Friday, June 20, 2008

Failed Empathy, Part 1 of 2

I was justifiably incorrigible at dinner tonight and instead of yelling at 1/3 of the newscast I openly gnashed at every news story that dared cross my path. This week I have refrained from yelling at news stories that were not about John McCain, his irritating wife Cindy McCain, Michelle Obama’s Fist Bump (She doesn’t wear pantyhose! We’re going to high five, soon.*), the mayor’s misspending, and gas prices. This leaves room for public transportation, corralling DC residents to their neighborhoods, retiring bus drivers, and foreclosures. Also shootings, school closings, and the weather.
But if I’m going to be persistent in this negative attitude I’m going to go all out, which includes skipping dessert because I don’t feel like eating things that bring me joy and pouting while clearing the table two activities which are rather difficult to multitask.
This sort of sulking means I went to my room to wallow and missed Winifred’s in-depth conversation about funnel cakes and Emily’s life-long best friend’s week-long dedication to fried sweets. I did, however, hear the King’s booming suggestion as I left the half-loaded dishwasher that we all go to the carnival and visit Emily’s life-long best friend as she serves fried dough! That sounds great, right?! Right?! Isn’t that fun, Captain?! It’s good to know in the face of hard time that your father knows the best pick me up is in people-watching with the aid of crisp golden treats.
The enthusiasm is doubled at my undying love for carnivals, as these open-air festival are an American testament to summer existing as the single most important season. It represents a sense of community while simultaneously trotting out a variety of characters: parents, children, the elderly, teenagers—both the sweet and the sort that are up to no good—large families, young professionals, and the weird people that don’t seem to exist during the rest of the year (except during Christmas rush at the mall). I spend every summer attempting to capture the spirit of the small-town carnival through my lens, so when Winifred promised a carnival, I amassed no less than five and agreed to wear bug repellant, because even at a surly moment I find myself dedicated to My Art. Her promised also said, I personally empathize with your inner angst and would like to relieve your trouble by way of this adventure.
The town we drove to is at least thirty minutes away. I know this because when I was 19, all of my friends lived in this town. They lived down shoddy dirt roads or in nice gated communities and inevitably, as the sun had set, I was on the wrong half-lane road without cellular service, and as I made a tight three-point turn, wondered how much trouble I would be in if I was found hung by a tree like an urban legend over the hood of my mother’s car. I hoped in this event I wouldn’t survive because after Winifred drove an hour to her car, I would be in so much trouble I’d wish away my life. When I wasn’t dreading an early demise I’d find myself wishing my life away as I neared the city limits, which meant I was only...twenty unbearable minutes from home.
I soldiered on, dear reader, as a buoyant Winifred described our good fortune: funnel cakes, old friends, and whirring lights! Long grass to swish through in jeans, I imagined, and mild weather devoid of humidity. Have you had a funnel cake in humidity? It gets lumpy, flat, and moist as soon as it exits the fryer and half the joy you taste is imagined. If you go into the dish without hope it tastes revolting. Providentially luck was ours was great weather.
Our trouble began when Winifred started to exit near a town thirty minutes in the direction from our true destination, and continued near an exit for Baltimore. “Just pretend you are driving to DC,” I insisted, and then, later, “Pretend you are driving to College Park!” As if, perhaps, she would revert to an old standby from visiting Emily in college. Finally, I adopted the mantra, “Drive like you are going to the Metro, but get off at the labeled exit.” The mantra continued for several exits, long after we were on the correct ramp and I was directing Winifred to the stop light, through a traffic circle, and to a byway.
There has been some previous questioning as to my veracity through these steps, and I begin to doubt my memory as we slowed to the elementary school where the community parks. As we passed the school and a large red signboard labeled PARKING I wailed, “There’s no carnival!”
We passed the empty grounds in slow motion and I began to whine, inconsolably. “There’s no carnival, Mom. Mom, where is the carnival. Mom, this is the school, you said there was a carnival!” I begin to wonder if I can cajole her to the 711 near the highway exit for an INCREDIBLE GULP.**
So much for bringing me true happiness, Winifred! The carnival in this town isn’t until July. We’d driven to empty fields, existing without purpose.
“There is a carnival,” Winifred promised, alluding to the widely known truth—as sure as we understand gravity—that somewhere, anywhere a town is hosting its carnival. During the month of June every night is a carnival night somewhere, which means that if one plans appropriately the entire month (and some years, full summers) is carnival night. This would rely on attending some towns more than one night, but in the face of whirligigs, bingo, and fried chicken, this isn’t a problem but an added bonus.
In due time, Winifred located the problem: she had presumed the wrong town. We found the carnival, but not without my share of heartbreaking. (After all of that she needed directions to the next town and I even knew how to get there!) When we arrived, I waited to turn the corner and find that the carnival had packed up and moved out the night before. It hadn’t, but we first passed a sign that mistakenly read “FIREFIGHTER CARNIVAL JUNE 1-2” and in one last dying gasp I bemoaned, “IT CLOSED JUNE SECOND!”
Thereafter I collapsed from emotional exhaustion and missed the whole thing.

*Short story: When we found Emily’s wedding dress after less than an hour in the mall, and only twenty minutes of try-ons, Charlotte turned to us out of the store’s entrance and raised her fists. I stared blankly, because though I was 19, I hadn’t been to enough keg parties to have bumped fists with any broskis, and was still really into high fiving. (I also had fire engine red hair and a handful of straight edge tee shirts. It was trying archaic times.) Charlotte confidently yet demurely inched her fist forward, “Come on,” she said, “High fiving is out.” I was deeply shamed, as everyone’s clenched fist bumped at once—Winfred’s included—as Winifred shouted, “Yeah! High fiving is so lame!”
A minute later Winifred asked what “that” was called and suggested a term I would re-print here, but it is so hilarious that I will save it for my novel. Also, Winifred’s friends are reading (sorry, mature responsible adults!) and it’s a story best for happy hours, workplaces, and my-mom-is-more-awkward-than-your-mom. It also works best in a trilogy.
Walking downtown yesterday my friend and I high fived. Internet, I remain lame three—almost four—years later.

**Exactly what it sounds like: The Hulk merchandised over a BIG GULP. Except that’s the only size that is GREEN against a sea of red plastic cups. INCREDIBLE GULP, GET IT? I am a fool for your marketing, Marvel. Ultimately I was denied the Incredible Gulp.

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