A free ride on the Ferris wheel.
The Ferris wheel is the greatest vantage point at the Carnival or Church Bizarre.
In my case it was an excellent overview of all the action. At eleven years old at the Saint Ann’s Church Bizarre in my hometown, I was hypnotized by the organ music pumping through the PA horns.
It was “Light My Fire.” By The Doors” and was the biggest hit at that time. The of summer 1967. The “Hurdy Gurdy” like organ music perfectly suited the atmosphere.
That Organ part by Ray Mazarek is indelible in my mind with that night on the Ferris wheel. The Carnival was set up in the parking lot of the Church and could be seen for miles around. There were twinkling and flashing lights everywhere. It attracted all the moths and characters of the ever-expanding Long Island suburban town.
All the kids from the neighborhood were there. Their parents were working as volunteers in all the booths and concessions. The whole town was there. Neighbors, Nuns, Priests, sulky teens, and lots of little kids. All together in one spot under the twinkle of the rides and games and the sugary smell of cotton candy and kettle corn. The smell of sauerkraut and hot dogs boiling and burgers frying. All attended by friends and neighbors over the grill. Each taking turns grilling and spelling each other.
Many dads were behind the Razzle Dazzle spinning wheels. “Round and round she goes. Where does she stop? Nobody knows.”
At eleven years I was utterly intoxicated by the atmosphere alone. There were plenty there that had had too much beer from the kegs at the Hot dog stand where my Mother also had volunteered.
All our neighbors were working in one capacity or another. The Catholic Church cut a wide swath in our town. But that wasn’t the only reason folks showed up. The excitement of summer and the glittering attraction of the Midway primarily.
The only people that were technically employed by the Carnival were the greasy carnies who ran the rides. They sat on their stools and chain-smoked with terribly bored looks on their faces.
I was amazed that they could be bored at such an awesome job. Young teenage girls would flirt with the Carnie drifters who were probably on the lawn from the law.
From my perch up high on the Ferris wheel, I could pick out the faces I knew down on the Midway from above.
The joy on the faces of the girl whose boyfriend had just won her a stuffed animal after spending most of his paycheck to get it. He spent most of the night repeatedly trying to knock over those metal milk bottles with a baseball. A top-shelf stuffed animal was a badge of honor for the couple. It was an expression of how deep their love for each other was.
When I was back on the ground, I wandered over to the Hot Dog stand where my Mom was stationed.
I saw a crew of surly-looking biker types over by there drinking beers. They were boisterous and loud and were scaring some of the volunteer ladies. One biker guy had a buffalo hide vest and a bunch of buttons all over it and one button that said: “Fuck You.”
I remember thinking that that was so wild! I watched from a distance, fascinated. The language on these guys got saltier and saltier. When finally, my Dad strolled up to the bunch. They were close to where my mom was stationed with the hot dogs. My Dad was mostly a shy and retiring type.
TheBiker with the buffalo vest was kind of a chubby redheaded guy and was the loudest of the bunch. But things like that were kind of disrespectful really got under my Dad’s skin.
I could tell he was pissed, and he was vibrating with anger, and he walked up to the redheaded biker guy and said, “ DO YOU USE THAT KIND OF LANGUAGE IN FRONT OF YOUR MOTHER?”
Everyone held their breath and could see my Dad was going to blow his top. The redheaded biker guy replied sheepishly, “Look, Mister, we were just joking around,” he then turned to the trailer full of Volunteer moms and apologized to them.“sorry, Ladies. We apologize.” All the other biker dudes nodded approvingly, as well as the appreciative nods from the Moms.
My Dad stepped back and said to them, “Good! That’s better.”
As he walked away, the redheaded guy said with a snicker, “I thought the guy was gonna have a heart attack.” The Crew drifted back into the crowd.
My Dad got a pass from those guys and sidestepped a beating that night, but I think those guys understood honor and let it go. A free ride on the Ferris Wheel, so to speak.
I remember that like it was yesterday, and I could not be prouder of my quiet, unassuming Dad, who could not take it anymore and made his stand.
He had been through quite a lot as a soldier in the Philippines in WW2 and growing up during the depression in Harlem.
He wasn’t going to let these “Bums” (as he would call them.) ruin the Bizarre. That was the lowest insult he could give in his vocabulary. “You Bum!”
When Donald Trump was president, my father was long gone, but I could hear in my head his voice, “What a Bum!” The lowest.
I got seduced by the Midway and loved the excitement of it all. I, too, was like a moth in summer, but that memory of my Dad defending the honor of those volunteer moms is the compass I keep and follow.