and every car. Finishing up, they simply cranked up the motor and sent it through a couple of air-dry rotations — cars spinning, water spraying, mouths gaping.
Good as new.
And we did climb aboard. Gratefully. Like nothing even happened, residual water still seeping down upon us as we screamed out in mad excitement. Actually, the seeping water aspect was a welcome reinvention. Like getting on a roller coaster that turned into a log ride. Stomach flips and wet clothes — the best of both worlds. We loved it! I think? I don’t really know, to tell you the truth. Maybe we were sick? Maybe we were thrilled? The odd thing about carnivals is the myriad of feelings and the way they all sort of meld together.
Joy mixes with fear mixes with repulsion mixes with I will never do that again mixes with I can’t wait to do that again mixes with I think I need to lie down now mixes with I think I need to take a run inside that giant tube over there.
Which exactly describes all the feelings I’ve encountered after indulging in a wad of cotton candy.
No. Of course it isn’t.
The food was specially designed to enhance the experience.