"Where are you?"
"That doesn't work for me. I'm at a carnival and need someone who would appreciate the..." I search for the right word and then see a portly ten-year-old in a Git-R-Dun shirt, clutching an enormous fried dough in one hand and a shoddy American flag pattern donkey in the other "...kitsch as much as I do."
My original plan had been to go home and, possibly, fulfill my stated obligation of hanging out with Stevehen and his friend Mikey. This wasn't what I wanted to do - when Friday comes, I tend to need a few hours to properly decompress before I care to leave my apartment again - but I had sworn I would when I was evading him on Wednesday. Stevehen, cleverly, ditched me instead, leaving me to fill my evening alone. What better than a carnival, at the suggestion of my older brother Dan? When I tried to invite Melissa (who is on terrible terms with Stevehen for reasons stemming from but not directly related to their breakup), she groaned that she had just taken her sleeping pills but that Angela would be at the carnival.
Of course Angela isn't here, nor does she answer when I call. In all likelihood, anything Melissa says once she has taken her nighttime medication should be taken with a whole shaker of salt, but some part of me knew this would still be the best offer I would get. My brother is likewise home, having felt carnivals to be canceled on account of light drizzle.
Were I a teenage boy with a taste for Old Navy, this would be a buffet of future dates. As I briefly pause in a gazebo to scribble this thought, I witness primordial romance forming among groups of identical teens, though it seems significantly less evolved than what I misremember indulging in when I was their age. In fact, I once brought girl to a similarly substandard carnival in hopes Ferris wheels and cotton candy would distract her long enough for a kiss. No such luck.
I sit on the periphery, as I can't wander past the three game booths any more without seeming like I am trolling for carnies. They gave up on proclaiming that I looked like a winner after my first circuit. Further, the scent of carnival - burning fat and sugar, ingredients slowly becoming inorganic through fossilization - is overwhelming and evocative of childhood desire/obesity, but not appealing. If I come too close to the food booths, I fear my clothes will always smell like stale waffles.
There is a notable chasm between 15 and 50. I acknowledge that too many of my generation are too detached to even enjoy this experience as kitsch, though there is something almost beautiful bordering on nauseating to being engulfed in it. It is an authentic experience, something to be indulged in even and because I consider it different from my preferred cultural context. It is good old, American fun without being pejorative. I want to be able to enjoy it without succumbing to irony or only appreciating it through the filter of my writing, but the armor is cozy.
The arrival of my brother, sister-in-law, and their children reinvigorates my rapidly waning pleasure, as it gives me an objective. I can cease to be the creepy guy surrounded by untended tweens or the focal point of fifty-year-olds borrowing their daughters' tube tops. I can be the doting uncle, tending to the needs of my nieces, who blow through fifty tickets in fifteen minutes. They delight in spinning the teacups ride so fast that I am half sick for the rest of the night and crack my favorite ring saving my youngest niece from experiencing the full effects of centrifugal force by flying out. I identify most closely with me my nephew, eyes agog at flashing I am certain he cannot process. In a blinking world with odd sounds, he can only take it all in and, even if it is beyond him, enjoy it. It's a lesson I would do well to follow, to accept even friends moving away or ditching me and enjoy the ride anyway.
Soon in Xenology: When I was a girl. Making friends out of clay. Jess. Androgyny. Hannah leaving.