coney island by randy klein

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A little boy lost in the famous New York City amusement park

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  • Coney Island

    by Randy Klein

  • IslandConey

  • Once I was in Coney Island with my parents. It was a steaming August afternoon, and in those days Coney was a real family destination, so it was absolutely crammed with people. It was still kind of innocent in those days, with lots of rides still operating, and a wholesome family atmosphere. The Cyclone was still the big attraction - in fact, it probably still is. The beauty of those old roller coasters was that they were made of wood. So when the train was rolling through, the sound they made was a terrific thunder of steel wheels on tracks, held in the air by wood supports which were bending and squealing under the strain.There was also the Thunderbolt, on the next street, and this, also, was made of wood. And right in the middle of all these stomach churning rides was Nathans, renowned as the best hot dogs on earth. And not just hot dogs, but every imaginable type of fast food - from corn on the cob, to hot pastrami, to Chinese egg rolls, to clams on the half shell. And the most wonderful crinkle cut french fries you can imagine, served in a paper cone with a wooden fork. The distinctive green formal script of the name Nathans is indelibly etched in my memory.

  • It was family entertainment, except in places where the weirdness tipped the balance - like the hawkers outside the freak shows, enticing you to come in and see the bearded lady, the serpent man, the man buried up to his neck in an ant hill, the Siamese twins. Outside these shows, above the barkers head, were a series of lurid painted boards of these freaks of nature. The actual shows might have been disappointing once you went in, with the beard on the bearded lady obviously stuck on. But that took nothing away from the chilling quality of the weirdness of it all. It was the voyeuristic curiosity of the crowd which was most disturbing. And then there was the wax museum of horrors. Inside, there would be a few token nods to heroes of baseball history, like a crude Babe Ruth in Yankee uniform. But then things got interesting - with axe murderers, and model tableaus of every social deviant and homicidal lunatic imaginable. Here, again, the very crudeness of the displays added to the horror, seemingly underlining the desperation of the onlookers for something horrifying. So hungry for disgust were the crowds at Coney Island, that they were satisfied with these cheaply made recreations of scenes of murderous exuberance.

  • In amongst these scenes of horror and deviance, were the wonderful old rides - the haunted house which really did send a shiver up your spine - especially if you were 8 years old. My attention was grabbed by a large animated head of a dragon outside the spook house. The huge puppet head swayed slowly from side to side, and its mouth opened to reveal a cloth flame inside. this apparition sent me into a dream, and I had that strange, recurrent feeling from my childhood of all the other sights and sounds being in soft focus and tunnelling away as if through the wrong end of a telephoto lens. That big fake dragon head was the only thing that seemed real to me.When I finally snapped out of my private reverie, I looked around and realise that the rest of the family had continued walking, leaving me standing alone in front of this horrible creature. Horrified, I was still unable to move, rooted by fear and fascination, but also overcome with the pointlessness of running anywhere. The flowing current of a sea of faces was so dense that every few seconds my surroundings became unrecognisable. Where should I run to? Why should I scream and cry, with nothing but a dense crowd of uncaring strangers in every direction? I started to walk, at an aimless, slow pace, not caring in which direction I went.Now it seemed that all the barkers were focussed only on me, calling for me to see the freaks in their attractions, to try and knock over the eerie fuzzy creatures with a baseball, to have some cotton candy.

  • I continued to wander, and came to a part of the park which was separated from the rest of the rides. It was an immense glass palace, surrounded by a roller coaster in the shape of a horse race, and horses were chasing in and out of the building, all along the roof of the thing. The entire place was in the shape of a big goofy laughing face. Across the entrance was a sign that read: Steeplchase - the funny place.People were buying disks from a ticket seller at the gate, which they wore around their necksThe disk had circles running around it, which would have a hole punched through them when you got on a ride. In order to enter, you had to pass through an enormous barrel which was revolving, and people were sliding and stumbling over each other, trying clumsily to get through to the other end. A young child on his own wasnt noticed, and so I wandered into the large tube, and promptly began to slip and slide, holding on to the sides didnt work any better, because it just meant you would rotate with the tube, and when you let go, painfully hit the bottom..

  • Everywhere you looked there were practical jokes. A stack of childrens blocks, only 30 feet high, were wobbling as you went past, as if they were about to topple on your head. There were hidden jets of air which blew the womens skirts up over their heads as they walked past. Then it became clear that there was a man who controlled all of these jokes sitting way up on the back of a gigantic elephant. Like the Wizard of Oz, he controlled all sorts of magical effects from his safe elevated position. Little electric shocks which he sent through metal handrails as people climbed a staircase, triggering sliding sections of floor making it impossible for people to walk without falling over. It must have been like an airplanes cockpit inside that elephants (wagon?) with all the knobs and controls.Then I saw the entrance to the horse race. It was dark and seedy, with real bookies behind metal grilles where you could bet on the race. Or, if you preferred, you could climb the stairs to where the horses were kept, and get in the race itself. Children were not allowed on this ride without an adult, so I stepped back down the stairs and wandered around some more.

  • Next to the entrance to the Steeplechase, I came to a theatre. There was no ticket required, so I just wandered in and sat down in a large open auditorium. At first there seemed to be nothing happening. Then a frightened looking couple walked on the stage, and the floor they walked on started to shift, making them stumble. I looked up, and there was that controller again, high above the stage. He pushed another lever, and the walls started to sway. The stars of this show were totally disoriented.On walked a clown, with a long technical looking rod. He touched them with it and they jumped 10 feet. It was an electric prod, and now the couple looked really anxious, to the delight of the few audience members who sat around me.Then from above I could hear the rumbling sound of the mechanical horse race, galloping around high above us around the outside of the roof. The couple decided to try and make a dash off the stage, but he clown toyed with them, pointing threateningly with the prod. When they finally made it cross stage to what seemed to be the wings, I heard the sound of the horses coming to the finish line and lots of excited voices of the riders dismounting and coming down some metal stairs. They came to the wings just as a crowd of animated people pushed their way on stage. It took them a few seconds to realise that they were on stage, and every reaction to their circumstance was highlighted by the stage lights, and the response of the audience exaggerated it further. Until it really was an unwitting performance, combining fear anxiety

  • and unaware slapstick. The clown, with a veritable herd of cattle to torment, seemed to really be enjoying himself.Slipping on the polished moving floor, along a rolling stairs, darting to avoid the electric prod of the clown, they pushed the original couple back the way they came, through the large falling doorway and right under the elephant, between its leg pillars. Feeling a bit unsafe in the sparse audience, I slipped out through a side door, and back into the park.

    Where were my parents?

  • I wandered along a row of amusements in which people seemed to be doing really dangerous things. They were climbing up high staircases and throwing themselves down slides which emptied them out onto what was called the human billiard table where they were violently knocked about by quickly spinning wooden tops, until the centrifugal force of the last, largest cone rammed them against the sides of the leather lining of a huge bowl. Further along, were slides which were curved and bumpy, and wide enough for dozens of people to be sliding out of control in all directions. They were rolling over each other, and sliding uncontrollably head first to a pit, where they were scrambling over one another, trying to get back up to the top of the contraption.Finally, I got on to what seemed to be some long high swings. They were bunched together and not very good for swinging, it seemed. But when lots of us were crowded into a our harnesses, we started to revolve slowly, picking up speed until were were flung out horizontally from what was revealed as an immense carousel, with hundreds of us swinging out in a circle, banging and kicking into each other. When the thing slowed down, we were thrown into even more chaos colliding helpless into one another, feet flaying out in all directions.What a weird, dangerously delightful horror.

  • In the pit of my stomach I had the lost little boy feeling again, and lost myself in a thought of getting back to my family. People came and watched me as I refused to get down from my swing, and th

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