Last week, our intrepid hero (me) and his three pretty-intrepid-but-not-quite-as-intrepid-as-me companions (Thomas, Alan, and Sam) learned of the existence of an utterly pointless carnival from a grizzled carny. In exchange for the information, the four friends had to promise to play the carny's game that night. After getting lost in a cemetery and nearly splattered by a succession of cars, the four finally arrived at the carnival. They battled the forces of villainy in the form of two seven year old kids in bumper cars. Later, Sam failed so miserably at a feat of strength that the carny in charge entrusted her with a powerful weapon that could increase the might of any little sissy girl that wielded it - a gigantic pink inflatable hammer with "Girl Power" written in flowers all over it. The Hammer of Feminine Fury in hand, the group moved on to face their next challenge. We rejoin them now outside the infamous Gravitron.

This ride rocks.

7:50 - The Gravitron, pt. 1. Amount in wallet - $5.00

Our actual destination before we were sucked into the carnie's vortex was the Gravitron. The Gravitron is pretty standard carnival fare, but for those of you who aren't familiar with its design, you get inside this large chamber that looks like some sort of flying saucer from the exterior. Inside, the walls are lined with pads at a slight angle. Each person leans up against a pad. There are no restraints and nothing to hold on to. The door closes and the room starts spinning. Once it gets up to a decent speed, you are firmly pressed to the pad behind you by way of centripetal force. or possibly centrifugal force. I don't know the difference, and I'm stating right now that I will never care about the difference, even if one of the two forces should kill my family and I had to seek bloody vengeance, so all of you science nerds can stop writing your angry emails. Once the nameless force has you anchored in place, the floor drops out from underneath you. Then it's just you and your pad. For additional kicks, the whole chamber goes on a tilt, so that you are actually being flung up into the air and yanked back down again. You might slide up and down your individual pad a little bit, but otherwise you're not going much of anywhere. Eventually the ride rights itself and everyone gets off a little dizzy, but grinning like idiots. It's all good fun.

Sam and Alan didn't feel up to a fast spinning ride just yet, so Thomas and I went on alone. It was just the two of us and three little kids on the opposite side of the chamber. We had to wait for a while, and the kids had evidently been there for quite some time already. It was easy to see that the people running the contraption didn't care in the least, but that didn't bother us. We were entertained by one of the operators' ability to actually walk along the padded walls while the Gravitron was spinning by holding on to a metal ring along the ceiling, and that's what really mattered. Meanwhile, Alan and Sam were entranced by the wondrous power of the Pink Hammer of Power. Sam tried to coerce Alan into hitting passers-by with the Hammer by promising money and sexual favors, but try though he might, Alan could not wield it. The Hammer said "Girl Power," and only a girl could unleash its might. Sam took it upon herself to smack a giant inflatable bat that someone had won at one of the games as it was being carried past. It's owner, reportedly a little boy, learned the superiority of hammers to bats that day, let me tell you! I only actually learned of these events when Thomas and I finally emerged from the Gravitron. Inspired by the Hammer's incredibly strength, true aim, and annoying squeak, Alan and Sam were finally ready to tackle a moderate spinning ride - the Tilt-a-Whirl.

It's a Tilt-a-Whirl. Get over it.

8:05 - The Tilt-a-Whirl. Amount in wallet - $5.00

It was a Tilt-a-Whirl.

8:10 - The Flying Dutchman (including the Saga of the Hammer, pt. 2). Amount in wallet - $5.00

In all honesty, I have no idea what the actual name of this ride was, but I'm calling it the Flying Dutchman because it sounds sort of dramatic. At least, it does if you understand the reference. Jesus, get some culture. The ride consisted of a long, two-tiered bench. Each seat has a massive harness that comes down over the person's shoulders. The bench is attached to a gigantic arm. When the ride begins, the bench flies in tremendous clockwise arcs, then counterclockwise. At the highest point, you can see over the entire carnival. The drop on the way down is exhilarating, to say the least.

The four of us sat in the front row. The attendant came by and checked our harnesses, which actually had an unnerving amount of give to them. He had already passed us by when Sam remembered the Hammer. She was still holding it. She couldn't possibly keep it with her on the ride - it would go flying - so she passed it down to me to see if I could get it to a safer location. Using the full depth of my tactical skill, I launched that thing like a javelin. It overshot any sort of safe location by several feet and landed on the ground a good ways away from the ride. I would have smacked myself, but the harness made it impossible for me to reach my own face. Sam was not happy with me in the least. I swore an oath that the Hammer would be return to her hands. We all spent the next few minutes shouting at anyone who came near it. One girl almost took it, but we scared her off. A teenage boy stepped on it as he was walking. We heard its squeak from where we were sitting. We were helpless to do anything but watch as the Hammer was trampled by the masses. As the ride began, three obese black girls waddled toward the Hammer. We were too high in the air for her to hear our angry cries as one of them bent over to pick it up. Fortunately, the giant tub of partially digested cheese substitute she called a stomach prevented her from bending down far enough to get her butter-bloated fingers on the Hammer, and she left it there.

Up and down we went, keeping an ever-wary eye on the Hammer. Midway through the ride, a pack of pasty white teenage boys in hooded sweatshirts approached the hammer. One of them took it and kept on walking. We screamed until our throats were raw, but the little bastard didn't even look in our direction. He thought the Hammer was his to keep. But the Hammer betrayed the boy. It's neon pink coloring stood out brilliantly against the boy's black sweatshirt and acted as a beacon. When the ride took us high enough, we could spot him moving through the crowd. Before the ride was over, though, I lost sight of him. Only Alan was able to spot him at such a great distance. The moment the ride ended, Alan broke into a run and Thomas, Sam, and I followed suit. We knew what we had to do. The Hammer had to be returned to it's rightful owner, who had in turn received it for failing so pathetically at the feat of strength. Our only consolation in those dark moments was that the Hammer flowed with Girl Power. The boy could carry it, but he could not use it. Alan had a hunter's eye, for he led us right to the culprit. Alan confronted the boy. The little punk knew he was caught and relinquished the Hammer without a struggle. Finally, Sam had her Hammer back. All was right again, at least for the moment.

8:25 - The Drunken Juggler. Amount in wallet - $5.00

Our egos swollen from our victory over the thief of the Hammer, we stopped for a while to watch a juggler. He was poorly shaven and wearing a jester's cap. His juggling was better than anything I could do (which is to say, nothing), but otherwise not particularly good. We were his only audience, so he argued that he actually was juggling pretty damn well for someone who was completely drunk. We all had to agree on that point. For a drunk, he wasn't half bad. He told us that he didn't work at the carnival, but rather was a local Rainbow Hippie. He wasn't doing too hot with the "rainbow" part, as he was wearing nothing but black and white, including the jester's cap. As for the "hippie" part, that seemed to be a creative way of saying "bum." The Rainbow Hippie regaled us with tales of how he was "hassled" by "the fuzz" for trying to panhandle in town with his juggling act, even though all he was doing was trying to earn enough money to buy booze. In return, we told him the saga of the Hammer as if had unfolded thus far. Sam and Alan took turns embarrassing themselves trying to juggle, which really just affirmed that for a drunk, the Rainbow Hippie really was doing a good job. Soon, our new friend grew distracted as some cute underage girls walked by, so we took the opportunity to leave.

Ours wasn't slanted like that. Or pastel. Or safe.

8:45 - The Zipper. Amount in wallet - $5.00

We were low on ride tickets, so Alan bought some more. The question, though, was how to put them to use? The answer to that query came in the form of pain, A.K.A., the Zipper. I had never seen a ride like this before. A number of cars were attached to a tall central structure on a conveyor belt of sorts. The cars move up the belt facing outwards. As they get to the top, they flip over, and the momentum keeps the cars whipping end over end for an ungodly amount of time. Then the whole thing comes to a stop. After a moment, you go through it all again, but this time backwards. The cars themselves are incredibly cramped, but the attendant insists that two people go in every car. You end up smushed next to this other person in a sort of half-sitting, half-standing, yet not quite squatting position. Then a metal grill is closed on your face. The entire contraption is designed for the least possible comfort.

For years, I wouldn't go on any ride that went upside down. I had a strong working theory that one's butt should never be that far above one's head. It was a sound policy. It worked. Eventually I decided to drop that particular line from my code of personal conduct. Since that time, I've felt free to go on absolutely any ride that caught my eye, and I've always had a good time. The Zipper beat me mercilessly. Whatever bad things I've done in my life, this made up for it. Thomas and I shared a car, and we both agreed that getting on that ride was the stupidest thing we've ever done to ourselves. We spent the entire ride screaming our heads off, punctuated by moments of lucid, if pointless conversation.

Me: "AAAAARGH!"
Thomas: "GAAAAH!"
Me: "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!"
Thomas: "WHAT HAVE WE DONE TO DESERVE THIS?"
Me: "THIS IS THE WORST PAIN EVER!"
Thomas: "SWEET JESUS, MAKE IT STOP!"
Me: "You know what show you don't hear people talk about much anymore? Mr. Belvedere."
Thomas: "It really wasn't a very good show."
Me: "I know, but it's still a classic part of television history."
Thomas: "I actually remember the Mr. Belvedere theme song."
Me: "Wow, I wouldn't know the Mr. Belvedere theme song if I heard it. Unless it actually has the words 'Mr. Belvedere' in it."
Thomas: "Oh, it totally does."
Me: "No way!"
(A few seconds go by in silence.)
Me: "OH MY GOD, THIS IS AWFUL!"
Thomas: "WHY WON'T IT END? AAAAAAARRRRGH!"

Finally, the ride ended, which meant it was time for each car to be emptied one by one. Two people would get out, then the rest of the people would get jerked down a few feet so the next two people could get out and so on. When our car was opened, I was at last able to get my jacket off my head. During one of the moment of inversion, my leather jacket had somehow managed to slide up and over my head, smacking me in the tooth with one of its metal buttons in the process. Hooray for the Zipper. Throughout the ordeal, the Hammer was kept safe by the attendant, and we were able to retrieve it without trouble.

It rocks this time, too.

9:00 - The Gravitron, pt. 2. Amount in wallet - $5.00

With tickets running low, we decided to go for one more ride. After the Zipper, anything seemed safe and comforting. After some coercion to Sam and Alan (both of whom loved the Zipper, because they have some sort of serious mental problems), we all boarded the Gravitron. The same apathetic attendants were running it. They didn't even try to stop us from bringing the Hammer on board, even though it could have become quite unpleasant if it got loose. This time, the Gravitron was packed. We managed to find four spots together, but just barely. The ride went smoothly enough, except that Alan had some sort of problems. Once we were stuck to the walls, he became determined to prove that we could still move freely by sticking his legs straight out. Of course, they instantly went sideways, which was to be expected since we were, you know, spinning fast enough to defy the laws of gravity and all. That meant that I kept getting kicked. He tried to accomplish the same feat by sticking out the Hammer, but I think it was Thomas who mostly bore the brunt of that assault. It's just a good thing it was Alan holding the Hammer instead of Sam, or the intense Girl Power would have likely knocked a hole clean through the ride. It's kind of sad to think that all you have to do to enjoy the Gravitron is stand there and Alan somehow got that wrong, but no one was seriously injured, or if they were, it was probably from the Zipper in the first place.

I don't care if it's been beaten to death. Carnies are still terrifying, and I think that little girl would agree.

9:10 - The Balloons and the Dog (including the Saga of the Hammer, pt. 3). Amount in wallet - $5.00

Without enough tickets to go on any more rides and too poor to afford more, we decided to start to wrap up the evening. The thought of food crossed our minds. Greasy, fried, and ludicrously overpriced, carnival food had and continues to have a strange allure. While we contemplated whether to eat or just leave, we found ourselves ensnared in a trap. We had foolishly stopped to plan our next move well within the range of the games. The carnies stared at us with carnivorous eyes. Of all places, we were standing right in front of the game where you throw darts at balloons - the very game we had promised to play that afternoon. But that particular carny was nowhere in sight. We were safe! There was no one to hold us to our expensive promise! But in the end, our undoing was my fault. The carny recognized my clean-shaven head and got the drop on us. He knew he had us, so he took his time sauntering around the counter of his game. Alan laid down five dollars for three darts. He missed with one dart, but Sam popped balloons with the other two. The carny gave Sam a medium sized stuffed dog for her efforts. Then, for no apparent reason whatsoever, he proceeded to tell us the story of how he witnessed a grisly car accident that claimed several lives firsthand during the winter. Once we were sufficiently creeped out, he let us go.

We started to walk away, shaken by the gruesome story, when Sam suddenly noticed that the Hammer was gone. She had left it at the game. When we turned around, it was missing. A woman held a pink hammer over her shoulder, but I could tell it wasn't ours. Alan spotted the real thing in the hands of a thin black girl of about fifteen years. I had doubts. We hadn't seen anyone actually take the Hammer, and for someone who had it in her hands for so little time, she didn't seem interested in it in the least. Sam and Alan knew the truth, though. Before I could say a word, they lunged toward the girl. I still don't know just what was said, and my view of the action was blocked by the crowd, but my friends returned a moment later with Hammer in hand.

Hot AND cold toppings? It doesn't get much better than that!

9:25 - Sustenance and Departure. Amount in wallet - $5.00

The carny's frightening story unnerved us too much to start walking home across the busy streets. We decided instead to treat ourselves to mankind's greatest culinary invention - fried dough. Alan and Sam split one, and Thomas and I split another. If there is a God, fried dough is his way of letting us know he exists. Even though the fried dough was more than enough, I couldn't resist the call of one more carnival confection. Thomas had paid for the fried dough, so I returned the favor by buying each of us a caramel apple. Loaded with food, we left the carnival grounds at last in search of a place to sit. That place ended up being the ground by a utility shed for a run down gas station. We ran into some trouble with the mechanics of the food itself. Sam and Alan had cinnamon and sugar on their fried dough, but Thomas and I had marinara sauce on ours, and caramel apples besides. The only napkins we had were the ones given to us; there were no dispensers. We had two napkins between the four of us. Needless to say, we were all disgusting by the time the food was gone. For the record, those were the worst caramel apples I've ever tasted. All the while, we were being watched from across the street by a group of high school kids. We feared for the safety of the Hammer, so we started to walk.

9:45 - The Journey Ends (including the Bottlecap, pt. 2). Amount in wallet - friggin' bupkus

The walk back started out at a brisk pace. It had gotten chilly, especially now that we were out of the crowd. The Hammer was entrusted to my care, although I didn't realize why at first. Then I noticed Alan and Sam lagging behind. They were kicking something. A bottlecap. No, it couldn't be the same bottlecap. I had purposely kicked that under the wheel of a van so it would be crushed when the van pulled away.... I mean, for safekeeping. No, they had managed to find a new bottlecap. However, they somehow managed to suck even more at kicking it on the way back than the did on the way there. They lost the cap after a few minutes, but it wasn't long before a new kickable object came along. A rock, an empty carton of cigarettes, and two random pieces of broken plastic (as well as one horrible rendition of "Stand By Me") later, we returned to our dorm. We were a little colder, a little wearier, and significantly lighter in the pockets, but happy.

The story ends there, my friends. As for the Pink Hammer of Feminine Fury and the dog, they are both safely in my room. The Hammer is basically an eyesore and I want it gone. As for the stuffed dog, it has had no real adventures as of yet. But who knows? It's springtime in New England, and anything can happen.

Meh, we'll probably just end up wrapping it in duct tape and punting it off the roof. We're college students. That's what we do.

– Ben "Greasnin" Platt

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