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funhouse[written in May of ’07]

There is something really magical about a traveling carnival. It’s not Disney World glamor. It’s not high society. It’s sticky and noisy and generally mosquito ridden and I love it. Yesterday I took Lucas the minute it opened at 6 p.m. We got our wristbands for unlimited rides (note to self: self, if your son wants to stick to the kiddie rides that your fat ass doesn’t fit on and you only end up riding the tilt-a-whirl twice, stick to the 12 tickets for a lot less money) and I followed my literally skipping son into a whole different realm.

The first day of the carnival feels so new. There’s no trash strewn about, the port-o-johns are still fresh, the air doesn’t smell stale. The carnies at the game stalls start barking right away with their come-on lines and we buy them hook and sinker included. $5 for three basketballs – it’s early and the crowd is thin. My son is cute and I don’t mind the attention so we make three trips back and forth to the car with armloads of stuffed animals, silly hats, bag bombs, and plastic bows and arrows. Our money dwindling, I start joking off the persistence of the old guys working the booths. No, I don’t need a cheap framed picture of KISS or John Cena. No, I really can’t hit three balloons in a row with your worn down darts. No. No. No thanks. Moving on…

Unlimited rides work really well when all your kid really wants to do is walk the funhouse time after time after time. I got to know the carnie running that one pretty well. When I finally drew him away to ride the carousel with me, he gazed longingly back at it and I promised we’d return for more. Dusk falling, the round bulbs lit up the food wagons enticing us with fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, cotton candy spun on cardboard cones, glistening apples red with hard candy, greasy popcorn, and the sizzle of sausage and peppers. Twinkling lights dashed around the perimeter of each ride and speakers blared the latest in top 40. The air was warm and felt clean and together we were happy.

My son is one of those kids that other kids are just naturally attracted to. Maybe it’s the mohawk or his casual way of dress. Maybe it’s his outgoing smile and easy nature. He and another boy were climbing into the dragon coaster – a real thrill ride at 20 miles an hour tops around a 50 yard circle – and the boy climbed into the seat with Lucas although the ride was completely empty. Lucas just shrugged at me and pretty soon they were fast friends. The boy’s father and I stood and chatted (yes, I even start up conversations in grocery store lines) and pretty soon found that we lived very near each other and both boys were the same age and in need of playdates nearby. By the end of the evening we’d exchanged numbers and the promise of meeting in the park in the not too distant future.

The rest of the evening was spent following the boys around from ride to ride. I took some pictures and even remembered to save some. I’m sure I lost a few good ones. But the highlight of the night for me was the swings. They look like oversized baby seats with a bar that slides down and a chain between your legs (I’m sure you can see the attraction here). They revolve around a circle and the momentum takes you higher and higher until you can see the entire park whizzing past your feet. Eventually I gave up looking down and looked up. Wow! The sky was periwinkle and there was a half moon hanging over me 3/4 of every revolution. I reached my arms up as high as they would go, tilted my head back and just breathed. It was a single, solitary moment of pure unadulterated joy – every care let go, the whole universe above me and it felt within reach. Dizzy and stumbling upon our return to terra firma I made my way to the exit as the boys continued on another journey. Even with the incessant mosquito infestation I felt entirely at peace. Life was good. Life was really, really good.