F is for Fairground
I can never think of fairgrounds without seeing Joan Osborne's video for One of Us in my mind's eye.
There's a large ferris wheel turning and clowns are putting their heads through holes against the wide open and bleak spaces of Coney Island.
Well if God is anywhere he's certainly not at the fun fair. Last weekend we drove into an unholy trap by the mall when we passed a small fun fair.
"Can we go? Can we go?" pleaded Zara. What could we do?
There's a place reserved in all of our childhoods for the memory of our first fairground. I remember vividly the ragged field we headed across with a wad of pound notes in our pockets where, beyond the waggon train of dirty caravans, the Waltzers and Dodgems thudded and banged and gaudy lights played on metal polls.
Even then we felt the sickly undercurrents, the smell of meat fried in too much lard, the septic blobs of candy floss and the toothless smiles of the men by the teddy bear stand.
The haunted house was the biggest attraction back then. It was little more than a dark truck container with a few plastic spiders and a nasty surprise at the end in the form of a man dressed as a beast who ran down the corridor roaring at the kids.
A year later there was a different surprise; an electric chair that you sat in which gave you an actual electric shock.
The memories served only to emphasis the gulf between adulthood and being a child.
While Zara ran excitedly from ride to ride clutching her over priced tokens and excitedly gave over $5 to win a cuddly toy at the dart store that surely retailed for $2.99, we looked around skeptically.
Under the flashy lights and neon signs fairground workers are a gaunt crowd. Women with black rings under their eyes gave the hard sell on the duck firing range; it almost made you want to part with another $5. A man balanced a cigarette lazily from his mouth and he turned on and off the switch for a ride.
You imagine the years punctuated by the clatter of the cars and those clattering years turning to decades with nothing to show. The long days on the road linked together by fast food chains, the cramped trailers and the days seasoned by the sickly smell of bad fat and curling onions.
Fun is a concept that's filtered out beyond the eyes of a child who is mesmerized by the dancing colors, the swirling bears, the spinning tea cups and the ferris wheel rising up into the evening sky.
Yet from time to time you let your mind wander; you get caught up in her joy as the wheel takes you up into the sky. You let youself rise above it all because deep down you miss being a child again, you miss the unfiltered pleasure.
You don't want the moment to end because you always want her to be this age. You don't want to deal with raging hormones and acne and boys, you really don't want to deal with boys.
But the ferris wheel comes down the ground before you want it to and you are staring at some fries smeared across the parking lot and trampled by indescriminate feet.
You thank the wheel operator and you notice the gaps where his teeth should be and the way there is nothing in his dark cadaver's eyes beyond the reflection of the waltzers gearing up for the next ride. And so the hollow and stomach churning cycle goes on.
So the fun fare is a con trick and it always has been. It's as sick a crowd pleaser as the elephant man.
But you don't want the ride to end and you don't want to get off. Because with its gaudy illusions and cheap thrills the fun fair is a bit like life.