Last weekend I passed the annual Herricks Community Center Carnival with its rides and carousels and thought “this is my chance to write a piece paying homage to David Foster Wallace.
DFW, as he was often called, was beyond doubt one of our finest American writers of magazine essays. He tragically killed himself a few years ago and this is my tribute to him.
I pick the carnival in Williston Park because he once wrote a famous 27,000 word article called “Ticket to the Fair” for Harper’s Magazine back in 1993. (They condensed it.) It was a wildly entertaining and fascinating and hysterical essay on the Illinois State Fair.
So here is my effort to be wildly entertaining and hysterical about our carnival.
First the facts: Our carnival took place from May 29 through June 1 on the skinny little parking lot which only measures 39 yards wide to 150 yards long.
They had a whole world of rides in that tight patch. As I approached the carnival I could see a monster ride swinging back and forth with two rows of screaming children appearing to be laughing and crying at the same time.
It was called the Rock Star and consisted of one long metal arm extending up maybe 60 feet in the air and attached to it were two rows of chairs with the kids strapped in and holding on for dear life.
The chairs rocked back and forth rather violently and I assume that is why they picked the name. The guy running the ride had that far away bored look that I have seen before.
I once was foolish enough to ride some kind of looping flip flopping ride down in Long Beach and recall that every time the cage swooped down I could see the guy who was running the ride yawning as I pressed my forehead against the metal grate and screamed to let me out.
Thence forth my carnival coverage would be strictly observational.
So many rides to see. There was the Dizzy Dragon which was pretty much my speed and consisted of four big dragons you sat inside as they slowly spun.
The ride was designed for three to four year olds so I was out on that one also. There was the Super Slide which seemed harmless enough until I watched a little child nearly turn sideways as he zipped down and had a mildly terrified and thankful appearance as he walked away.
The Merry Go Round was cute. Did you know that the merry go round was really a model of what Knights did for combat preparation training during medieval times?
They would ride horses around in circles and toss balls at each other. I share this to give you the basic truth that every ride I saw had some element of daring and dread. This may explain why only the kids were on the rides and not the parents. The parents cherished life too much.
I was surprised by the crowd. Almost 50 percent seemed to be Asians with beautiful Tiger Mom’s, happy husbands and their obedient children. Another big percent were Indian and the remainder white.
I got a chance to chat with some real carnies that seemed to be earnest enough folks in serious need of dental work. Their life consists of setting up the show in a day, running the show for four days, breaking down the show on day six and then traveling to the next town. They do this all up and down the East Coast for nine months a year. Traveling gypsies.
I was tempted to taste some of the food but decided against it.
I simply could not believe that Fried Oreos and Fried Twinkies actually existed. They do exist and there were long lines of kids wanted to eat them.
On my way out of the carnival I passed a game called Truck Stop. It consisted of a series of trays loaded with money.
The carnie explained to me that all you had to do was drop your quarter into a slot at the right time, watch as it landed on the tray and as the tray slid money would be knocked off. All the fallen coin was yours.
It didn’t seem too complicated so I put my quarter in the slot, watched it drop but somehow no coins were pushed off the tray. No surprise there.
But what was a surprise was when the carnie not only gave me my quarter back but gave me another one!
Once again stunned by the decency of the human race, even at a carnival and even by a carnie. Wasn’t that a sweet surprise?
I only wish that David Foster Wallace was alive so that I could send him this piece that was inspired by his genius.
Thank you DFW.