By Michael Dickerson
Violence reared its ugly head; helter-skelter and random as the destinations of careening orbs in a pinball machine. Vietnam, racial discord and Atom bombs forced panic struck youths to huddle, contorted beneath their desks in a misguided and futile exercise. Others hunkered down, cowering and confused on the filthy floors of grade school basements. A 60’s generation, had become lost without compass, fog bound and stumbling in a world which seemed malevolent and purposeful in its attempts at self annihilation.
Still, it was a tranquil time in a small town. As though by miracle, the turmoil and transgressions of the world were kept distant and muted as if a luxurious velvet drape had drawn close around us. Pristine and brilliant, glistening high atop a deeply spiritual peak, our Shangri-La flourished free and clean, well above and beyond the commotion. Our Brigadoon, veiled and untouched, infinite in its nurturing nature, closed its bridge to tempestuous transients. Children, innocent, exuberant and inspired by nature’s freedoms reveled in the clarity of their simple purpose. No one embraced that simple purpose like us at 10 and 11 years!
We lived two miles from the Amagansett Legion Hall. Despite the distance, from upstairs windows we could still see bits of their summer carnival. Swirling, multi colored lights painted an aurora of diffuse translucence above the field. The organ’s tune, shrill and discordant, was scarcely audible from so far away. A Pied Piper, it held us spellbound and enticed us to its nomad’s camp.
Alone, with no money, my sister and I walked the fairgrounds gloomily. Most of our friends were able to go every night. I was jealous! They lived the magic over and over again. I knew that with ingenuity we would soon be part of that crazy gaggle of thrill seekers. Like them, we would soon be bouncing joyously up and down, tumbling madly and spinning wildly ‘till exhausted, sick or both. This night we could only watch. We could smell the popcorn, envy the sickening sugariness of cotton candy and watch helpless children as snow cones melted, leaking through the bottom of their paper cups. Rivulets of colorful, sweet annoyance would trickle to hands and feet. Wet tongues would not halt or remove the flavorful adhesion. When morning came, the magic would be gone; stowed away until next evening. We went to bed with the knowledge currency was the passport to this festivity.
Morning light woke us with a sense of purpose. We jumped from our beds focused and with enthusiasm. Together we dashed from the back door and headed to the fair grounds. Our plan was to collect lost money, prizes dropped and forgotten, and multitudes of discarded, returnable soda bottles. Despite our early start, we had still not managed to beat the other morning scavengers. We checked the areas around the money toss games, the carousel, the ferris wheel and a psychedelic ride called The Zipper. I was told it could create the most extraordinary feeling of free flight. Each car, a cage, spun freely and on its separate axis. Then, simultaneously and with great catapult, each cage was thrown high into the air. Having achieved its most dramatic zenith, it was then flung with horrifying abandon toward the screaming crowd below. Change flew everywhere like salt from a shaker. Several people had thrown up on this ride including my crazy cousin Tommy who never got sick on rides. I could scarcely contain my excitement and desire to try it.
My sister had a brainstorm. Why not check the evening’s ticket buckets? Each ride had a bucket or box into which torn tickets were thrown. Supposedly, these tickets were all ripped. One could sometimes find several that had been missed. Four hours later my sister and I sat alone in the scorching sun with but one salvaged ticket. One of the first arriving “Carnies” (carnival attendants) took pity on us and gifted us each two free tickets. We were the envy of all our friends. With cash we had found, all the bottles we returned, and the one vinyl dog I sold to my cousin for thirty five cents, my sister and I were able to join the neighborhood kids. We could now afford six rides apiece, two hot dogs, one snow cone and a cotton candy. With finances in order and a “Well done”, from our parents, we could scarcely wait until 7p.m.. At that time, wild with anticipation, we would mount our bikes and with pals on board, peddle furiously to the Legion grounds.