And while this is true much of the time--how the long, slow, clunky ascent can suddenly lead to a rapid free-fall, whipping you around from side to side, bumping in to your seat-mate, and generally testing the mettle of ones constitution before coming to a startling and oftentimes unwelcome halt--to me it seems as if life's a bit more like the actual park itself: thrilling rides, games, clowns, sharks, risks, shifty operators, and long, laborious lines.
The amusement park is better than most places imaginable as a child. It's better than the beach. It's better than ice cream. It's better than a ride in the country. It's better, even, than toys.
If you're lucky you'll get to enjoy a pass for the day to ride all the rides for one price, as many times as you want before the park closes. There are just a few rules: don't tease the operator, keep your hands inside the ride at all times, and don't spoil it for everyone else by making a mess that the grounds crew will have to clean up, essentially shutting down the ride for a while and denying access to those who have been patiently waiting in line to get on.
But this analogy can stretch further. The way I see it, the first time we spin around in a circle, or roll down a grassy hill, or do a somersault a few times in a row and stand up--the first time we do any of these things we get a buzz. We don't know the word for it yet but it feels good. And as we pick ourselves up off of the ground, and our eyes finally focus again ... when we look back at Mom or Dad or Aunt Janice standing there smiling at us we think to ourselves, "Man ... I bet I feel way better than they do right now."
And it's as good a bet as any.
And when you get taken to the amusement park you get your hand stamped (at least we did at Lincoln Park when I was a kid). And that means you get to run around to every single ride and stand in line with all the other kids with their hands stamped. You get to be part of the crew that know how to have a good time.
There was always one exception: the Super Slide was an extra ticket. It was always the last ride of the day. I could usually see my mom's car from the crest of the ride and lamentably knew that it was exactly where I was going to be adjourning to upon gravity's somewhat controlled demonstration of power. The rush was worth it, no matter how much extra it cost.
But every ride up until the Super Slide was a thrill unto itself. Until I was old enough to go to the park alone my folks or my friend's folks would take me. And they'd be waiting, like clockwork, on a bench next to a giant clown shaped trash can, smiling and welcoming me back to the real world after each go-round. It was always the same as I'd come off the exit ramp holding my stomach, saying loudly into the air, "I want to go again! I want to go again! Please, please, please, can I go again?"
But, of course, you had to get up and get out before you could go again. You couldn't just give the operator another ticket; that's against the rules. Even rides that defy the laws of gravity have rules.
So you stand there in line again. You can judge how many kids are going to get let in, and you can guess with a certain amount of accuracy if you will to go soon. Meanwhile, you memorize the seat you want in advance, because you are sure that one goes the fastest, or that end car is the one that gives you the biggest belly-rush when it goes down the hill. You want the best ride that you can get. Logic becomes extinct. You don't care about the kid who died last week; he was probably doing something stupid. You're way smarter than that. Stupid closed ride! Why couldn't that have happened next week?
And as you're waiting for your turn, you see the sorry-ass losers who can't keep it together wiping puke from the sides of their mouth. Everybody is staring and pointing at them as they proceed head down towards the colored planks that lead to the exit gate. The kids are pissed because due to a lack of moderation they now have to wait until that brat's mess is cleaned up and the ride is reopened for business.
And you hope that you can get in and get the seat you want. You hope you don't have to sit in the pukey seat that's got sawdust shavings still circling in the wind around it.
And all day long your parents or guardians traipse along a few paces behind you as you run from ride to ride and wait in line--they may have brought a newspaper or Robert Ludlum novel to read under the tree on the bench next to the lion shaped trash can. And you scream and holler and wave to them from the top of the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster. Your hair becomes a matted mess from the g-force and the wind. Your clothes become rumpled and your eyes water from the dust and the grease in the air. You check your pockets impulsively and obsessively to make sure the change you brought hasn't ended up under the ramp's colored planks.
Meanwhile, the most important currency is a smudged mark on the back of your hand.
But you get on and you get off and it's pretty good--not as awesome as the first one, but still pretty impressive.
And your guardians occasionally look at you and say, "I remember when I was your age. We had simpler rides back then, but we had just as much fun." And you just sip your soda and close your jaded little eyes, thinking how much it must've sucked to be them as a kid.
And you run off again. Meanwhile, they've got their eye on you, showing up slowly and quietly just in the nick of time to fork over the buck or two you need to get you something you hadn't planned on. Perhaps they wish they had people like themselves when they were an excitable spendthrift, too.
And when you eventually leave--reluctantly being dragged away by the hand by the people who graciously spent their day keeping an eye on you amongst the hundreds or thousands of other people there--a little sick to your stomach and dizzy, all you can think about is when is the next time you can go.
You plan and you plan and you plan for the next time. But you know better than to ask about it on the way back from the park too often. Even a spoiled brat has limits.
You can't even think of ever getting tired of the place. You can't see yourself even close to being anything like the people who brought you there--they have no idea how much fun this is--and you go home and go about your life, bragging how many times you got to ride The Comet Coaster to your friends. And everyone has stories about how many times they did it. Amidst it all you suddenly quell your excited tone to mention into the inquisitive air what facts you know about the kid who died on the ride you really wanted to go on, and why because of him the ride is closed for a few weeks, and how you can't wait to get old enough so you can drive yourself, because then, you swear, you'll go every freaking day.
And, of course, you don't.
Somewhere in the back of your head you remember how you felt before you were old enough to ride the big-kid rides. How you stood on your tip toes and feigned being tall as the sign required. How you walked away dejected and ashamed past all the kids that were older or just tall for their age. What a load of bull that was.
I realize this post is a bit lengthy, and I applaud all of you who have made it this far. But you see, all these ideas put forth in my dissertation on the amusement park in some way relate to the way I've lived a good portion of my life.
I've stood in line countless times to get my hand stamped only to have to wait in line again for a drink or twenty.
I've watched as those who couldn't keep their shit together were hauled outside past those who could, wiping the vomit from their faces while that part of the club was put on hold--much to the dismay of the remaining patrons--until someone could clean up the mess with sawdust, a bucket and a broom.
I've pretended I was old enough to get in and play with the big kids, showing my I.D. while I rolled my shoulders back and tried to look as serious as I thought someone who was a mere two or three years older than me needed to look.
I've believed I could ride the most dangerous ride more times and with wilder abandon than any other person in my peer group. I've talked in hushed tones about those who weren't as lucky as I, and who went way too early because of any number of circumstances.
I remember brazenly saying that that would never happen to me. Thank god it didn't.
And I remember how my mother and aunt would be there, always, to help me along, trying in vain to inspire me to look deep inside myself and ask if I'd been on that same ride enough times. They were always there, sitting by the hippopotamus-shaped trash can, with plenty of reading material to bide their time until I was through getting dizzy. They even came to my rescue on more than one occasion when I got into more trouble than I had bargained for. And each time, I told them I was done being reckless ... that I had learned my lesson.
And each time I went back out and stood in line again to get that feeling that I just couldn't do without. I felt it was part of my entitlement, that I deserved to enjoy this act of inebriation. I'd rail against the notion that I was in over my head. I'd get to the point where I'd be able to rationalize it and blame the fact that my generation just has more exciting rides and a greater tolerance for the big thrill.
I remember thinking to myself, "Man ... I bet I feel way better than they do right now."
And it was as good a bet as any.
I'm done with that reckless way of living. That said, I still like to get my thrills and jollies, as it were. I have found that I am able to duplicate, through mundane and innocuous actions, the way I used to feel to a remarkable degree. I think that this is just a natural progression in life if one decides on trying to live as long and as happily as possible. Because the key, for me, to staying sober, is not mainly just in denying myself the things I used to enjoy doing. No, the key, for me, is to find things to put in its place, things that keep me busy and productive while still affording me the enjoyment and bombardment of my war-torn senses.
I enjoy the little butterflies that happen in my stomach when I go over a particularly steep hill. If I try hard I can stretch that feeling out longer than expected. I just have to pay attention.
I like to dance to dizziness and then collapse for a few minutes while I catch my breath.
I enjoy a strong cup of coffee, when I need a boost, while keeping in mind that caffeine is a powerful drug. That said, I don't feel like I'm going to steal or lie to get my hands on a cup.
And yes, I even enjoy rolling down a hill every once in a while. It's just as much fun as I remembered, which I can't safely say about the other things that got my clothes dirty and left me a discombobulated mess.
This is my life now. I haven't changed how much fun I have, I just get it from a different source. It all comes back to what constitutes a new feeling that you can put a label on as good or desirable.
The best part about the way I do things now is that it seems like the amusement park that is my life just keeps getting bigger, better, and more exciting. Every day I wake up there seems to be a new ride with a whole new spin on adventure.
And this is good, because I can barely even remember where that giant Super Slide is located anymore. You know ... the last ride of the day. As much fun as that one is to go on, I don't think I want to walk up those stairs and try to spot my car in the parking lot anytime soon.
No, I just think I'll keep riding the ones that came with the price the stamp on the back of my hand.
Thanks for reading,