Amusement parks concentrate many of life’s annoyances: waiting, standing in line, noise, spending money, bros. The rides themselves are specifically designed for discomfort, whether the physical slamming and spinning of your body or the psychological torment of height, speed and mortality.
“I’m only doing this to demonstrate to the children that fear can be overcome,” I said while standing in line at La Ronde in Montreal. But wait a sec: there’s a reason for fear. Fear prevents you from doing stupid things, like sitting in a swing several stories off the ground, with only the flimsiest of chains preventing gravity and centrifugal force from flinging you over the grounds before smashing you to the earth or into the jaws of the Viper, the Cobra, the Spider or some other toothy death-ride, an accident that will be attributed to “mechanical failure” or that most ignoble of causes, “human error.” Getting on these rides: that’s human error number one. No, wait, paying 40 bucks for the privilege…
I was thinking about life and the odds of it ending while slowly winding through the sheep-pen to the rides. Here we all were: me, my family, countless teenagers and the entire freshman class of Queen’s University who had bussed down from Kingston to avoid drinking themselves into oblivion on this Sunday and to clog up the rides. Each student wore a blue T-shirt, virtually every single one of them now fringed, de-sleeved, fashionably torn or otherwise destroyed to expose the maximum underarm/bra/pecs. This is the Class of 2017: Wasting Shirts and Taking Up Space.
All this to tell you where my head was at as I waited my turn to look death squarely in the face and yell “AGGGHHHHH!!!” That was when I glanced over and saw a non-Queen’s T-shirt that read:
In my head, I started singing, “Metro-metropolitan life/You can survive but it all depends…” It was a song I hadn’t heard or thought of in years, decades maybe, though I knew right away what it was. It was another from the lost mixed tapes my brother had brought home from university in the early eighties, the cassettes I had foolishly taped over.
The song, “Metropolitan Life,” I figured out later, was by BB Gabor. Who? Wasn’t he the singer for The Tubes. No, that was Fee Waybill (which brought to mind another song I had forgotten was on those mixes – “Talk to Ya Later”). BB Gabor had this and another minor hit, “Nyet Nyet Soviet,” in 1980. Not just any minor hit, but a minor Canadian hit. I also learned that this and a disappointing follow-up were pretty much it for Mr. Gabor. He committed suicide in 1990.
But why? Why, standing in a hot amusement park line, seeing a word I’ve seen probably hundreds of times, would my brain at that moment have retrieved that memory? Why was it stored there in the first place? Why that and not something more important?
When I graduated from university, the commencement speaker was Bishop Desmond Tutu, an eminent 20th century figure. I have no recollection whatsoever of what he said. I can barely remember the ceremony at all. For lack of anything better, I like to imagine the future archbishop spoke about sandwiches.
This freshman class at La Ronde, what will they remember? Will they retain the big event? Or will it be some trivial moment that’s over in a flash, like a New Wave singer’s career or the plunge down a roller coaster track – frozen there with all the fear, joy and grimaces captured on camera at the top of the ride, available for purchase for only $10.99, should you survive.