It was such a warm day. Spring pretending to be summer. Not a cloud in the sky. I got the message about the traveling carnival late and we arrived right at dusk. There's such a surrealistic dream quality to these things. They are one of my favorite expressions of Americana. Dusty, dangerous, exciting, sexy, obnoxious, depressing. The smells only add to the enticement - cotton candy, popcorn, funnel cakes, soda - mixed with pavement and gasoline - all prostituting themselves about my nose.
I'm always reminded of Something Wicked This Way Comes' Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show. Will the carousel spin me backwards to a time when I can start earlier with the knowledge and confidence I possess now? Perhaps if I sneak in after closing. But I know I will not. And then the Haunted Mansion ride, the one I always look for, beckons me with its midnight movie horror show paintings. I still feel the temptation to cross my fingers.
I used to watch the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon in the 80's, where a group of children are transported into a fantasy realm through a spooky cart ride. I realize that every time I hop into a cart at one of these traveling carnivals, some part of me is still expecting, still hoping to be transported. Maybe this time? I am thrust and whirled into the dark, while up ahead someone screams in terror. A promising start, but then half of the things that are supposed to pop out, jump down or reach out for you malfunction, and the ride is over just when I was starting to hope. Nothing happened. I smile off my disappointment as I step off the ride. Well, maybe next time.
The Cliff Hanger promises the gift of flight. I also watched The Boy Who Could Fly on HBO too many times in the 80's, so I approach. You lie on your stomach with your arms outstretched. It spins you up into the sunset light, the first stars appearing as the carnival lights glow brighter. Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning. If I close my eyes, I don't see the machine. I feel like I'm really flying.
I guess this is close enough for now. Summer is coming, that big gateway where dusk can go on forever and you can play outside until those first stars come out with no one calling you home. I'll go to bed dreaming of this. The mind doesn't know the difference between what we see and what we dream. It knows I can fly because we have before. It knows about that Neverland place because it has allowed me access to it before.
I have seen the entrance to Eldorado and when I woke up I still had gold light all over my chest. It was just the sun slanting over the mountains at the end of an Indian summer, but It seemed so real. I looked at the hand I had been holding gold powder in, ablaze with light. I couldn't bring it out of the dream state. I spent a lot of time as a kid studying the quality of this sunset light and thinking about portals between places. That time just before evening begins to whisper, when the last of the days magic sighs through tangerine quartz light.
Nature knows deep magic because it has seen it before. It knows the workings of miraculous events because it has seen them happen throughout history, illuminating the faces of all hopeful souls. Right now that light represents a golden ridge between childhood and adulthood where we still cling to the fantastic, knowing as we round the bend that it's either about sacrificing our faith, or our innocence. I vow never to lose both, despite the improbable.
But I still look. I climb up the metal stairs and defiantly hand four more tickets to the ride operator. I sit in an empty black cart and wait for the doors to swing open to screams and flashing lights and anything else my mind cares to fill in the blanks while I am propelled through darkness. I have to ride it just one more time for good measure. As I round the bend I am exhilarated. And I am happy that no one can see me crossing my fingers in the dark.
Christopher Allen Brewer, May 2017