Friday, August 31, 2012

The Paradigm of Playland

Another Labor Day has landed putting some of us—possibly just me—in a reflective mood.

For me, Labor Day is an occasion to take a wistful look back to consider some of the past summer’s defining moments.

Like the time I filled the old green cooler with ice to take to a BBQ, but neglected to include the beer.

Or waking up early one hot Saturday to ride out to Jones Beach and forgetting to put on my bathing suit.

You know…those kinds of defining moments, the ones that seem to pop up much more frequently these days.

But looking back, there was one real summer defining moment that occurred this past July when Z and I took a stroll through the old, local amusement park nearby. The place I wrote about last year.

A Playland pilgrimage is just something we have to do, at least once every summer…plus it was fireworks night, which makes it all the better.

Of course we don’t do the rides or anything anymore; just stroll and people watch.

But this year our options were kind of limited in that department because I was kind of surprised at how empty the place was, especially for a nice mid-summer night….and, again, like I said, a fireworks night to boot.

You may recall from my story last year that I’ve always been a big Playland fan. But this time there was something different. This time, for the first time, it struck me…maybe this place has had its run…maybe it is time to move on.

Times change.

People change.

And time changes people.

I guess it’s a lot of things.

The economy, confusing pricing, the influx of bigger more elaborate parks fairly close by.

Not sure.

If you’re local, there’s no charge to get in and walk around, but you still have to go to the booth and show an ID in order to get a wrist band that shows you’re legit, even if you’re wearing a pink Izod shirt with the collar popped up.

Especially if you’re wearing a pink Izod shirt with the collar popped up….

So maybe even that little annoyance deters some folks.

All I know is my first thought was…this is not the Playland of my youth.

No crowds, no lines, no wait, no nothing….

Which for some is a good thing.

Not so much the county that runs the joint.

I guess that’s why there’s been a lot of discussion on whether or not to close the place or turn it into something more profitable.

Hey, how about a casino!

That always seems to do the trick….

Actually, most everyone knows there is an actual “Casino” on the premises, which is now a skating rink most of the time. Back in the day, you could actually dance to the sound of Big Bands in the “Casino”—I mean if you were actually born back then. By the time  I was a kid, the only thing you could boogie to was the sound of pin ball machines and the only thing you could hope to gamble on was whether or not you could get that little wooden skee-ball thing in the top spot or not. If you did, and did it enough times, you collected prize tickets and got to take home a nifty rubber frog, or something similar, yet equally as nice.

Good times!

And they were good times.

Playland was a place you looked forward to going all year long. Hearing that little bell and train whistle as your dad’s car rolled down the hill towards the parking lot, past the colorful array of flowers, got your heart pounding.  Seeing that big spinning Ferris wheel awakening with light in the early evening sky was enough to send you jumping out of the car before it even settled into a parking spot.

How many times would you ride that Dragon Coaster tonight?

Would you hold onto the rail like a sissy for dear life or boldly wave your arms over your head as you took that 50 foot plunge…or was it only 20?

Forget the coaster, what about “The Wild Mouse”. That thing actually threw people out of the car as it cut the corners on two wheels, or so the legend went.

Before the big fire in the mid 60’s you could spend an hour running around the old Fun House; that is if you could manage to make your way past that scary thing laughing at you from the top of the ticket booth.

Or casually stroll through the Magic Carpet ride, where various vampires in coffins liked to sit up and hiss at you. The girls would shriek and the guys showed their cool by merely laughing and pointing—at the girls and the ghouls—but quickened their pace just the same.

In between rides we would fill our bellies with hot dogs, lemonade and cotton candy, hoping against hope that’s where it would all stay, especially after a few turns on the “Tilt a Whirl” or “Over the Top”, the closest thing we had to space travel back then.

I could go on with this forever, from the helicopters, ponies and Caterpillar in Kiddie Land…to The Whip, The Derby Racer, Laff in the Dark, Bumper Cars…even the “Old Mill, which was known for its own brand of special thrills.

This was the Playland I remembered from the 60’s and 70’s as I walked down its disappointingly empty midway on a perfect 21st century summer night.  And for a lot of you who go back to the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, there’s an even a richer history to absorb.

Still, the one thing that didn’t disappoint was the look on the faces that did show up that night. Wide eyed and crazed on adrenaline and sugar; happy faces running from ride to ride without a plan other than to keep the endless supply of fun coming.

And then it struck me again…or re-struck me…or un-struck me…Playland hadn’t really changed at all.

So what if it was a somewhat less than full house?

The excitement generated by those happy faces alone—faces slicing through decades—was enough to fill a thousand amusement parks, night after night.

I said it last year and I’ll say it again. Playland is not about making money; it never was and it never should be. The paradigm of Playland is unique in and of itself that way.

It’s about the transcendent joy on the faces of those that do come and spend their hard earned dollars.  The wonder and awe that a simple hometown place called an eye sore and a money pit by some can generate and sustain, not only for a summer, but for generations of summers, past, present and hopefully still to come.

So what if I have to spend a few extra tax dollars to sustain that; I’m happy to do it.

It’s kind of nice to know some of my money is going towards filling folks with wonder and awe, for all the right reasons…at least for a change.

It’s the paradigm of Playland.

It has to be.

No ifs ands or buts about it……


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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Noise of Summer

The noise of summer is rife with pleasantries.

Rife…now that’s an word that doesn’t work its way into my spoken vocabulary very often.


But somehow when you sit and write, or at least when I sit and write, these types of words pop into my head.


What’s even weirder is I barely wrote one sentence before I digressed off topic.

Just might be a new record.


The noise of summer is rife with pleasantries.

Crickets sing, birds chirp, bees buzz…and landscapers blast 18 million decibels of noise through the sweet summer air…seemingly 18 hours a day.

Okay…maybe I’m exaggerating.  It’s probably more like 10 hours a day.

Lawn mowers, blowers, trimmers, edgers…even the occasional tree stump grinder.

Noise, noise, noise….

I’ve never seen anyone more fascinated by a leaf blower than a landscaper.

Strapped to their backs like some sort of James Bond rocket pack, they use them for everything from actually blowing grass and leaves to blowing that pesky booger off their nose.

It’s a wonder tool.

This year we also had the benefit of someone in the neighborhood learning how to play the trumpet.


Keyword learning.

Everyone has probably had this experience at one time or another.

The scale goes up…


The scale goes down….


BA BA BA BA Ba ba ba….

You know?

And there’s no discernible pattern as to when it will occur.

8 AM…Noon…8 PM.

The scale goes up…


The scale goes down….


BA BA BA BA Ba ba ba….

And there’s nothing to be done about it.

It’s part of life with the windows open…part of the noise of summer.

Someone has to play the trumpet. Someone has to learn.

Because if no one played the trumpet, the marching band would sound pretty boring.

Especially the marching band that practiced all day, every Saturday in the park down the street…during the month July…all of July.

Especially that marching band.

Not that you could actually hear the trumpets, or anything else for that matter, mostly because there were about 3 separate drum units practicing separately yet equally, at the same time.

So you mostly only heard drumming…from about 10 AM to 4 PM.

Every Saturday…all of July.

It was kind of like those old jungle movies where after surviving a plane crash deep in the heart of darkness, the passengers slowly lose their minds from listening to the incessant drumming in the distance, signaling the local cannibal tribe was fixing to have you over for stew that evening.

So it was kind of like that, without the cannibals, or the stew…because that would be politically incorrect.

But it was all worth it in the end, because by the end of the month a dozen or so people in the neighborhood confessed to various crimes they’d committed since the turn of the last century.

So that was a plus.

But I’m not sure how accurate those confessions were since I found myself imagining committing certain crimes myself all through the month.

But hey…kids need to practice.

So you can’t complain, lest you be deemed to be anti-kid, let alone anti-marching band.

Then there’s the little two year old next door who’s practicing to be a three year old, preferably by this time next year.

His mom gives him encouragement…lots and lots of verbal encouragement…all day…every day.

Like when he lifts his left index finger without stopping to pick his nose.

“Good job! Such a good boy!”

It’s nice to hear that.

I didn’t get that kind of positive verbal reinforcement when I was growing up.  The only positive reinforcement I ever got when I was growing up was being allowed back in the house at night.

If I was able to sleep in my own house at night I knew I had a good day.

If I was able to sleep in my own bed at night I knew I had an even better day.

If I was able to sleep in my own house, in my own bed, without the dog at night I knew I had a great day.

And if my mom was practicing the didn’t get any better than that

But that’s the noise of summer.

Soon we’ll be closing up the windows and shutting out the noise for a lot of months to come.

Have to enjoy it while we can….


Monday, August 27, 2012

Chewing on Summer

I’ve been trying to stay upbeat here and not take the dour end of summer route.

But I admit it’s starting to get to me.

As soon as a hint of fall weather drops in it’s hard to avoid.

I was watching a group of little kids at the beach playing in the water the other day.  Not a one of them gave any indication that in just about a little more than 2 weeks they would be back sitting at a splintery old school desk trying to locate that piece of gum they stored there last June.

As far as they were concerned the summer was still a work in-progress, without a discernible end in sight.

And that’s how we all were once.  A thousand years ago summer did seem to last forever, because we never ventured far from whatever perfect day we were immersed in at that particular flawless moment.

It’s one of the perks of kiddom, though being a kid we never knew it, let alone thought about it…you know, because of the perks.

Still, summers do end, even for a kid, and when it does, the more we’ve pushed off thinking of the inevitable, the harder it slaps us in the face when it does arrive.

“What…why didn’t anyone tell me school started last week!”

Or something like that.

But another kiddom perk is adaptability.  We take the slap and move on to the next perfect moment. Splashing in the waves becomes throwing a football 30 yards down the field for a touchdown.

As we grow up, summer endings become more frequent, and so we lose that benefit of moment to moment living and begin to dread, long before dread is necessary. 

All this serves to do is ruin all those still too perfect moments, fleeting though they are, instead of just enjoying them and storing them.

So I’ve been trying not to do that this year.

That’s what all the Pollyanna upbeat, positive “there still plenty of summer left” shinola I’ve been peddling lately has been about.

And I do believe that…but it’s just hard to feel it all the time, which makes a difference.

Baby steps….you know?

I’m getting there.

And then there’s what seems like a thousand butterflies buzzing around our butterfly bush at the moment, who are telling me to knock it off.

Even as I sit here, the cool morning air is warming, and the hint of fall still to come has been pushed back, for at least another day.

So that’s cool…or warm…or something.

Stay in the moment.

Think like a kid.

Happiness comes in small bites.

Take as many as you can…and don’t forget to chew.

Chew as long as you can….

Friday, August 24, 2012

Small Refrigerators are Not Cool

As kitchens go, we have a pretty compact one.  Not teeny tiny, but smaller than most, yet I suppose bigger than some, as well.

It has all the basics though and Z can certainly make magic in there. It’s just not what you’d call an “Eat In” kitchen.

I mean you can eat in it…but you have to stand up, unless you pull up one of the small stools we have in there in case we’re lazy and don’t feel like hauling the food off into the sunroom, where we normally eat.

The stools are nice since you can sit at the small counter and watch the small TV while you eat your small lunch, if so inclined.

Since we have a pretty compact kitchen it stands to reason that we’d have a small refrigerator too.

It stands to reason, just like we stand to eat, because if it wasn’t a small refrigerator, it would basically be a small kitchen with frost free refrigerated walls.  Plus the light would be going off and on all day…I think. 

Who can be sure.

I bring this up because finding anything in our refrigerator is like playing with Mr. Rubik’s Cube, whom I’m pretty sure must have had a small kitchen and refrigerator, himself.

There’s also a variation of that Jenga game where if you pull out the one wrong piece of the pile everything comes tumbling down…or in this case out…as in on your foot out.

It probably comes as no surprise to you that I’m not very good at this game.

And it also probably comes as no surprise to you that Z is.

I’ll be sorting through the various freezer items in search of an ice cream bar…past the bagels, the hot dog rolls from 1977, Herman Melville’s whale fillets and other sundry items when I’ll yell up the stairs to Z…”We’re out of ice cream bars!”

Z will reply…”No we’re not…I just bought a new box yesterday!”

To which I will also the sweetest of voices…”Well, I must be an idiot then, cuz I can’t find anything in this gosh durn freezer…there’s no ice cream bars here!!!!”

To which Z will answer, right over my shoulder, where she has now miraculously re-appeared from upstairs... “Yes you are…and if I look in there and find it in two seconds, I’m going to show you a new way of enjoying those  ice cream bar.”

Which to me…I don’t know…doesn’t sound pleasant.

Well, I’m sure you’ve already guessed how this goes…Z peeks into the frozen box of mystery, slides the frozen pig head to one side, moves that missing pair of sox I’d been looking for…and there are the elusive ice cream bars…right where they were supposed to be, next to that left over slice of pineapple pizza I ordered the night M*A*S*H went off the air.

Okay…so maybe it’s not entirely the refrigerator’s fault. Maybe I do like to hang on to my leftovers a little too long…but when’s the last time you had a classic Ring Ding, circa 1967, when a Ring Ding was a Ring Ding.

The main section of the refrigerator is bigger of course, but just as difficult to maneuver through because it’s located below the freezer…which means you have to play a variation of Limbo to get through this area…you know…“How low can you go?”

The answer, in a nut shell, which of course we don’t refrigerate, is “Not very”…not very low at all.

As you can imagine, this lends itself to its own unique set of difficulties, such as the time I came home one afternoon to find that Z’s back had given out once again while she was looking for the cream cheese.

I found her hunched over a container of mango salsa with her head stuck in the celery crisper.

Naturally I found this whole scene alarming since I usually find her hunched over the yogurt with her head in the chesse keeper.

Apparently what had happened was on her way to grab the cream cheese, Z was distracted by a jar of gherkins, which have been known to have that effect on Z, especially in confined spaces, that threw off her balance, just a smidge, which led to her back twisting, ever so slightly, and that’s all it took.

So once she was stuck in there, Z decided to make the best of a bad situation, and decided that some celery would be a nice compliment to the salsa and pickles…and yada yada yada….you know the rest


You think I can make stuff like this up?

Well, yeah…I can…but you never know, because it just goes to show that a small refrigerator is no laughing matter.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August Morning Serenade

On this particular summer morning, well past the mid-point of August, the suns glares bright while a cool breeze ruffles the silver maple. Its leaves, well shaken, mark a path of residual raindrops along the walkway to my front door.

I’m sitting on my back porch, which is my custom on summer days, bright or dreary, looking for the story to fill today’s page.  But who can write, let alone muse amusing, when a back lit mist of steam rises from the roof top like a late night spirit caught napping, hurrying away from the day.

All my focus goes along with it; my eyes opens to a palm plant that sits by my side, every day, making sure I don’t abuse the semi-colon rule; I still do, but what do you want…it’s only a palm.

Dew drops dry on the hibiscus and Gerbers while the sun winds its way around the corner.

No writing today…today there’s too much summer.

I think I’ll go a beachin….

Monday, August 20, 2012


Now they’ve taken all my labels away.

You know, the little tags on the inside of our clothes that let us know the correct way to put them on.

Label in front... wrong. Label in back….right

Now they’ve taken them all away.

Un-Tagged us, as it were.

What next…pockets?

Belt loops?

They call it tag-less.

It’s the new thing.

I call it taking my labels away.

Some genius decided that these little labels were an inconvenience and possibly an irritant…both emotional and physically.

Now they print them right on to the fabric, which you probably can’t see in the half light of early morning.

So you end up putting everything on backwards…even your Fruit of the Looms, which, to a guy, can be problematic…especially after two cups of coffee.

Just saying….

Why do they mess with these things?

Why can’t they leave well enough alone?

I mean, it’s something that’s worked for countless generations.

Throw on a t-shirt or a sweater; if the tag is tickling your chin, then you know it’s on backwards again.

Then all you have to do is curse yourself—mildly—(I mean it’s just a shirt) pull out your arms, spin it around and off you go.

Unless you’re a college student….

College students don’t seem to care what way it’s on. Just that it’s theirs.

Or someone’s in their room.

Or dorm….

Sure…there’s always the danger you could leave the tag sticking up and out in the back, rendering you unintelligent looking..

There is that.

And okay…sometime there’s a nasty little edge or wayward piece of thread that was spun from Desert Squirrel fur that sticks out and pokes the back of your neck all day.

At first you’re not sure what it is—maybe a bee slipped down the back of your shirt while waiting for the train—but eventually you figure it out.

Then you spend the rest of the day twisting and squirming, poking and prodding, trying to find a tactic to get the little bugger situated in a way that it's pretty much not irritating you anymore…or at least not drawing blood.

Kind of like you did with your co-worker in the next cubicle.

Of course,  now that you’ve spent about an hour arranging your clothes properly, you really can’t move…at least the upper half of your body…or else you risk messing the whole thing up.

Hey…nobody said there weren’t trade-offs in life.

That’s what voice mail is for.

However, if you don’t find this to be an elegant enough solution to the problem, you can always cut the tag out…but only as a last resort.

Sometimes cutting the tag out altogether, leads to a whole other set of problems.

For one, you risk leaving an even more annoying ragged little edge there, because you don’t want to cut right down to the seam line and risk unraveling your whole sweater. Plus you want to leave a little bit of the tag behind, for, you know, landmark front/back purposes, or else your defeating the whole purpose of the tag in the first place…let alone the premise of this treatise.

And what about those cleaning instructions.  How will you know if you’re supposed to dry clean only, wash with like colors—which I though was outlawed long ago…and rightly so—or lay flat to dry?

What are you supposed to do then…guess?

I guess….

I mean what could it hurt to dry vertically? I mean really….

So what if most of your clothes start to look grey?

Grey is good.

Nothing wrong with grey.

Okay…enough…I get it.

The way of the world.


Labels have gone the way of detachable collars and cuffs.

8 track tapes and VHS.

Possibly even the Twinkie….

Too depressing to continue.

Besides I have to go fix my shirt.

Guess why….

Yep…it usually takes me at least two cups of coffee to realize I can’t lift my arms past my belly button.

I just hope I got the Fruit of the Looms right today….