Saturday, December 22, 2007

holiday sands was like the amsterdam of summer water fun

so i know i haven't really posted much recently, so here's a piece i wrote about holiday sands about a year ago. it's pretty rough, so don't expect a christmas miracle here, people. but i'm happy with the first half.


Growing up, my family lived just outside of Kent, Ohio. It was always easiest just to say we lived in Kent, but where we live is actually called Twin Lakes. It’s a nice part of Ohio that straddles a state route and offers, as you can guess, two lakes. They are by no means twins, but I have urinated in them so many times they do share some kind of special thread.

Among other things, this is something that you learn by living so close to a lake- public urination is usually frowned upon on dry land, but once half of your torso is submerged it is a veritable urinal designed for you and you alone. I’ve learned that in cold waters like California peeing in your wetsuit can warm your body and help you better acclimate to the chilly saltwater of the Pacific.

In Ohio, lakes can often reach temperatures of most baths, so warming yourself up isn’t really the desired effect of peeing in the water. Usually it’s out of laziness, to gross your friends out or an accident that can really put a halt on a game of Marco Polo – but rarely does it help you.
The amount of child urine that has touched the fair shores of West Twin Lake is something I’d rather not think about. Mainly because this is the same place I have swam underwater in with my eyes open, exposed a staggering amount of open wounds to and, on occasion, drank as a result of dehydration on my ragged catamaran. While this may seem utterly unhygienic and disgusting, I have yet to really see any side effects from it. Now and again something that I can only describe as “worm-like” passes across my eyeball, but for all I know that was there before I learned how to swim and is probably not the hatchlings of some northeastern Ohio bacteria. Here’s hoping.

While being exposed to what I’m sure is a wild assortment of lake germs may seem like a bad thing, living in close proximity to a lake really had its benefits. I never really needed a babysitter, drowning has never really been an issue and scouring my body for any piece of sand leftover from the beach has given me an impeccable sense of self hygiene. Impending punishment from your mother for tracking sand into the house really makes you completely investigate every nook and cranny.

But as much fun as the lakes were, special summer days called for a little extra adventure in aquatic fun. If we were lucky enough, my parents or a friend’s parents would take a day to go to Holiday Sands, a waterpark of sorts located in Ravenna. If you do not know of Ravenna, Ohio, then I would consider you lucky. I rarely use the term “armpit of America,” but Ravenna seems to aptly fit the description.

As bad as Ravenna is, Holiday Sands somehow took it up a notch. Holiday Sands was like the Amsterdam of summer water fun. Even though I was only a kid going there, I had this feeling that pretty much the craziest shit you could imagine was made possible. You wanna swing on a rusty chain into water that may or may not be deep enough to dive into? Go ahead. Want to know what a 100 foot spiral staircase made entirely out of slippery, decaying metal feels like soaking wet? Give it a shot.

I think the best description I can give of Holiday Sands is that there was rumored to usually be one fatality a summer, and everyone just accepted that as the cost of doing business. When you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. And in this case, it wasn’t so much fire as it was insufficient supervision in a waterpark made up of death traps.

The place itself was a freshwater lake nestled off of State Route 14, boasting an array of activities from shallow end monkeybars to a set of rings crossing the lake at one edge of it. It was a pretty good size lake, and from what I remember it was naturally made. But there were concrete walls on some edges so I think it was partially man-made. “Naturally made with some human influence,” you could call it. This human influence led to things like a platform with two rings for people to swing out and jump off into the water on. Now as simple as that sounds, I witnessed some nearly fatal accidents there in my childhood.

To start, the platform I think was made out of butter. Well, maybe not butter, but whatever it was the lifeguards on duty most assuredly waxed it down on an hourly basis. This slanted wooden deck was pointed down towards the water and potential swingers had to shimmy down it to grab the ring, which was dangling from two chains that had seen more service time than the entirety of the first Gulf War. If they were lucky enough to stay on and grab the ring, they had to go back up the ramp, this time with resistance from the chains. If nothing else, the ring swing was a vital lesson in applied physics with drunk, overweight hillbillies.

Once the ring was secured, then came a true test of skill. It was called trying to land on the people who had just gone and were swimming out of the way. If you got lucky, you had a lifeguard glancing away at a cute girl or a smarmy redneck, and believe me there were plenty of both, and you could take aim. Having been on both sides of this operation, it was never a good idea –but, like most ideas around the age of 12, it was there and you’d be damned if you were going to let it pass you by.

As a result of this, you learned what kind of power a lifeguard has, and being banished out of the lake until the next break was over was agonizing. I would try and sneak around to the other side, hoping I wouldn’t be seen, but somehow the eagle eye vision of lifeguard justice would find me. As mad as this made me, I was impressed. Being a fairly normal looking gangly boy without any birthmarks, rashes, glass eyes or missing teeth, this ability to pick me out from a crowd was a true testament to the caliber of the lifesaving Holiday Sands employed. Or at least their ability to hold a grudge.

While waiting for your sentence to end, or if it was break, Holiday Sands provided a small playground for kids to play on. It was fairly large, covered in sand and offered some pretty atypical playground paraphernalia. Now believe me when I say this, but there was a contraption there that could never have met safety standards in times before the Industrial Revolution, let alone the early 90’s. It essentially was a souped-up carousel, but instead of creating mild dizziness and laughter this brought pain and suffering.

The main structure was an elaborate set of bars making a circular wheel. The middle was then connected to a pole about 20 feet high with chains stretching up from the middle “spokes” to the top of the pole.

When turned around, the chains would slowly wrap up on the pole. This caused several things to happen. First, the actual wheel part would begin to rise up off the ground because the chains would begin to shorten as they were continuously wrapped around the structure. The higher it got, the fewer kids could keep pushing. So they had to just grab on and wait for everyone to finish. Some kids would begin sitting on it and let other people do the work. Those kids were assholes.

So, once the tall kids pushed the contraption as far as they could, everyone grabbed on and hoped for the best. To lend an example as to what was next to happen, I can give you a mental picture. Imagine placing a fan face up on the floor. Then boil a pot of spaghetti. Toss these wet noodles onto the fan and turn the fan onto its highest setting. Watch as noodles fly off, spraying in all directions. Some land on each other, some skid off yards away. A lucky few may have actually wedged their way in the blades and are somehow clinging on whether they wish to or not. Now instead of spaghetti, imagine it to be the supple bodies of two dozen children wearing nothing but swimming suits.

I had always learned that hourly breaks were meant to keep you safe and not let you get tired, but there was no such thing at Holiday Sands. After you spent a solid 45 minutes exerting yourself in the water, you had to stare death in the face as young bodies flew at you at speeds incomprehensible by a 10-year old.

Centrifugal forces caused you to become completely parallel with the ground as you held on with all you had. Then, when the sweet lord deemed it to be, your hands gave out and you soon realized the benefits of wearing a t-shirt while you tempt fate on a playground. Blood was all too common, as were the soothing sounds of tears and chains grinding against metal. But all of this seemed to be forgotten come next break. Looking back, I can understand why people ride bulls professionally. Not because they’re stupid, but because of the rush it brings them. For cowboys, it’s the glory of holding on for eight seconds and staying on a bucking animal. For the youth of northeastern Ohio, it was feeling that first layer of palm skin peel off from the rusty bar you couldn’t let go of. That, or the feeling you get when you blast a 7-year old in the chest as you zip around a steel monster created by Satan himself.

But I digress, because most of memories from Holiday Sands are in the lake itself. Well, not even so much in the lake as a hundred feet above it. The piece de resistance, if you will, of the entire water park was a huge metal waterslide, standing tall in direct defiance of safety considerations everywhere. Not only was it a terrifying piece of metal that would warm to unimaginable temperatures, but climbing up the beast was the scariest part. A twisting metal staircase led you up to the top of the slide, with nothing but a small railing to keep you from plummeting onto the hard cement underfoot. For a young boy, every step you take really lets your mind do some thinking.

The first dozen or so steps thoughts are simple, like “wow, I’m excited to go down this slide!.” Verging on 30, doubt begins to creep in. “This is very slippery. How far up am I? Was that a scream? Did I just step on bone marrow?”

Right when you near the top your mind is in full-blown pandemonium. I’ve seen many a person buckle under the pressure, making that long walk back down the staircase that just terrified them on the way up. Honestly, once you got to the top it was probably best to just suck it up and go down the slide, because walking down a spiral staircase capable of accommodating one reasonably small Asian man was a death wish.

But the most ridiculous part about the slide was the line. There was a constant wait of about 10 people once you got to the top, so you not only had to climb the stairs but then stay on them. When you are standing atop a huge metal structure that seems to barely be standing, thoughts start running through your head. Thoughts like morning newspaper headlines: “14 Dead in Waterslide Collapse” or even “Tall, Malnourished Kent Boy Plucked From Waterpark Wreckage.” A mind begins to wander as you notice every strong gust of wind a hundred feet above concrete. (Just as a side note, the slide may not have been 100 feet tall. Actually, I can probably guarantee it. But to a child, any height over 30 feet is intimidating.)

But as I would wait to go down the slide, I would get to see what new brand of stupid was being offered up by the Ravenna locals. I always got to see what new styles in cutoff jeanshorts were in fashion, and I even began to appreciate the intricacies of neck and calf tattoos. But what was truly astounding was these Ravenna natives who had apparently become content with their lives and wished to risk everything.

This was accomplished by something so stupid as leaping out above the slide at the top, “getting air” and landing several feet or even yards further than those of us simply sliding down it. Even as a kid, I knew full well that this was one of the dumbest things I had ever witnessed in my life – and this is coming from someone who saw his brother burn his nighttime orthodontic headgear in celebration of getting his braces removed.

The gasps that come out of you as you see a 40 year old man in shorn black denim shorts land five feet out and halfway off of the slide itself are truly disgusting. If it weren’t for everyone making the exact same noise, I would have been completely embarrassed.
The kind of embarrassment that can only be matched by the brutal wedgie I was soon to receive courtesy of a giant, hot metal monster.

But after each time I went down that slide, I would eventually get up and do it again. Why? It is the mystery of Holiday Sands. Like the song of the sirens, it always leads us back.

Whenever I think back about my times at Holiday Sands, it is much akin to junior high school. I shared a lot of good times there, but looking back I don’t know how or why any of us did it. Except instead of the learning process taking two years, as it does in junior high, one can learn a lot in just one afternoon at a small lake in Ravenna. Seeing the glistening, flowing locks of an inebriated man flow in the wind as he gracefully shifts his body back onto a metal slide high above the ground is something you can’t read in a textbook. No teacher can show you life like a poorly groomed man from Ohio can. The highs, the lows. Holiday Sands made sure you didn’t give up on your dreams. Not because it cared, but because it was proof that anything is possible – especially creating a veritable wonderland of things that could easily kill small children.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

New Game Release “Sitar Hero” Receives Dismal Reviews

By Ravi F. Shankar III

Well, if I told you I expected this I would clearly be lying. This was my chance, the time was right and…well, as you can see by this bar graph representing video game sales, we fared lower than “Mathematics for the Incontinent,” an algebra themed game geared for the loosely-boweled. Christ almighty, I mean a diarrhea smart game beat us. I guess it is just painfully obvious the public is not ready to embrace the world of droning, 23-stringed gourd instruments.

I had the idea while I was touring throughout Persia. A ne’erdowell on the street propositioned me to purchase something called “Guitar Hero,” a game where Caucasians emulate their rudimentary and syphilis-laden music stars. After examining the game, which the man informed me “was a big time popularity game time in America,” I purchased it and went home. After playing for less than two hours, I had defeated every level on the hardest setting. This got my sitar wheels in motion.

“If mimicking a six string guitar is fun, and profitable, why won’t quadrupling the intensity produce quadruple the profit?” I, obviously, have only had limited training in both business and mathematics.

If I could only go back in time and kick myself in the balls, then I wouldn’t be thousands of dollars in debt, the laughing stock of my country and on the receiving end of a public “total body hair wax off,” customary in my village for those who bring shame to it.
But, as it were, my beloved “Sitar Hero” came into being and I did not have the foresight to know it would be so poorly received.

I mean, I understand that it may be a little “unorthodox” from other gaming controllers, but gaining dexterity on a 23-string pan lute requires time. But I guess time is something that none of these impatient assholes in America has. One time I spent a year just playing four notes on my sitar. FOUR FUCKING NOTES. During that time my wife left me, I was discharged from the National Sitarmy, a public music defense program, and had to start subletting a basement shanty. So don’t talk to me about “time.”

And they even try and tell me “the songs are too obscure” and “the advanced setting is a literal physical impossibility for any human being to do.”

I mean, I tried to pick out songs that people would know – believe me. I had one Beatles song and one Rolling Stones, other than that it’s all from the other side of the globe, baby.
But I was hopeful. Maybe playing sitar can be the newest “shitty idea actually gains popularity” thing, like that Dancing with the Stars or letting women vote. But boy was I wrong again, apparently if you’re not tattooed up or letting your vagina hang out of a limo nobody has any clue who you are anymore.

And in defense of the advanced setting, it IS setup to play with the skill and sanctity of a six-armed Hindu god, so you are right in saying that no human can play it. That’s the point. The advanced stage gives you a time to not only reflect on your gameplay thus far, but pray and meditate. It’s an added bonus to the game, douche bags.

So as I am receiving angry letter upon angry letter, I have come to an understanding that the world is not ready for “Sitar Hero.” It was my idea, it did not work, and now I am forced to live with the consequences. And right now those consequences are bubbling up a large cauldron of wax on the town square.