Wednesday, April 6, 2011

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.

17 comments:

  1. Thanks for reminding me that I need to take my kids to a fair ground.

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  2. I hate to say it, but you actually make the fair sound really cool and dark and edgy. A work of art, really. Lol.

    Although I must say the electric chair gimmick from your childhood fairs would be enough to give me nightmares.

    I have the same problem as you, actually, but in the reverse way. I have parents who are obsessed with fairs and every single summer they drag me to every fair in a 100 mile radius. Look at us, two peas in a pod!

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  3. I love the idea of the fair and have wonderful memories from it, but when I went this past fall I was just creeped out. I actually came home and wrote a story about it, and the girl is on the cusp of loving it and loving boys... too funny!

    - allison writes

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  4. I really like your writing style! The fair is a con always has been always will I swear I could take the kids to Disney for what it cost...but you are so right can we put a price on memories?

    http://www.doreenmcgettigan.com

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  5. For that smiley face, little Winnie was well worth it. She's a doll.
    xoRobyn

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  6. I admit it....the main reason I enjoy fairs is because of the artey-clogging teeth-furring food available. Deep-fried Twinkies, mmmmm...

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  7. What a great an accurate discription. LOL! Loved this.

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  8. Great post. You really hit the nail on the head with fairs.

    I never liked them. Being able to see the rusty chains holding together the dilapidated carts and tracks made me value my life more than the ride.

    www.TheRegalRenegade.com

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  9. Haha ferris wheels. This post definitely provokes some "back in the day" memories. They're cool to look at, but pointless to get in. The best thing about fairs is the food!

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  10. Wonderful post.... For me, fairs have always had an eerie, otherworldly feel to them. And, I guess, spending years riding from town to town, setting up and breaking down rides, it can take its toll. In a way, the people that run these fairs really are from a different world....

    But, you're right, you never want the ride to end... no matter have unsafe or rusted it looks!

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  11. The fairs here really draw all sorts of people. Some of the people that we see there, we wonder where they have come from. Fairs definitely lose their magic as you grow older.

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  12. My son worked at Sexpo on the ghost train, (I'll spare you the details) and all went well 'till one of the patrons said "Hey, I went to school with you" and started chatting about old times. Then later a young lady burst into tears when he jumped out from behind a ... and went "boo". He apologised profusely and bought her a coffee. Different kind of fairground, similar sideshows (well kind of...oh dear, delete this if you want David)
    Sue@JumpingAground (alliteration & drabbles)
    Sue@traverselife(Workplace bullying)

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  13. don't forget to take the kids to the fair, Oilfield. wow parents obsessed by the fair is a strange concept Jennifer, there must be a word for that. Interesting Allison.It would be good to read that.

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  14. thanx Doreen and thanks for the follo. Will check out yours. Aw thanks Robyn, she certainly is. ugh Li, sounds unpleasant. Thanks Busy 91 and thanks for stopping by

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  15. I know TRR, and there are quite a few accidents too. For sure Matthew - thanks for the follo. Glad you liked it e.a.s. They so do Daisy, I know what you mean Sue, good luck with the next post.

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  16. Great images, I love the colour and kitsch of fairgrounds. Reminds me of the fairgrounds that come to town every year..or Margate

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