Thu 16 Aug 2007
we interrupt your regularly scheduled stream of silence from the crib to announce that we are still alive. the houseguests left this morning. tomorrow is a local holiday.
so we went to the fair.
more accurately, we went to the annual midway – locally referred to as “The Exhibition” – which comes to town for two weeks every August, lighting up the skyline with neon and the thrilling screams of human beings flying through the air in shaky, garish metal cages thrown together in mere hours. the place is loud, hopped up, full of hawkers and discarded candy apples and cigarette smoke and a disembodied voice from the Bingo tent calling O-seventy-nine even above the peals of tinned music emanating from the omnipresent speakers.
when i was a little girl, my mother and i lived only blocks from the fairground, and for these two weeks in summer i lay awake beside my open window, at dusk, listening for the magical sounds that signalled the fair was on, the season was magical, the horses were racing, and other kids were staying up later than i was. never having known Disney World or Canada’s Wonderland, i lusted for The Exhibition. in the sheltered innocence of my one-horse-town childhood, it was a thing of beauty, all lights and whirling fantasy. i lived for the day when i was old enough to go on the Big Rides. i had not yet discovered that my stomach has all the fortitude of a pansy, nor that the guy who dropped out of school in grade 7 to drink for a living and let all his teeth fall out would grow up to be the guy who screws all the Big Rides together every year.
pushing Oscar’s stroller up to the gates of that same fairground these many years later, i felt like that kid again, racing to The Exhibition with my eyes wide. anticipation surged when the Big Rides came in sight, like a map reading “Here Be Thrills”, and i quickened my step and then laughed at myself, because i know that the fairground is really only one block square, and that i actually loathe cotton candy, and that i am no more interested in going on the Zipper at this point in my existence than i am in taking up amateur tracheotomy as a hobby.
we circled the tiny fairground, drinking in the smells of sugar and grease and dirt and vomit, watching the lights begin to blink awake as the suppertime sky darkened with the threat of rain. we navigated hordes of teenagers straddling the chasm between euphoria and apathy, out for the night at a site they are only just beginning to discover is small and provincial and seedy. we waved to the men selling games of chance. i declined a few offers to win Oscar a variety of stuffed animals sporting beer or cupid hearts…Dave declined the opportunity to show his manliness shooting duckies and banging the strongman scale with a hammer.
it is a sad place, The Exhibition, stripped of its glamour by my adult eyes. naked, it is shrivelled and dirty, skanky even..expensive, for this local economy, but cheap and hard and crass in its lure and its delivery. it made me feel old and sorrowful, Jackie Paper gone looking again for the lost Puff the Dragon only to find him a carnie, sucking smoke and calling Bingo numbers for the rubes who pass through looking for magic.
but a thing of beauty is a joy forever, i once read. and magic is in the capacity for wonder, not the source of it. there was some magic still to be found on the fairground, in Oscar’s face, and in his imagination. we only went on one ride, he and i, because even the little circling boats and cars that i remember from a lifetime ago are gone now, replaced by faster cheap thrills machines that draw an older bracelet-buying crowd…but there is still a carousel, a merry-go-round. and from the moment we chose our pink pony, his eyes were bright and full of wonder and possibility and amazement and the oppressive feel of the place lifted for me and i could hear the delight in the screams of whirling children and see the flashing lights as beautiful and strange and the scabby gold paint of our steed as gilded and perfect.
i think O enjoyed his first ride, his first trip to The Exhibition.
i had, for three minutes, more magic than i’ve allowed myself in years.