Sunday, August 14, 2005

Never a Dull Moment

At midnight last night, I was in the empty parking lot of a theme park in northern Utah, empty save for three vehicles (Chevy Suburban, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Cadillac Sedan DeVille- GM to the last) that held nearly all of the people I cannot live without. I hadn't been to Lagoon in over ten years, since before we moved to San Diego in '92. I had expected it to be very different, to have changed a great deal. It wasn't, and it hadn’t. The same smells, the same sounds, the same creepy mechanical plaster Elvira opening and closing the shutters above the spookhouse, peering down at the waiters-in-line, bony wrists at impossible angles. All the paintings on all the horror rides! Finally the sources of childhood nightmares and fantasies are clear to me. The fanged gorilla with spiked club, the woman strapped to a wheel, the man suspended by wrists and ankles, hovering over a revolving barrel with jagged metal teeth, the windows into graves, dirt pressed around a corpse’s face, the rats and spiders and worms. Thank God for cremation. I am too afraid to rot.

I remembered being crushed in a car with Dad on the Wild Mouse, his weight making the treacherous kinks in the track seem all the more dangerously thrilling. New Wild Mouse, same thrill, only it was pigtailed Bitsy, with her fingers clamped onto my sunburned arm, instead of Dad. (In line for the ride she looked up at me, and with all the intense emotional power a six-year-old can naturally distill into the simplicity of a limited vocabulary, she sighed, "this is the happiest I've ever been." And I knew exactly, exactly how she felt.) Dad on the bumper cars, Dad on the JetStar, Dad in the nighttime lights of the gaming concourse, Dad’s back receding in the crowd as my little legs struggled to keep up with him. He was never a leisurely walker.

And Grandma at Lagoon, stiffly clinging even on the mild Paratrooper, a slightly tilted, fast-moving, umbrella-covered Ferris Wheel. And yet we would go again and again, because it was the only ride I wasn’t too afraid of at six (unlike Bitsy, who rode the loopy Colossus twice, and the Spider and Screamer, both spinners), save the carousel and bumper cars. Then Grandma, resigned and placid amid the manic tinkling music of the original fast-spinning wooden carousel, would stand next to me while the leaping cat I rode went up and down. Grandma wiped my sticky hands after cotton candy, waited to comfort me at the end of the roller coaster, on which I had quietly prayed myself hoarse. Grandma was adventurous in life, but she was terrified of heights. In the ‘30’s or ’40’s she crawled to the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge on her hands and knees to look down into the bay.

Always Mom, cheering us on when Morgan, ever my arbiter of courage, coerced me onto a ride I wasn’t sure of. We somehow got out on the wide green pond once in a paddlewheel we couldn’t seem to operate, and had to be instructed by a lovely older couple how to synchronize our pedaling and steer. One year we went to Lagoon for my birthday, and Mom packed a cake, which she left in the trunk until picnic time. We have photographs of the cake, whose candles had melted into strange twisted shapes in the August heat. (The candles were in little colored plastic holders the shapes of circus train cars.) Mom liked the log flume and miniature golf and the mild ski lift Skyride that trundles over the park. Mom liked the stage shows and Pioneer Village museums. Mom said she lost her marbles early, which was code for the aging of the portion of the inner ear that plays a part in balance.

But yesterday it was a new family crowd, and I stuck close to Morgan, as I always do when we are together. Morgan was always game for coasters with Dad but lately seems more like Mom than ever. And I sense that in a few years I will be wanting the same thing: my feet planted firmly on the ground. Our favorite part of the day was in the waterpark before everyone else arrived, when we floated quietly in green inflatable tubes on the Lazy River, scorching our shoulders and thighs and trying to avoid the cold waterfall. We compared Then to Now, and decided that there are now far too many people in the world. The rides of variable length we are convinced have had to be shortened to accommodate the crowds. The spaces intended for waiting in line have been enlarged, and where that wasn’t possible, they overflow. We are disappointed in the rudeness of people, in everyone’s impatience and intolerance. We are amazed at the willingness of the park administrators to totally commercialize the place and to take advantage of customers by overcharging for every necessity once they are inside. Disappointed and amazed, but not surprised. And I had to both pity and loathe the bored, impassive teenagers that operate the park. Lord, what a trying summer job; and yet, I can think of a hundred ways to make it more fun than they do. So many people don’t bother to train their children to be happy anymore.

We had our own administrative problems managing such a large group (thirteen, and even though that doesn’t sound like a lot, it is, with a wide age-range), but six cellphones made life much easier. All in all, Morg and I agreed while riding home alone together at 1:00 a.m., that despite the cost and hassle and heat and crowds, Lagoon (and really any theme park, but especially Disneyland) is still a great day. I called Jeff when my alarm went off this morning (intentionally set an hour late) and asked if he could manage alone, knowing the answer will always be yes. The plant practically runs itself on weekends, and I can't function on four hours of sleep, especially not after the beating I took yesterday. Aching bones and muscles, frayed nerves, throat screamed raw, sunburned and chilled, bruised from elbowing crowds and clinging kids, wheezing from panting in that ghastly city air; all the price of fun. Maybe I do get hangovers after all.

I (gasp!) didn't take my Olympus yesterday, thinking rightly that it would have been a hassle, but I took mental snapshots of the day; some of spindly coaster frameworks in the waning sunlight, but mostly of the faces of the younger kids in our crew, all at ages before recognition of price and time mar the magic of a theme park. Britan’s huge ice blue eyes turned sea green in the yellow afternoon glow, the seized look on Cordale’s pointed, pale face when The Rocket shot him 200 feet skyward at 4 G’s, Abbie’s anticipating gaze in the line for another ride, their determined scowls during the heated last leg of a go-kart race. I loved the sated sag of their eyelids as we trudged toward our vehicles through the trash in the empty parking lot, even as they tried to keep up an animated play-by-play of their adventures. Kindra and Brandon did the nauseating clingy-teen-couple thing most of the day, but I am so grateful for her animated happiness lately, after years of depression-induced apathy and reservation, that I will gladly tolerate anything just to see her smiling and serene. (I was ten when she was born- the first of this next generation- and she will always be special to me, even moreso because for her peace is so hard to come by. We are hoping that her current combination of medication will remain effective; a few have started out great before, but after a while their effects seemed to change, or decrease. I was skeptical of the term 'depression' until, watching her one day, I saw the expression on her face suddenly change as if someone had wiped it with a terrible magic cloth, and her personality did an absolute about-face. I have never been so horrified. I have rarely wanted more to be able to help someone where I am powerless. But I am proud of the way she tries to overcome it, makes little changes in her life to try to conquer whatever uncontrollable thing takes hold of her sometimes, tries to find other ways of combat. She is a good girl, full of promise.)

The last I saw of them all was the girls' arms waving frantically out the window of the ‘Burban as Brian gunned the engine through the twists of the canyon heading home, and Cordale slouched in the black leather seat of the Pontiac, head lolling. Weariness is different for children. They can allow themselves to give in to it. It seems to be a rare case now, as an adult, that I can fully enjoy the state of being exhausted. But that, my friends, is what I am about to do. It's 3:15 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, and I am going back to bed.


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