I don’t know why I remember the carnival. I’d been to carnivals before, but this one had arisen from an empty lot in our neighborhood. That first day I went, the wild tangle of rides seemed like an unfathomable dirt maze to me. Everywhere I turned I saw something new. I felt disoriented and lost amid the spinning metal, flashing lights and the screams of young girls being pulled this way and that by the Scrambler, the Tilt-A-Whirl or the Whizzer.
I remember wandering around in a daze in a cloud of dust kicked up by a hundred or more people. As I stumbled between the rides, the rich dusty aroma mixed with the sharp odors of the grease and diesel fuel that kept the rides running smoothly. The sweetness of cotton candy drifted through the air occasionally interrupted by the sour stench of vomit.
There was a wall of large trucks that had transformed into the “Fun House” and the “House of Horrors,” with barkers outside enticing me to come in, “It’s only a quarter young man.” There was a shooting range with rows of mechanical ducks and bears and geese skittering across the booth at various speeds. Next to it was a booth with a pyramid of milk bottles, just asking to be knocked over with a softball, which I had been told to avoid, by someone I can’t now recall. There was a dunking booth with local girls in bathing suits waiting to be plunged into a tank of water by a precisely thrown baseball and a coin toss with highly oiled plates and poorly placed goblets.
Wafting across the entire carnival was the delicious aroma of hamburgers on the grill. Not these thin, premade patties of today, but thick, handmade burgers, charred on the outside and pink on the inside, plump with fatty juice that oozed though your fingers and spattered the ground when you took a bite. My parents would take a turn at the food booth every day, which meant I would come back for all four days the carnival would be in town. It was in coming back the second day that I learned how easily one can get comfortable with the new and exciting.
The carnival no longer seemed a maze of confusion; the layout was quite orderly and neat. I remember my second day there thinking that I had lost something, some sense of wonder that had been present the day before. The rides sparkled a bit less and, the music seemed a little drearier than before. I remember being startled at how fast the magic of the place had died for me.
Copyright 2014 Barry Keller. All rights reserved.