It's been happening almost weekly since I left Phoenix for Los Angeles. I get these glimpses of life in a real city, glimpses that shake me. I catch sight of myself in a reflection, and I don't see the mohawked, streetwise, punk-rock intellectual I imagine myself to be. I see a dopey suburban white guy who doesn't have any idea what to eat if he can't find a Taco Bell.
Right about now, the Suicide Girls are probably finishing their set, and the New York Dolls will close the night. That's on the main stage at a family event: Girls undressing followed by men dressing like girls. Despite the fact that this will be happening only a few hundred feet from the carnival rides you'd have to be under 8 to fit on, there will be no letters of complaint. There will be no outrage. There probably won't be anyone but me -- just off the turnip truck from suburbia -- who even finds the juxtaposition of these two forms of entertainment the slightest bit odd.
If there's one important thing about being a Pope, it's to rail against relativism. The first thought that occurred to me as I walked around with my daughter in the midst of this rampaging relativism was fuck those papal bastards and their roman numerals; This is the path to harmony and enlightenment. Despite the fact that every cop-baiting archetype was walking around in plain sight, the police -- the fucking LAPD -- harassed nobody. Not a, "hey whattaya got there?" or a "you can't stand here." Despite the fact that most of those archetypes had their sworn enemy archetypes walking around as well, I didn't hear any taunting or see any tough-guy posturing. Even the parents were invariably cool-but-attentive in dealing with their kids, who didn't throw any fits. Dogs and cats living together. Anarchy.
My opinion of relativism waned a bit when Zoe and I got onto something called the Hustler. The carnies at this particular fair were the type often parodied on TV, except these were what I would describe as exaggerations of what I thought were over-the-top caricatures. Here's an exchange I overheard while Zoe rode a smaller kids' ride:
She said "he's a guy with no teeth," and I said "well, what ride was he working?" She said it was Twister, so I said it must have been you.
Anyway, the Hustler's posted height requirements were as such: 36" to ride with an adult, 48" to ride alone. There was nothing to stand next to, but he waved Zoe on. I figured he must have been doing this for so long he could eyeball it. I always like someone who knows his job well.
The Hustler has 4 baskets. Two orbit around each other, while the pair orbits around the second pair. This particular carny, who I had decided was a seasoned vet after sizing Zoe up without so much as a pause, decided to put seven of us in one basket, and none on the rest of the ride. This is where relativism comes into play: If you can run the rides at one-quarter capacity, there clearly isn't a lot of demand. If there isn't a lot of demand, it's a bad time to be a stickler for the rules, operating guidelines, or even common sense, since all of this might scare away scarce business.
As we were getting strapped in, a kid next to me couldn't get his belt to clasp. He switched seats and the next belt failed, too. The carny looked at him, shrugged and said "Hold on." The kid wasn't that cavalier, and switched seats again before finding one that worked. Everyone was buckled in, and the ride began.
I looked over at Zoe to see how she was doing, and noticed the kid next to her was a toddler. Borderline infant. Clearly nowhere near 36 inches. He had a seatbelt on, but was too small for it to really matter. If he's lucky, he might be able to hook his toes on the belt as he flies out. It won't stop him, but it might take some velocity off. As soon as the ride got up to speed, the kid slumped over sideways, expressionless. His mom held on to him, and tried -- well, I'm not sure if she was trying to get him to sit up, or to show signs of life. He lay there catatonic, his gaze straight ahead, unblinking, unwavering for the entire ride as everyone laughed, screamed, and tried to figure out exactly how the unbalanced nature of the ride running at these speeds was going to cause a catastrophic failure. That last one was me. I fucking swear I could feel it tipping.
Zoe doesn't really think about the structural strength of a poorly maintained carnival ride and its poorly maintained operators, so she had a great time. After the ride came to a stop, the little kid was eventually revived, and seemed to have only suffered subtle, longterm brain damage, and nothing requiring immediate medical attention.