Monday, December 15, 2008

holiday sands: revisited!

ok, so i know that i posted my holiday sands piece like a year ago, but i just recently revised it in an attempt to procure a job as a legitimate writer of young teen girl fiction. here's hoping i have a chance. but here's the revised version, a little tighter and hopefully a little better.

I want to tell you why I love Ohio. But there are some things you should know first. I love Ohio in the way that Justin Timberlake loves ‘N Sync - it was great starting out and I’m glad it happened, but I’m much happier where I am now. But the difference between me and JT is that the haircut I regret was a bowl cut in seventh grade and his was some sort of curly Family Circus ‘fro that the whole world had to witness.

But dropping the anecdote for a second, Ohio is a great place to grow up in, complete with friends, family and a countless number of Chinese buffets.

But Ohio will always remain just that – a place to help shape people into decent human beings then have them fly away and return only for major holidays. . . and sometimes not even Easter. It’s the sad truth of the buckeye state, but something you learn with age.

At times I wish things weren’t this way, that Ohio and I could share a lifetime of happy memories together, but life started calling and Ohio doesn’t get very good reception. In fact I think it’s still in Extended Network.

But I, as well as other re-populated Buckeyes, have an enduring love for the state I call home. I get a special warmth inside when my change from a morning coffee gives me a quarter with Warren-born Neil Armstrong glistening in the morning fluorescence. Or when I hear The Black Keys or see Carmen Electra eloping in Vegas, all I can be is proud of what Ohio has had to offer.

But there’s so much more than the scattered famous faces Ohio has produced. There’s real people, real relationships and real, real good stories.
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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 common 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. 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 occur to help.

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 water park 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 water park 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 monkey bars 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. An idea that sounds simple in theory but nearly fatal in execution.

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 came a true test of skill. Said test was no more than trying to swing out and land on the people that just went before you. 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 how agonizing being banished from the water until next break could be. 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 playground for kids to play on. It was fairly large, covered in sand and offered some pretty atypical playground paraphernalia. Sure there were conventional slides and swing sets, but the makers of this playground must have cut a deal with NASA to purchase their dated zero-g training equipment.

Now believe me when I say this, 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 as the chains constricted themselves against the center. 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, splaying 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 pre-teen yelps 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 the main draw of Holiday Sands 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 greet you with excitement and anticipation. Once you hit, oh I don’t know, step 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, forcing some to even make a frightened and incredibly dangerous walk back down. 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.

The unbelievable truth was that of a constant wait of about ten 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 Water Park 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 was witness to a side of life my parents did a great job herding me away from – the life of Ravenna locals. Now I am in no way speaking ill of them, but more in admiration of a life I could never lead - a life of fast trucks, long cut tobacco and the working knowledge of field-dressing deer. I would never be able to fit in with these people outside of Holiday Sands, and I’m pretty sure our school systems planned it that way, but on these sunny afternoons I glimpsed a life I only saw in professional wrestling Monday nights, and I appreciated it.

I could see the new fashion in cutoff jean shorts and eventually grew to appreciate the intricacies of lower calf and back tattoos. I even learned a few new curse words that I wasn’t quite aware of.

But the most important thing I learned was to relish life, which was done by watching full grown men leap out onto a slide stories above pavement. The thrill for them was the added drop and extra speed they received by “getting air,” heaving their hairy bodies out into the heavy Ravenna air. The thrill for me was seeing them land half on the slide and then shift their body weight back onto it, tempting fate on, of all things, a hot, metal monster designed for children.
Then it was my turn, where I simply went down feet first and hoped that every support would hold, keeping me and my newfound appreciation for life safe from the apparent ‘Ravenna crazy’ that was in the water.

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.

This tenuous relationship with a small water park in Ravenna is eerily similar to my relationship with Ohio. Memories that Holiday Sands were able to give me are lifelong, either because of the fun or the fact that there may be some serious emotional trauma. But do I wish I could return there time and time again, creating new and better memories? Not really. If I end up having children will I long to take them to a place where they can see what almost drowning feels like? Nope.

Mainly, because that shit is dangerous. Also, and more importantly, I’ve moved on.

I love Ohio, and I love its sketchy water parks, but it’s more appreciation for how I’ve ended up. Sometimes you just have to make that solo album and tell Joey and Lance that things are over. Maybe we can do a reunion tour in the future, but right now this is the way things are going.

Maybe if Holiday Sands ever has enough money to pay the outrageous insurance premium I’ll get one last reunion tour, but I should just be happy as to what I’ve learned from it.
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 see anywhere else. 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.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

roll with the punches

it's not that i think i have a tick living in my butthole that is the problem. the problem is that i think i have a tick in my butthole and have just accepted it and moved on.

i even named it rick.

there's an animal possibly inside of me and the best efforts i've given at getting it out are sitting down really hard and leaning in different angles while i fart.
that's sort of the way i deal with stuff now, not really letting it get me down and so i move on and go drink a couple beers and throw rocks on the half-frozen lake.

parts of my toes have been numb since may. only one door of my car has a functioning lock. my glasses are held together by superglue in two different places. i sat in dog shit three weeks ago and my jeans are still in the trunk of my car because the cold doesn't make them smell.
i'm really only a few dvds and about 90 dollars from being homeless.

but i've come to realize that i think that's what i like about my life.
i recently just did americorps, a grassroots hippie socialist movement somehow funded by the united states government. in it i did a year long, country-wide tour of manual labor. i roofed houses, sanded maintenance shacks and painted the cafeteria walls of inner city new york schools.

what i also did was step into a world that won't allow me to go back to normal human interaction. meeting up with old friends at thanksgiving sort of brought everything into focus for me. sure everyone had great stories, but most of them were about struggling through their jobs and taking their few chances at excitement, doing very normal things like vacations, hiking, or possibly going back to school.

then this unemployed asshole (read: me) shows up, drinking all of their beer and telling them all stories about how he thinks he has a tick living in his butthole and 'for fun' one night he threw about 15 ears of corn in a worksite port-o-potty. lets get our coats, i think we should leave.
waking up in a daze on thanksgiving morning made things quite apparent of the lifestyle that was mine. i can't escape it if i want to.

i can barely go ten minutes without using the word boner. i don't belong in professional settings.
but i think americorps helped me understand something - i don't want to be in a professional setting. the cliche office job we're led to believe is what we should do after college is good for some, but i've come to realize that i don't need it. an invaluable lesson i learned working with countless numbers of office workers volunteering on the weekends, prisoners to tivo and daytime droning fluorescence.

for some, offices are great. i just guess it depends on which one you're in. but i know that a man shifting around in attempts to remove the wildlife in his anus has no place in an office. no place at all.