LXX. Where Am I Now?

May 4, 2012 — My friend R emailed me this photo he took of a place he visited recently. The caption read “Where Am I Now?” I was disconcerted to learn that he had gotten lost. I hope he found his way out, because hours elapsed before I read his email. He could be floating behind one of those medusae. On closer inspection we might see his face and hands plastered up against one, peering out at us.

Where Am I Now?

Clearly, this is an 1890s spaceship that ran out of oats and couldn’t take off once it landed. The careful viewer will observe the wheelhouse on top, indicative of the purpose of the contraption. I think R sent me this photo because he believes I was around then and therefore could identify it for him.

He believes I was rolling hoops across the stage at Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was shot. I will let that premise rest with the ages, or the angels, whichever that may be.

My fellow blogger, http://lameadventures.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/lame-adventure-304-annual-day-of-dread/, encountered today, as her blog title would suggest, her birthday, just 17 years shy of her 70th, she reports. I am shy of my birthday, too, because it coincides with the number of this blog chapter – LXX.

I would like to tell her that the next 17 years will imperceptibly crawl across her course at a garden slug’s pace. But, why should I when those lost years flashed by me like a silver bullet. Well, look, at least she doesn’t match in age her blog chapter number – CCCIV.

Emma and I had a long ride together. The last years weren’t what we had hoped, but we did our best. Her horses were wearing out. And, after all, when she left us, she was XCVII, and even after she had lived that many years, the 1890s spaceship would have been before her time.

Yes, this building dates to before Emma’s time and before my time – MDCCCLXXXVII, to be specific. Aren’t we glad we didn’t live at the time of the ancient Romans? It seems a lot of work, plus think of all the horsehide parchment it would use up, to write a simple 1887. Besides, in my experience, Latin is not an easy language to learn.

Despite its erection before our time, Emma and I, indeed, our entire family enjoyed happy times inside this lacy, filigreed, flowered affair with its medusae and magnificent architectural art, a time capsule, as it were, the abandoned carousel pavilion in Asbury Park, N.J. When, in the 1980s, the owner could no longer afford the upkeep on the carousel, he tried to sell it. A nonprofit group tried to raise funds to buy it intact. They came up a few hundred thousand dollars short and the owner stood firm. Tearfully the group witnessed some of the carved horses sold one by one at Sotheby’s auction. The pavilion stands abandoned today. That carousel was considered one of the most beautiful in the world, built in about 1910. Adroitly carved horses and other animals stood or rode up and down, four abreast. I can attest to this. It was a big one, a genuine, first-class merry-go-round. I loved riding it. I always liked to ride the outside horses: they were bigger, and I loved trying to catch the brass ring; I loved the music of the calliope, too, and hearing the drum and cymbals every time you rode past the little open door displaying the mechanisms at the center. It is sad. It was a beauty, a classic. Among the best amusement park rides I enjoyed in my childhood.

I spent many happy times in Asbury Park as a kid, in the late 1940s to early 50s. We may still have the family photos somewhere. I remember the deep blue ocean and the huge waves, looking more like a California surf; the coast drops off steeply there, not like the South Jersey shore with its gradual slope. In Asbury Park they roped off the swimming area so people couldn’t go out too far  and get swept away.

I spent many happy times in the funhouse, too, the spooky part and the funhouse mirrors – the mirrors will always feature prominently in my memory. When you went to Asbury Park, you had to stand in front of those funhouse mirrors. The Ferris wheel, too, was the best – so high you could see all over Asbury Park and the seats had to be caged.

My little brother, Bobby, often asked, “Daddy, are we going to Raspberry Park?”  Daddy would take us there on a Saturday or a Sunday.

For me, this photograph of the carousel pavilion evokes the music of the calliope, the whir of the merry-go-round on its axis, the sounds of gleeful laughter, the breakers crashing against the shore, all riding abreast the pungent aroma of salt air, popcorn, cotton candy and creosote from the sun-warmed pilings supporting the boardwalk.

The shore played prominently in the lives of generations of our family, both sides.  We spent much of every summer there. My grandfather and uncle commuted weekdays between work in the city (Philadelphia) and our summer home at the shore.  That is why when the Navy took my husband, daughter and me to Southern California during the Vietnam war, I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to live as a flatlander when you could live at the beach in that kind of temperate year-round climate with that beautiful coastline.

Where is the Asbury Park merry-go-round now? Here is its story: http://www.palaceamusements.com/sothebys.html. Here it is illuminated at night: http://www.elvision.com/asburypark/apbrochure-back-web.jpg. A medusa: http://www.flickr.com/photos/army_arch/4727322120/in/photostream/

Where am I now? might be a question my visitor cat, Keats, is asking. Thursday evening a week ago, after his sumptuous dinner of dried grilled-flavor cat food and a teaspoon of canned grilled chicken, I let him out. “Now, be home by ten-thirty,” I told him, as usual. I have not seen him since. He kept a fairly regular schedule coming and going. I miss the little fellow. My hope is that, since he came to me wearing a collar and with impeccable manners, clearly much loved, that he has returned to his original family. Or maybe he is busy modeling. This sure looks like him in this picture below.

Keats?

Possibly his people moved, he got away and finally they found him. That happened with our gray shorthaired cat, Muffet, when my daughter, Kellie, was a teenager. On moving day Muffet went out the door and disappeared. We looked all over the neighborhood and couldn’t find her. We returned many times, we asked neighbors, we put up signs. Months later Kellie returned to the neighborhood and a friend said, “I saw your cat.” She was living two doors down from our former house. We picked her up and took her home with us.

Keats, I think, was playing the field, maybe with a special mission to stay with persons who need a companion, and then when all is well, moving on to the next.

Where am I now? I have disembarked from the merry-go-round of caregiving, yet I remain involved as an advocate, listening to others, sharing my experiences, giving them guidance, finding them help in what small ways I can.

I believe, though, that I would spend one hundred dollars, maybe two, just to rent a car for a day, hop into it, and drive to Asbury Park just to ride that merry-go-round one more time.

On April 6, 1971, reminiscent of Asbury Park, I composed this poem:

Ragged Days

Only a specter,
I stumbled into
An abandoned amusement park,
Over haunted relics,
And the dizzying merry-go-round ride
Of those ragged days:

Through cobwebs of disenchantment
I groped, to uncover
Half buried in dust
The scattered fragments
Of a long-ago shattered
Funhouse mirror.

—Samantha Mozart

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