Friday, September 17, 2010

Lagoon (part 4 of 4)

THE FINALE!!!! Make sure you've read parts #1, #2, and #3 first! So, you will probably think differently of me once this is over... Remember, I did get my Bachelor's and Masters degree in Finance... This might explain that. Thanks for taking the time to read. If you enjoyed this, please spread the word. And now..... part #4.

-------------------------------------------- (this is an actual photo of me and my siblings weeding)

I looked down into my adolescent palm and saw a shiny 1979 quarter staring back at me. A quarter! In that exact moment, Newton and his gravity-defining apple had nothing on me. It was more than a lightbulb. The sky parted and inspiration poured down on me in the form of quarters.

A quarter! The granddaddy of all coins. Half a churro. One-quarter of a cotton candy.

Growing up in a family with eleven children, we were never given allowance for our weekly chores. While our friends were paid for good grades, my straight-A report cards earned me a hug and a pat on the back. If we wanted to earn actual money, we had to apply for extra jobs -- above and beyond the normal call of familial duty. Weeding was always a reliable source of income. But, my parents didn’t just throw money at us. If we filled up a old 5-quart ice cream bucket with weeds, we earned a quarter. I would work my little fingers to the bone for the better part of an hour to get my bucket full, fluffing up those weeds to get to the top rim sooner. I’d take my trophy of accomplishment to my dad and hold out my hand for my quarter.

“Just a second,” he would say. And then, before I knew it, the bucket was on the ground, my weeds suddenly greeting the bottom of his size-11 shoe. Instantly he had turned my almost-overflowing bucket of profits into a less than 1/2 full bucket of shame.

“Keep going”, he’d say as he handed me both my squished dreams and weeds. “Remember to get the roots.”

I’d trudge back to the garden, kneel down, push up my velveteen sleeves with a heavy heart and start all over, wondering why I thought maybe this time I could have pulled off the fluff job.

A quarter equaled over an hour of back-breaking weeding, and here it was, sitting in my hands and all I had done to get it was ask. That first quarter was born of innocence. But, in the few seconds it took me to return to Viki and explain that Mom was not coming unless we called again, I had formulated an entire business plan, replete with provisos, exceptions, and rules. A Rockefeller was born.

It only took the promise of all the churros we could eat (she was feeling much better) to get her to go along with my plan. I would continue to ask various people for quarters, explaining how Viki had been sick and we needed to call our mom. Effortless. How quickly I rid my mind of the shame of begging. The thought of more quarters was simply that powerful.

The first step was to locate the perfect victims. We targeted middle-aged mothers who were not weighed down with little children taxing their patience. We didn’t want the distractions. Older couples were also acceptable, especially those dressed in polyester and grandparenthood.

Step two was the approach. While Viki writhed in apparent pain in the near background, I would advance. I had to time it to appear frantic and panicked.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” I’d begin and then point over to my sickly sibling. “My little sister just threw up. I was wondering if you had a quarter so I could call my mom.” Within seconds, I had a quarter and was off to the nearest phone booth. Of course, I never actually made it to the phone booth. I’d wait for my target to pass on, and circle back to Viki, the banker.

Within half an hour, we were skipping down the road to affluence. But, apparently Viki wanted to sprint. She suggested we split up and double our money. Brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that sooner? In no time, our pockets were anchored with those silver gods of the coin world. In less than an hour, without pulling up so much as a single root, we had amassed over five dollars. But greediness is not easily satisfied, and we found ourselves wanting more and more. And that is how we brushed noses with disaster.

I had spotted them next to the carousel. Their faces painted with that smile that only comes from watching a grandchild. The carousel was just starting up its circular ride into fantasyland. I squared my shoulders and began the approach.

“Excuse me,” I began. But that is as far as I got. At that exact moment Viki’s frantic waving caught my attention and my words were tackled to the ground. Something was terribly wrong. I stood there frozen while my benefactors looked quizzically at my behavior. Time took a turn for the worse as I concentrated on the words Viki was mouthing in slow motion. With jarring fright, I realized what she was shouting.


Panic. Guilt. Shame. We’d been found. Everyone in the park knew our crimes. Lagoon security was on its way to lock us up in a cell behind the haunted house. My parents were already being informed. I could see them wringing their hands in front of the judge crying, “Where did we go wrong?”

And then, I realized they hadn’t seen Viki. They were still looking expectantly at me. The whole interchange had lasted less than ten seconds. Life was handing me a second chance. Would I turn over a new leaf and repent?

“Sorry,” I said, and turned around searching for any crack in the pavement big enough to swallow me whole.

Just like that, we decided we had enough money. Funny how things like that happen. One minute you can’t get enough, and the next you are weighed down with quarters clinking, “guilty, guilty” with each step.

We went to the nearest food booth, got a table and counted our profits. Six whole dollars. The entire plastic lettered menu was ours to consume! What would it be. Pizza? Ice cream? More churros? Why not all of the above! Viki’s stomach was long past queazy. Within seconds our six dollars became a mound of deliciousness.

We were casually eating our winnings, enjoying the fruit of our labors, when I looked up and spotted them. Tom and Emily! They were headed our way. What could we do? They’d already seen us. My first reaction was to devour the churro in my hand and I started pushing it in my mouth faster than I could chew. But it was no use. There was too much cinnamon-sugary goodness.

“Hey! Where’d that come from?”

“How did you get that?”

“Gimme some!”

Siblings. Allies or enemies? Both. We confessed to our crimes while we shared our loot, what was left of it. Surprisingly, they were both jealous and stunned. Mainly jealous of our ingenuity. We sat there sharing some of our funnier encounters and experiences of the past few hours. Laughing till our stomachs started to hurt. Or maybe it was from the cotton candy.

For the next few years, the four of us had a semi-lucrative, very hush-hush side business to pay for our sugar habit: panhandling.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lagoon (part 3 of 4)

BEFORE you read this -- make sure you read parts #1 and #2 or this will make no sense.... Try to put yourself into the mindset of a bossy 13 year old older sister when you read this. Maybe one day Viki will forgive me for how I treated her in part #3...

I was in shock. Instinctively, I went to the sink to wash off my face and arms. I shuddered out of my clothes and went into a stall for privacy. Anger was waiting inside. Viki hadn’t stopped apologizing this whole time, so I decided to let her show how sorry she really was for using me as target practice.

I made her stand there at that miniscule-sized porcelain sink and scrub out every bit of my clothes by hand. The only cleansing agent available was that white powdery substance that clumped out from the dispensers located periodically above the sinks. Grit. White grit. She scrubbed her little fingers away on my clothes, washing them with sink water and grit until the smell and stains were gone.

In between my complaints from the stall, I also demanded a fresh supply of wet, brown tri-fold paper towels so I could sponge bathe. After I felt sufficiently cleansed of puke, I sat there alternating between anger and annoyance. Every so often, I’d flirt with remorse, but never enough to give it words.

Once my clothes passed inspection, I forced her stand there and hold them up, part by tiny part, to the hand dryer and push the button over and over and over again. Towards the end of this task, remorse tickled at my edges and I, belatedly, apologized to Viki for making her go on that ride. As I watched her slave next to the dryer, I felt bad that there wasn’t a chair for her to rest on. I guess the restroom wasn’t expecting too many work-weary laundresses that day.

When my clothes were just damp, Viki brought them to me and practically begged me to say ‘enough’. I put them on, thanking my lucky stars that I chose to wear my training bra that day. Whether or not I actually needed one was still to be determined. But the only thing worse on a teenage girl than a damp white shirt with a bra showing through is a damp white shirt with no bra showing through.

After what seemed like hours, we emerged from the restroom. Now what? Viki was feeling much better, having evacuated everything that was bothering her. She still wanted me to call Mom and see if she’d come pick her up early.

“Gimme a quarter.” I insisted. There was no way I was going to foot this bill. Apparently my sub-conscience had not received enough penance from her laundering labors. Besides, my dollar had long since fallen prey to a sugary siren called cotton candy.

“I don’t have one! I already spent my whole dollar.” Of course she had. She was a Groberg too. Free money plus anything whose first ingredient was sugar was no match for our weak wills. Give a Groberg a quarter, and he or she will find the nearest candy vending machine.

“How are we supposed to call Mom?”

“Beats me,” Viki said. She sat down, finally, on a nearby bench and sighed, exhausted. Remorse came back. I felt bad about making her scrub my clothes for so long. I’d make it up to her by remedying our lack of the larger coinage.

“I’ll go ask someone for a quarter. If I explain the whole situation, I’m sure they’ll understand.” By ‘whole situation’, I meant leaving out certain parts that were non-essential to accomplishing my monetary goals. Parts like me forcing my sister to ride and making her clean up with grit.

I sat down next to Viki and studied my surroundings. Who is the least intimidating person here? Who would have a quarter they would be willing to part with? There she was, sitting in the shade just waiting for her family to finish a ride nearby. Her short brown hair was spritzed with gray, meaning she was probably rich. No one was around her. She had a purse that no doubt housed more than our junk drawer. Surely there would be a spare quarter in there for the needy.

I took a deep breath, got up and walked speedily over to her before I could change my mind.

“Um, Ma’am?” I was new at this -- asking complete strangers for money. In about three seconds, I would be an experienced beggar, an accepter of alms. “My little sister got sick and threw up. I need to call my mom, but I don’t have a quarter. Do you have one?” I used the sweetest voice in my arsenal. The one I reserved for my Dad when my Mom had already said no.

Her face smiled. “Of course, honey.” With those three words and her accompanying action, I brushed off the worst of the shame that had hovered over me like an umbrella. I awaited my handout with true gratitude, both to her and to how easy it had been. “Here’s two quarters, dear. Just in case the first one doesn’t work. I hope your sister feels better.” Acknowledging she knew more of the waywardness of phone booths, I thanked her sincerely and walked off to find a phone.

The first quarter worked fine. No defects. My mom was naturally worried when I explained what had happened. I told her Viki wanted to go home, but that the rest of us wanted to stay.

“Are you sure she wants to come home early?” She asked. But what she was really asking was that if there was any way I could keep Viki there, she would be infinitely grateful. I could hear in her voice she had plans for the day which didn’t include an extra trip to Lagoon.

“Actually, Mom,” I hesitated, looking over at Viki, “I think she’ll be fine. She is feeling much better. We’ll just go on slow rides and take it easy.”

“If you’re sure.” She answered, with a thank you in her tone. “Call me again if you change your mind.”

I hung up the phone and turned around to find Viki. But I didn’t turn around empty-handed. ......

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lagoon (part 2 of 4)

STOP! Before you read part #2, make sure you've read part #1. It will make much more sense! Warning: do not read this section on a queasy stomach. Also, this is my favorite of the four parts, but still not the most 'surprising'! Isn't the suspense just getting to you???? Enjoy.... Jennie

Part #2

“I think I’m going to throw up!” She gagged out between fingers covering her mouth. About two seconds later, she could have dropped the “I think” part. Fortunately, she caught the majority in her hand, but not before a few drops of proof fell on the seat. I hoped no one was correctly guessing that they’d get cart number 16 next. I grabbed her available hand and yanked her away from the scene of the crime. We mingled in with the rest of the victims and made our way safely through the exit path and out into open air.

I ran to the nearest authority figure to ask for directions to the bathroom. About ten yards in front of me was a row of game booths. The one closest happened to be “Whac-a-Mole”. The booth lodged three nine-patch holes side by side, waiting for gullible passerbys to drop a dollar for the opportunity to hit some ill-meaning moles who popped up more irregularly than popcorn kernels. There was an overly enthusiastic teenager operating the booth. He saw me approaching and mistook my eager gait for an keen desire to throw away money.

“How about a game of Whac-A-Mole?” he shouted into his make-shift microphone.

“Where is the bathroom?” I shouted at him. Viki’s stomach was not done punishing my manipulation. We needed sanctuary in the form of a backless toilet.

Either he hadn’t heard my plea, or he was more interested in refereeing a silly game, because he shouted out to the park, “Step right up! We have one player! Come try your hand at ‘Whac-A-Mole’. Only one dollar a game!”

“PLEASE!” I was screaming at him now. “I NEED to know where the nearest bathroom is!” I was whacking the game top with enough force the scare any moles back in their holes, should any rebellious rodents dare show their annoying plastic faces. I think Enthusiastic Teenager was scared for the safety of his game, but still he refused me passageway to the restroom. By this time Viki had made it to the booth and was tugging at my shirt, afraid to open her mouth for fear of what might come hurling out. I looked up, begging with my eyes for aide.

What happened next will stay with me until my deathbed, and probably well into the next life. If I grow old and get Alzheimer’s and forget my own children’s names, I will still remember the stark details of the next ten seconds of infamy that sunny day in Lagoon. It felt like the world was suddenly turning in half speed. Everything occurred in slow motion, but it still wasn’t slow enough for me to stop it.

I was facing Enthusiastic Teenager head on, willing him to point me in the right direction. He was a typical employee of a local amusement park, too tall for his body. His standard Lagoon-issue striped shirt was short on him, but practically fell off his shoulders. His hair was full of unruly brown curls and his face was blotted with acne. His red bow tie was crooked and partially undone. But, in his booth, he was king of his dominion. His fist-sized microphone was a scepter that bestowed power he would never find in the halls of High School. He was determined to get people to play his game, as if that was the entire purpose of life and he was our guide.

Viki was facing me, on my right side, impatiently pulling at the sleeve of my white cotton shirt with green rims. Enthusiastic Teenager could see Viki’s side profile perfectly as he continually tried to lure people to the game.

And then, Viki could wait no longer. Out came everything she had digested for the past 24 hours at least. Out it came, and found a home all over me. She was just a few inches shorter than me, so it perfectly drenched me from the tops of my shoulders to my shoes.

Enthusiastic Teenager still had his fingers on his precious microphone and had just started over on his sales pitch.

“How about a game of “Whac-A-WOOOOAH!!!” He screamed into the speaker. I finally had his undivided attention. Unfortunately, thanks to his announcement into the microphone and Viki’s display of undigestibles, I also had the attention of every person within a 50 foot radius.

“Looks like YOU need a bathroom!” Enthusiastic Teenager was still holding the button that relayed his voice for all to hear, but at least it was in response to our situation.

I didn’t even nod. I didn’t speak at all. I couldn’t move. I just wanted to disappear, to blink my eyes, which were the only part of me not covered in stinking puke, and magically vanish. I’d willingly join those pesky brown moles in their protective holes now. Bring on the whacking.

When he finally pointed us towards the bathrooms, I waited two more seconds and then I started to move. I didn’t bother to thank him. I just moved away, letting the sick and whatever pride I had grown in thirteen summer seasons on earth fall off me. Someone was speaking, but I couldn’t process the words.

“so, so, sorry.... didn’t mean..... please..... sorry...... Jennie...... so, so.” Viki was following me, apologizing her apparently-working-just-fine-now mouth off. I couldn’t respond to her. I made a beeline for the bathroom hoping to get out of my clothes before I added to them with my own vomit.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lagoon (part 1 of 4)

The Centennial Screamer. Just swishing those words through my lips sent alternating ripples of bravery and shivers down my spine. The Centennial Screamer. It was the newest attraction at our local amusement park, Lagoon: mecca for all children in the greater Salt Lake Valley. And today, today I was going to conquer it. Of course, I still had to convert my little sister to the gospel of The Centennial Screamer. But, I had a plan.

Lagoon was a once-a-year-at-most prize and I was going wrap my arms around it and soak it in like a bee collecting pollen. The sun was shining, accompanied by a slight breeze, making it the perfect background for a day spent outside. My mother dropped us off at the entrance gate loaded with sack lunches and enthusiasm. Before she left, she gave us enough money for admission fees plus one entire dollar for each of us to spend at our leisure. At our leisure! She probably said something like, “Save some in case of an emergency.” But, I stopped listening once the coin was in my palm.

“I’ll pick you up right here at 8:00 tonight.” And then, she was gone. Gone! I turned around to face the enormous entrance gates and smiled. The world behind the metal bars was mine to consume. I was thirteen and primed for the task. There was four of us; my older brother Tom, me, my 11-year old sister Viki, and my 9-year old sister Emily. Immediately, we divided up to attack the park. Tom went with Viki and I had Emily. We set up a meeting place for a few hours from then and ran as fast as we could to wait in the nearest line.

Emily would have been easy enough to convince to go on The Centennial Screamer with me, but I couldn’t fool the height charts posted periodically throughout the park. She wasn’t tall enough. So, ‘The Ride’ would have to wait until I was with Viki, harder to convince, but several inches taller. Time launched by and soon we were meeting up and trading siblings. I didn’t waste anytime approaching my first order of business: The Centennial Screamer.

“No way I’m gonna ride that one!” Viki said.

I expected as much. She hated these rides. She got sick easily, and no one willingly repeats that exposure. So, I had to convince her to convince herself. I had to make her believe she would not get sick. If I was overly confident, my conviction might bleed onto her. If she just got into line, more than half the battle would be won. We’d be committed. But, I had to completely manipulate her without her being aware of it, and she was no idiot.

“You can do it! It’s not really that scary. Besides, you’re almost twelve years old.” The difference between eleven and twelve was so much more than a single digit. Twelve meant responsibility and dependability. Now, I needed to stay quiet and let my infallible logic sink it. Would she take the bait?

“I really don’t want to, though.” She almost sighed, as if preparing for resignation. Wow! This was going better than I thought. She had catapulted from ‘No way’ to ‘I really don’t want to’. Just a few well-placed shoulder taps, words, and smiles and we’d be wasting the near future waiting in a long line.

“Of course it seems scary, but look how many people are in line! And, you know how fast these rides are. It will be over before you know it. You’ll probably wish it was longer.” I playfully hit her arm and stifled a laugh to make sure she knew I meant no foul.

“But I might get sick. I..”

“Hey!” I interrupted before we went too far down that literally slippery slope, “You won’t get sick. It’s all in your head. Just tell yourself you won’t get sick and you won’t be sick. I promise.” My logic was impressing even me! Mind over matter. Simple as that.

“Can’t we just go on another ride instead?” Viki asked, with both hope and defeat in her eyes.

She paused on the word instead. It was her tell. She’d been had. I’d won. But, just to play it safe, I pulled out my trump.

“Look, if we get all the way up to the front and you are still scared, we don’t have to actually go on the ride.” Before I had even finished, we were moving toward the target. We both knew we’d go on this ride before the hour was out. There was no way we were going to spend time in a line without payoff. And the condition I slipped in? She had to admit she was too scared. It was never going to happen. I smiled inwardly at my sales skills.

The line was longer than the Oregon Trail. Everyone wanted to test their bravery on this ride. ‘You will Scream’ the tag line promised. And scream they did. And scream and scream and scream. Group by daring group, the passengers got into carts which would spin and spin, then, usurping the magic that only exists in metal form at amusement parks, the entire contraption would slowly rise up on its side and spin not only horizontally, but vertically as well.

As we got closer to the no-backing-out-now point, even I started to panic. There was a lot of screaming going on. But, no amount of money in the known world would have convinced me to walk away from what lay ahead. Okay, I’m sure anything over about twenty dollars could have lured me away, but no one was offering, so I was staying put. But, Viki was getting more and more scared. I could see it in the whites of her knuckles and how sub-consciously one hand would hold her stomach, as if trying to send it calming signals. One thing always worked well in situations like this one. A wonderfully useful friend called Distraction.

“Let’s try and guess which cart number is going to be ours!” My voice was falsely enthusiastic. “Winner gets to choose the next ride.”

It worked. Before we’d had time to change our guesses more than three times each, it was our turn at destiny. Neither of us guessed our cart number correctly, so ride dictatorship was still up for grabs. Number 16 was our home for the imminent future. We secured both the bars and our seat belts. It should have been a sign of potential disaster that there were two methods of protection. I had time to flash Viki one last smile and slough off some sincere words of encouragement before we started to spin.

We hadn’t been spinning more than two or three times, however, before my concern for the state of Viki’s stomach was thrown from my mind with overwhelming concern for the state of my own. It was well-past too late to do anything about it now. It’s all in my head. I tried my ‘mind over matter’ logic out. Yeah, right. This ill feeling is definitely NOT coming from my head. More like my stomach, esophagus, no wait, back down to my stomach, ooh! up it goes, this is never going to end. If I actually scream, more than a scared voice might just come out.

But, as all amusement park rides do, this one ended in just over a minute. As we started to normalize, I turned to Viki with a smile etched on my face from sheer necessity. If I got that sick, then how was she handling it?

Apparently, she wasn’t.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

depressing poetry


so much sadness. unnecessary sadness. not from sickness or scraped knees or life with its highs and lows.

stupid people making stupid decisions. they don’t see. don’t see.

do they hear?

the screaming voices

i do.




at me to stop playing solitaire


waste of time

when there is so much sadness.

but this is how I deal with the sadness. so much sadness. unnecessary sadness.

tears don’t come anymore. anger boils too easily. stupid. stupid. stupid.

deal again?

I’m stuck.

so I deal.

Related Posts with Thumbnails