The entire point of amusement park rides is to simulate something life-harrowing without actually being dangerous. Going to Disneyland and riding a dark ride even simulates danger, even if it is just a “wild” car ride. You don’t think you can die at Disneyland.
Not all amusement parks are Disneyland, though. Some are like my Boardwalk, near the beach. The point of a place like the boardwalk is to allow the paint to chip just enough, and the wheels to squeak, and allow a couple kinks in the rails to add extra “bump,” to let you feel like maybe, just maybe, this ride isn’t very safe. It looks, from the top of a rollercoaster or the far throw of the scrambler, like the safety net might not be very strong. It might even be on fire.
In the morning, when they turn on the rides, that test ride is almost like a ride without a safety net. For about a minute and a half a day, I’d escape through the high of the heart in your throat, butterflies in your stomach, tingles on your feet feeling. That morning ride is perfect. It’s grey and no one else is around, and all you can hear is the clacking and the whoosh of pistons instead of classic rock. That’s the feeling I chase. That’s why I kept my job at the boardwalk.
But when I fell asleep on the Comet, our old wooden rollercoaster, I knew I had to chase something else.
At about 2:00 every afternoon in our town, everybody hunkers down to get through the rest of the day. Everyone is at their desks with their last or next-to-last cup of coffee, all the restaurants are restocking from the lunch rush, and the only people driving around are mothers getting groceries and the unemployed finding something to do with their free afternoon.
That’s the time of day I found myself in at the end of my halved morning shift, wandering with a cup of coffee from the employee lounge and wondering what to do about my will to continue.
I walked by a little hamburger joint and decided it was as good a time as any to try to eat four of their king sized hamburgers in 20 minutes, and get them all for free, like they said on their sign. The manager wore a nametag with his name scribbled unintelligibly on it and stood at the register, wiping the counter while watching the Discovery channel on the television in the corner.
“I’ll take the challenge.”
“It’s 32 bucks if you don’t finish.”
“Just show me you have 32 bucks and then I’ll do it.”
I ended up having to just charge the burgers to my credit card and he promised to refund the money, which wasn’t very fun, but I sat there in the dingy diner and had four giant hamburgers. They were good – I got them without cheese or lettuce or sauce, nothing to fill my stomach but the meat and the bun, and I finished and felt like I accomplished something, like I had woken up just a little bit.
The man said, “Congratulations, need to throw up?”
I shook my head and looked down at all the crumbs while I wiped my face on two napkins.
“I gotta take a picture of you for the wall.”
He took the picture with a polaroid camera. I made a dumb face where I pretended like I was looking at something on the ceiling and my undeveloped square joined the morbidly obese and bottomless stomached folks on the wall. There weren’t any girls.
I walked out and immediately had an awful stomach ache. So awful that I had to have a taxi home. I got onto my bed and looked up at the ceiling and noticed that the same bland, spiky stucco that covered the ceiling in the restaurant covered my ceiling too.
When I woke up, the feeling that I might die was gone and all I wanted was pitted Kalamata olives. It was specific and strange – I’d never really wanted anything before in the same way. I could feel the taut skin of the olive breaking between my teeth, the saltiness and supreme otherness of the flavor playing across my tongue.
In the shared refrigerator in the house, someone had a jar of green olives and I almost threw up at the sight, they were so close to being what I wanted but so far away. I couldn’t even bring myself to try one.
I walked down to the convenience store and opened up the tiny jar they had right in the aisle, dipping my fingers in and pulling them out one by one, olive by olive, eating them quickly after I tried to savor the first one. It didn’t satisfy me like I wanted them to. I still craved them, the same thing, just olives, so I grabbed every jar they had on the shelf and brought them to the register. I had three bags, double bagged, of olives when I walked out. I saw the confused look of the cashier as a look of envy. I felt like I had drive.
I went back to the house and grabbed a backpack to stuff all the olives in and then set back out in the last hour of full daylight left on that Wednesday with an open jar in my hand. I felt compelled to be out, and away from everything, far away from the boardwalk and my little house and what I’d seen. There was a new voice in my head that spoke only in definite directions. Eat Olives. Walk.
There weren’t any cars on the road while I walked and ate my black olives, both more slowly than when I started. I walked along the road and let something else guide me away from where I was, because I was still asleep, and at least that new voice felt awake.