my stomach whompin' around the ol'
abdominal cavity like a super ball in Zero-G.
I spun furiously, the G-forces
splattering me against thick rubber walls
where my limbs and head were paralyzed.
The floor dropped like a trap door
in a made-for-TV-movie guillotine,
and I was suspended on that wall
twenty-some feet in the air,
spinning and spinning
and urping and burping
ghosts of Loganberry Juice and
and Humphrey popcorn balls.
Escaping at last,
I stumbled and staggered down
a splintered wooden gangplank,
urgling, gurgling and dizzed;
triumphant at this most
auspicious rite of passage from
the murky depths of childhood.
I had tangled with Euclid Beach Park's
fearsome centrifugal tour-de-force,
and, to some small extent, survived.
"The Rotor" and all the other mythical
rides of turn-of-the-twentieth-century
amusement parks like Euclid Beach ---
the vintage parks that ain't
there anymore --- were man-makers,
not like the pansy-ass
politically correct auto-ma-crap
where last we dads discoursed.
Euclid Beach Park was, quite simply,
the diddly-dadly-est of 'em all,
and the only way you can get there
now is by closing your eyes,
and letting guys like me summon the
long-dead ghosts who gutted out the
crick-rickety coasters, the flagrant
OSHA code violations, and the
pervasive bouquet of
hillbilly summer sweat and vomit,
all in the Ward Cleaver pursuit of family fun.
There was a Fun House there,
guarded by a maniacal mannequin everyone
called "Laughing Sal," whose
job was to stand sentry for eternity,
drunkenly hee-hawing with a voice
provided by a stack of 78's playing
on some secreted ancient record-changer,
spooking the living beejezus outta us
slack-jawed zit-head pre-dads.
Though you may not find it in the
history books, the scoop on Sal is
that the owners of Euclid Beach Park
fancied the bawdy laugh of some
opera superstar. One scheming night
a hundred years ago, they spirited her
out to a schmancy dinner and got her
good and liquored up enuf to
perform her psychotic chortling bray
on one of them thar new-fangled Edison
A soul for Sal!
Way back when, Old Sal even had a boy pal,
whose cackling watch at the Fun House
came screeching to a halt
when the wife of the Park's owner
proclaimed that Laughing Al had a
suspicious protrusion in his
pantalones that was no laughing
matter in leftover Victorian society.
Sal, the merry widow, remained.
Summer after summer upon summer
I'd horde my meager lawn-cuttin'
paper deliverin' dinero to squander at the Park.
I'd blast past Sal into that Fun House
over and over and over again, braving
walkways, jet-bursts of air from
clandestine floor nozzles, rooms
with no discernable exit and whistles and
caterwauls and tempera demons on
plywood that leapt up and threatened
and creaked menacingly on
But with each successive summer,
Euclid Beach Park plummeted further
into decay like the Thriller
Coaster arcing its killer hills
on a race to Oblivion.
In those final seasons, I'd hide
the growing humiliation of being seen
with the fam-damily in public by
breaking off early and hanging around
Sal and the nearby Penny Arcade,
where in the year before the Park closed forever,
I hatched a billion-dollar scheme that
would launch me one of them how-ya-call-it music
superstar careers in show biz.
Had me a Gibson gi-tar 'n ever-thang!
Arcade today, Big Time tomorrow, baby!
There were intriguing Rube Goldberg-ian
machines in that Arcade ---
those old "Flip-Card-O-Scope"
thingies where for a penny you'd crank
a handle and see a pre-historic Chaplin
or Lumiere flip by on a
stack of yellowy cardboard cards.
There was the ultra-spooked-out "Grandma,"
a sort-of Zoltar machine with a
granny mannequin (a "grannequin??"),
who'd peer far beyond the Veil into
The Great Uncertain,
long as you kept feedin' her coin.
But the machine the Park installed that
year --- a Recording Booth that let you
actually make an honest-to-pete
vinyl 45-rpm record --- it was
THAT machine that kept me coming
back to Euclid Beach Park
despite the ugly encroachment of adolescence.
I embarked upon a plan that in those
technologically advanced Sgt. Pepper four-track recording days,
would have set even the Beatles' esteemed
producer George Martin on his tin English ear.
I would lay an acapella vocal track down
right there in the booth at Euclid Beach,
allowing me to take a finished record to
any audition, anytime, and strum along
with my pre-recorded yodel.
AND --- I figgered I could
even sing a harmony part with myself
as the disk played to boot.
It wasn't gonna be no Beatle roof-top concert.
I had exactly one year's time until my
return to Euclid Beach Park to prepare a tune.
But which tune would it be??
At age 11, my contemporary repetoire
was limited to whatever the newspaper's
Sunday magazine published in its
"Teen Beat Rockin' Rhythm" section.
(Even at that tender age, I suspected
that moniker was dreamed up by some
poseur old editor fart somewhere).
My real guitar lesson gave me no workable
toonage whatever --- a smelly old
cardigan-clad geez taught
me misery like "Lemon Tree," and
"Oops, there Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant,"
and similarly with-it nuggets.
So I waited Sunday after Sunday for the
local paper to publish the perfect pop song.
It came down to either the Royal Guardsmen's
chestnut "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron," (ooch!)
or Glenn Campbell's monstrously insipid mega-hit
"Gentle on my Mind"
(I'd have chosen the exotica of Zagar & Evans'
timeless "In the Year 2525"
if I coulda mastered the other-wordly
chord changes, of course).
In the end, Gentleman Glenn won it on an
ordinary coin toss. The paper printed the piece
in the key of "G," and my
musical chops still bordering on the primitive,
I was quite convinced I somehow had to
train myself to sing the song in "G,"
and in "G" only --- necessitating the
development of perfect pitch in
just 12 months' time.
Though it took a millennium, the next year
finally came, and I was more anxious to
return to Euclid Beach than I'd been in
many a season, to the noggin'-scratchin'
chagrin of my P & M., who only recently began
to notice my existence as a result of
my increasingly frequent hormonal outbursts.
Making a beeline from the front Gate on
past Laughing Sal to the Penny Arcade,
I lunged breathlessly into the Recording Booth,
pulled the shower curtain closed behind me,
and defiantly plugged the recording machine
with the two bits that would buy my way out
of the lower class blue-collar hell to
which my brother and I were condemned by birth.
When the green light snapped on,
I began to sing Mr. Campbell's classic ode,
and hopefully, in "G."
Toward the end of the first phrase,
I heard someone --- a teenaged someone,
I thought --- some guy who
started pounding the wall behind the
recording booth and screaming
through a beery throat:
"WILL YOU SHUT THE F--- UP??!!"
I hesitated and slurred my phrase but
didn't miss a beat; I not only needed
to stay in "G," but had to keep a
steady tempo thing goin' on as well, o' course.
I began to warble the line leading into
Mr. C's famous signature chorus.
"HEY, SHUT THE F--- UP AWREADY, A--HOLE!!!"
I broke the tempo and listened in the booth, silent.
The green light was still on, but the
three-minute clock was ticking down.
There was almost enough time to finish,
but I knew now the heckler was out for me,
and I knew he was just revving up.
"JEEZUS KEE-RIST! THANK GAWD THAT A--HOLE
FINALLY F---ING SHUT THE F--- UP!"
the voice confirmed, and I heard the
cackling exclamation point of what
sounded like a whole
greaser of thugs.
The red light clicked on,
and the machine spat out my demo record.
"...maybe the machine didn't pick up that stuff,"
I thought, leaving the booth,
redfaced and prickly with humiliation,
"...probably won't hear it at all."
We got home from Euclid Beach Park
later on that night, and I went
straight to work making drawings
for my record's picture sleeve.
I drew it in Cray-Pas and tempera
in a faux-psychedelic swirly and at the
very end I put my name and a
copyright circle and the date --- 1969.
When it was done, I grabbed my guitar,
tuned it carefully, and popped the disk
into my little turquoise-n-white
Close-n-Play record player.
The record began to sing, and I turned
it up over my parent's usual nightly
screamfest combat exercise downstairs.
I flipped the Sunday magazine pages
to the dog-earred Glenn Campbell
cheat sheet and began to strum along.
My pitch was right there.
Key of "G," it was.
And then I heard it.
"SHUT THE F--- UP, A--HOLE!!"
The needle scritched through an edgy silence, and then,
"WILL YOU SHUT THE F--- UP??!!"
I stopped down the player, put
the 45 back into its customized jacket,
carefully put my guitar away in its
case, walked down the stairs unhearing
past my parents
screaming and screaming and screaming
at one another over the dining room table as usual;
down down down to the basement workbench
where I chose the heaviest looking
hammer I could find.
I smashed that 45 into
and melted them in the basement incinerator
where I was burning my custom-drawn
It would be nearly a decade before
I learned that Euclid Beach Park's season
was finally over that very next year, and that
none of us could ever ever return.