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A funny Pop memory…

Dealing with the milestone dates always seem to take a different angle with me as each year goes by. Yeah, I went through my sad mopey period today on Pop’s birthday like I usually do. I get a bit quiet and reserved. Which this time was pretty easy to do, because I was by myself. Karen was in Caucasia visiting her parents, the passengers cleared out yesterday, and I was alone. Just me, and the Luce.

The strange thing this time is I spent most of the day having recurring memories about some of my funnier moments with Pop. There have been many of them, sure, but today, my memory chose to showcase a couple particular ones from my younger years. And one standout from that group seemed to get top billing. The funny thing is it was a memory I hadn’t thought about in a long time before today… here’s how it goes:

For a time after getting back to the states after living in Brazil for a year or so, we lived in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. My parents had just launched a new jewelry business in Philly, and they decided Cherry Hill would be home. I wasn’t a fan of Cherry Hill at all. To me at the ripe age of 12, it was just too boring. This after having grown up on the southside of Chicago, and just finishing the previous year in the crazy tropical, chaotic metropolis of Rio De Janeiro. Cherry Hill just didn’t pass muster.

Anyway, Nick, Judy and I clamored for whatever entertainment or fun we can find in the rather quiet and dismal place where we lived. Lucky for us, we got a break. On the bus ride home from our catholic school one early spring day, we drove by a shopping center parking lot. We saw that there was a huge traveling carnival fair going on.

When we got home, we begged Pop to take us that night. We knew we needed some fun and the kind of kooky entertainment you get from one of those cheesy fairs, and so did he. It didn’t take much convincing. A few hours later, we all got into the car and headed to the fair!

When we got there, it was packed. Way more than we expected it would be. Apparently, other Cherry Hillians needed some cheesy entertainment too. Go figure. But we made the best of it, did the Tilt-a-whirl, the Scrambler, the Topper, and all the other classic rides that made these things worth going to. We spent a good hour on the midway getting ripped off by carnies playing games that while they looked easy to win, were totally rigged, and had a damn good time doing it.

Heading down towards the end of the midway was the ferris wheel. One of my favorites, not so much Nick’s, and Pop was just indifferent. But I insisted we do the ferris wheel while Judy played some ring game in the midway, trying to win a life-size Winnie the Pooh that she just had to have. Pop finally said ok, bought tickets, and we got in the line.

When it came time for us to get in a car on the wheel, I was so excited, I thought my head was going to just spin off. Something about ferris wheels always got my blood going, even more so than the fast thrill rides. This was an especially tall ferris wheel too, the view up top was going to be awesome. Though I did concede that Cherry Hill’s skyline probably left much to be desired, even at such a great height at the top of the wheel.

So we all get aboard, Me on one side, Pop in the middle, and Nick on the other end. Pop was a little “bigger” than usual, so it was kinda tight. But that didn’t matter, we were on the way up.

Going up slowly as the wheel unloaded and loaded riders, I took a look down at where the motor and the machinery was. I also got a look at the carny that appeared to be working the ride. He looked a little bit, well, drunk… his eyes were pretty glazed over, as if he was half-asleep. He was wearing a badly stained flannel shirt with a ratty t-shirt underneath. There was a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and an expression that basically said he didn’t care if he died right that minute. He was sitting on a tall bench, and had his foot on some kind of pedal and his hand on a long lever. I pointed him out to Pop, and said I think he’s the guy driving the thing. Pop agreed. But we weren’t reassured by this.

Going up the wheel, we notice that it stops each time they get a car on the platform to unload and load new riders. But we also notice that everytime the wheel stops, it jerks to a hard halt, causing all the cars to swing violently. I mean really violently.

After the first couple of “stops”, I started getting a little scared. Every time the car swung forward I found myself looking straight down and feeling us all push against the flimsy little bar that’s supposed to be securing us into the car. I tell Pop I’m getting a little scared, and Pop says, “ah don’t worry Tony, it’s just a sensation, we’re ok…”.

We go up a couple more cars’ worth looking off the top quarter of the wheel. Coming to a jerking stop each time as usual. The view’s nice, but this damn shaking and swinging was freaking the hell out of me. By this time, Nick starts showing he’s pretty scared too. We’re both holding on to Pop wondering what the hell we got ourselves into. We notice that other people in other cars are starting to make some grunts and noises as the cars swing crazily in the sky every time psycho-drunk-carny hit the brakes.

We’re at the top of the wheel and I’m in tears. I’m totally freaked out, holding on to both Pop and the flimsy little bar for dear life. The swinging is even WORSE up top than it was while we were going up. When we swing backwards, it feels like we’re just going to keep going back until we completely flip over. I imagine we’ll all just plop out. When we swing forward, it feels like we’re just going to fall out of the car like some loose potatoes out of a bag. I’m sweating and shaking, and Nick’s in near panic. I look over at Pop, and now I can see he’s scared shitless too.

“Oh my god, I really don’t like this…” he says, voice trembling. “I think we’re going to fall out of this thing, just hang on boys, DON’T LET GO!” We are now over the hump of the wheel, but the brakes jam yet again. I hear something crack or buckle, it sounds like something broke. Pop looks up freaking out totally. He screams down at the carny to get our asses down from that wheel NOW. He’s calling him every name in the book in English, Portuguese, and Italian. He swears that he will pound him within inches of his life when he gets down there. Nick and I are now trying to calm Pop down, which was a switch.

Finally, the wheel is done loading and unloading, and it starts to spin freely without the hard brake jamming every 20 seconds that we had just endured for the last 10 minutes. The breeze in our faces feels good, and we’re even starting to relax a bit. The worst is over.

I think we did three or four full revolutions when carny psycho jammed on the brakes again out of the blue. We went from what felt like 40 mph to zero in a second. I thought Nick was going to fly clean out of the car. He bursts into tears, Pop is screaming and sweating profusely, preparing to strangle the carny if we survive this ordeal, and I’m desperately trying not to soil my fruit of the looms. It was sheer terror in its purest form.

We finally get down to ground level, breathing heavily, like we’d just endured breaking the speed of sound or climbing K-2. We passed the psycho-control-carny as we reached the platform. He had a grim smile on his face as we passed, at least that’s what I thought. Seems that he enjoyed terrifying us.

As soon as we were freed from the car, Pop jumped onto the platform, did a 180 and started charging for the carny. Nick and I looked at each other, still getting out of the car, wondering what was going to happen next. I even wondered if the police were going to get involved. I’m suddenly imagining the family and I going to visit Pop at Rahway State Prison, where he’s doing time for 2nd degree murder. It took three carnies to keep Pop from actually getting to psycho-drunk-control-carny. They were holding him back, actually laughing about it (apparently this kind of thing had happened before). Luckily no police showed up. Psycho-drunk-carny sat safely on his bench, not even flinching, still wearing that grim smile. I found myself wishing that he would just spontaneously explode.

Nick and I got to Pop and cooled him down, we told him that killing the psycho carny wasn’t worth it. He would get his, he was probably having a pretty miserable life as it was. Pop eventually chilled, and backed off. There would be no visits to Rahway in my near future, which was a relief. We went off the ride and decided on greasy hot dogs and watery cokes to take our minds off things. Judy was waiting for us at the exit, no winnie the pooh in hand, wondering what the hell just happened.

After the hotdogs and cokes, we found ourselves laughing our asses off about the ordeal. We especially enjoyed how Pop became more terrified and freaked out than Nick and me combined. It was a good laugh session that relieved the fear and the crazy tension we had all just experienced on the ferris ride from hell.

Needless to say, it was a long while before I got back on a ferris wheel. Pop never got on one again, at least not that I know of.


  1. Ellen Burns Kidwell says:

    Tony, That was an Awesome Memory/Story about You & Your Dad! You’re Really Great at Descriptive Writing! You have a True Gift! Thanks So Much for Sharing with us…X&O, Ellen:)

  2. Mietsie says:

    What a great story! Loved it, 🙂

  3. Lynn says:

    That was a hilarious story! Made me laugh out loud and I don’t
    laugh easily! Thanks