May 29

Boardwalk Thrill Ride

(An Odd Adventure with your Other Father, part 3)


Jack leaned over and whispered in my ear.  “The people who go in.  Have you noticed?  I’ve been watching for quite a while, and the same people never come out.”

Then he laughed, because I must have looked like I half believed him.  “Speak a little louder,” I said to get back at him.  “I don’t think you scared those little kids in front of you.”

“It’s a haunted house ride.  The kids want to be scared.”

We finally got near to the front of the line, only one family ahead of us: a father, and his young son and daughter.  The pre-school aged daughter held a small stuffed bunny that she probably won at whack-a-mole, her dad likely guiding her hands to help.  The red-haired boy, roughly 9 or 10 years old, had a bow and arrow set, complete with suction-tipped arrows that he’d occasionally pretended to aim at others in line, or at painted images of ghosts and vampires that advertised the spook ride.

Dad bought their tickets and the family moved to wait for the next “coffin.”

Jack paid for both of us at the booth, and we stood in our place.  Apparently we’d hit some bottleneck in the ride, since none of the cars were coming out.  I almost thought Jack’s joke about disappearing riders had come true.

Then finally two cars came out the exit in quick succession, their riders laughing.  One car for the dad and his kids, one for me and Jack.

As a carnival attendant directed the family to their empty coffin, the son started making a fuss. “I wanna ride by myself,” he kept saying, actually stamping his feet a bit.  At the same time, he puffed his tiny self up, thinking that would make him look more like an adult.  A stubbornness flushed his cheeks, and he waved the bow and rubber-tipped arrows as if they were actual weapons.

The attendant said the boy was too young to ride by himself, and that set the kid off even more.  He listed adult things he’d done, like playing touch football and riding a roller coaster, saving allowance money to buy his own basketball and a tetherball set, and winning this all by himself (waving the bow and arrow).

Dad-guy basically said it’s be easier on all of us to let the kid have his way.

I imagined this family driving to the beach earlier today, stuck in the same horrible traffic we’d been cursed with.  This boy would have been a nightmare in that enclosed space.  Their mom was probably back in the hotel room, lying down on a boxy sofa-bed with an icepack on her forehead.

“You can tell who’s in charge of this family,” I said to Jack.

He didn’t smile.  I realized Jack was fuming.  The boy’s tantrum was already holding up the line, and if the attendant gave in, we’d have to wait for a third car after they ushered the brat into ours.  We’d driven a long way, and Jack had agreed to the beach visit only because he liked this haunted house ride.

Pretty sure there was another tantrum on the way.  Sometimes Jack’s were pretty spectacular.

Early on, I’d made that rule about Jack not creating any illusions while we were driving.  Soon after, I’d insisted on Rule #2:  no fair playing visual tricks with the food we were eating. I needed to keep my appetite.

Now Rule #3 occurred to me:  Children are off limits.  Please, Jack.  No scary images involving kids.

There wasn’t time to reason with him.  Jack’s jaw clenched tight with anger.

I was afraid to look.  But of course, I did.


[…continued tomorrow…]