Archive for July, 2011

Bumper Cars with a Legend

To begin, I must apologize for such a lengthy absence. I have been pursuing means to boost my resume and to finish the dissertation early (which results in a pretty penny saved). In all honesty, little of note has transpired in recent months that has merited attention… until about seven weeks ago.

Cousin Frank, the legend himself, ventured across the Atlantic to spend a week with our family. In terms of Franktitude, this visit was relatively uneventful (i.e. no near-death experiences on a 600-foot cliff or falling off a bicycle in the path of an 18-wheeler). One gloriously bright day, we clambered out from behind our red door and the oppressive weight of grey that had sealed us indoors for months, determined to give Nottingham the benefit of experiencing Frank and vice versa. The best (and perhaps only) attraction within reasonable distance of our home is a massive property called Wollaton Park. The locale has acres upon acres of open lawns, free-roaming deer, a lake, a historic hall, and, on certain weekends and school holidays, a carnival.

Frank and I found ourselves near the top of a hill gazing down into the valley at painfully gaudy fabrics constructed into tents and awnings, seizure-inducing, flashing lights, poorly-crafted prizes that virtually deteriorate when (or if) the gamemaster begrudgingly puts one into your hands, and a fleet of ice cream trucks. Abandoning my wife and our friend, Laura, to watch the child, we found ourselves quickly at the base of the hill, wandering between the various stalls with increasingly disappointed looks on our faces. As we turned back towards our companions, we began to search desperately for any activity that might contribute towards financially, nearly placing our heavy coins into the grubby hands of the giant slide minder. Yet reason won the day and we turned away from the sackcloth and pink and yellow lengths of metal. It seemed, however, that fate had spun us too far. For we were not facing our family uphill, but rather a mauve-colored arena, full of miniature cars and spewing exhaust from the generator that apparently powered it. Bumper cars.

The only known photo of the legend from his time in Nottingham. No longer in grainy, unclear black and white- he exists!

Cousin Frank and I casually made our way over to the enclosure, not wanting to appear desperate. We asked the gentleman (though there was nothing gentle about him) the rate for hiring his restricted automobiles. When he responded £3 per person, I began to turn toward my family again, but was stopped by a hand that firmly grasped my shoulder from below. Frank was already dropping £6 into the hand of the salesman, one coin at a time, and saying to me, “Let’s enjoy ourselves. This one is on me.” I should have known from the way that the coins fell in slow motion, as though he was paying our fee to Charon, that there was something sinister afoot. But I thought to myself instead, “Free bumper cars!

This electrical car mechanic assigned us to our respective vehicles, while two other pairs of people joined us and shared cars with each other. I looped the “seatbelt,” which amounted to little more than a sharp-edged, loose-fitting noose, over my neck and waited for the buzz of electricity to signal Frank’s demise. As our cars began to glide across the flat surface of the track, we all ignored the “one-way” sign posted on the eastern pillar and began driving erratically, hoping for maximum speed to proceed a collision.

I noted that not all seemed right as Frank paid the ride owner and cackled maniacally. It turned out that after I reached maximum speed and cousin Frank sat helpless against the edge or a few other cars, the vehicle I had received opted to slow down dramatically and suddenly send me in the opposite direction. No amount of steering or stomping on the accelerator would remedy the situation. The vehicle tended to right itself only after Frank collided into me with cataclysmic force and shrieked with delight as an egregious inferno blazed in his eyes. In several crashes, the seatbelt “saved” me by nearly severing my head and drawing the blood to the surface of my skin in a neat little line that ran along my neck and down my chest.  It appeared as though Frank had mollified the carnival gods and rode on the wave of their favor. He had cleverly guided us toward this activity, feigning disinterest in the revelry and acting as though the bumper cars were something “we may as well do” because we had walked “so far.” Frank had an axe to grind, as it turned out. For he was suffused with rage that I had told so many stories in which he was the subject of hilarity.

But, you see, when Cousin Frank went with us to a playground in Nottingham, he got stuck on a merry go round (or “roundabout”). After observing me pushing Langston and wife in a large swing together on which they were able to lay down, Frank desired to partake in the relaxing activity. Behind us, he found a dish-shaped merry go round composed of stacked metal rings and climbed inside.

A fairly close representation of the cone that ensnared Frank.

Proving to be decidedly less comfortable than he imagined, Frank attempted to climb out, but found the effort near impossible. Hearing the groans of struggle close at hand, I turned to watch him and capitalized on my opportunity.

I ran to the merry go round and, as he reached out a hand believing I had come to his aid, I grasped the top metal ring and began to spin the contraption as quickly as possible. Initially, Frank responded to my energetic whirling with, “No thanks. We’re not doing that.” Within seconds, as the cone approached maximum speed, his pitch modulated significantly and he shifted from the declarative to the imperative. In shrill, girlish tones, he shrieked, “Help! Bethany, save me! Save me, Bethany!” Wife responded by laughing near to the point retching and Langston lay their on his back, enjoying the swing and ignoring his relative.

We watched Frank as he attempted to climb out of the cone, but centrifugal force consistently threw him from side to side. Eventually, the device slowed to a stop and Frank managed to toss a leg over the edge of the rim, using gravity to drag his body out of the dangerous playground equipment. He staggered at an angle across a large swathe of grass before collapsing to the ground and giving the fluid in his ears time to settle.

As I sat in my bumper car, speeding aimlessly backwards and gazing at Frank as he repeatedly crashed into my side and foamed at the mouth, I realized that this vendetta had nothing to do with what I had done in the past, but with what I had recounted to others. For example, while Frank stayed in our house, he frequently enjoyed showers- as you do. I neglected to mention, however, that if one happens to turn on a faucet (tap- or whatever you Brits call it) while another is showering, the shower instantly goes cold to prevent from burning the showerer/showeree.

One evening, therefore, while Frank rinsed off, I set my nine-month-old on the floor, strolled over to the kitchen sink, and turned on the water ever so briefly. After hearing the change in water pressure upstairs, I laughed to myself and shut the water off, but was surprised to hear a giggle from elsewhere in the room and close to the floor. Langston stared up with a wide, toothless smile as though he was saying, “That’s right, Dad. Do it again. We shall freeze him out of the shower and there will be much laughter.” Not wanting to disappoint my son, I flicked the water on and off seven or so more times. Yet, I never told Frank of this shower-related phenomenon.

In the middle of our bumper car excursion, I suddenly realized that there are no carnival gods, and though my vehicle clearly suffered a curse in some capacity, I struck out at Cousin Frank. The first blow nearly ended the relationship between his arm and shoulder socket. Fortunately for us, the bumper car regulator let us drive for nearly 20 minutes before he made us stop. Frank and I drove like maniacs, attacking each other and the pathetic couples in the other two cars- who cares if they were children?

Though many an awesome t-bone was frustrated by my reversing vehicle, I saw to it that Frank left with minor whiplash and he reminded me how delicately my head sits upon my shoulders. As the electricity fizzled out, we stepped from our cars out into the sunset-stained lawn, laughed at the weeping children, and set our minds on ale.