Sunday, July 27, 2008

Roller Coasters

Day 1
OK. Sobered up. Kind of turned on and energized by this idea, of writing my life. Also kind of forcing myself not to edit the intoxicated ramblings of my first post, because that wouldn’t really be fair.

We’re on vacation: Vegas part 2. Part 1 was the G-rated version with the kids. Well, as G as you can get in Vegas anyway. Now it’s just the two of us, doing more R-rated things. I’m trying to remember why I thought it would be a good idea to bring a sex & drug addict into this environment. Or my kids, for that matter. Back to part 1:

There was really only one time that we officially split up during the week. I took Ashley to ride the New York-New York roller coaster and James went with Linsey to the pool. I try mightily to teach my daughter how to handle disappointment, something I never really learned to do. So each time her excitement bubbled up during the week, I reminded her that it wasn't a sure thing. As we neared the end of the week, I watched her bounce and fidget when she asked "So daddy, if it isn't too expensive, and I'm tall enough, and mommy will take the J-man somewhere else, and it's still open, and we have enough time, and if I've been good, we'll ride the roller coaster tomorrow?!!!!?!?" And my heart broke, because excitement tempered by this much caution doesn't really leave much room for joy, does it? At nine years old she's already learned not to let her hopes get up too high.

So we shared the delicious roller coaster anticipation of ratcheting up, then flying down, loopty-looing and roaring around the curves. It was, of course, over too quickly. The moments following were just a girl and her dad, no bratty brother in sight. And I wasted it looking for porn. I darted around the casino floor, nine-year-old in tow, looking for a shop where I could secretly purchase an overpriced magazine while I sent her to the bathroom or otherwise distracted her. After answering so many "daddy where are we going" questions with "just looking around" lies, I led her back up to the arcade which conveniently preceded the roller coaster's entrance. I told her she could only play two games, and after she pod-raced against Sebulba, we paced around the room for fifteen minutes deciding where to spend that second quarter.

And as I watched her carefully weigh the merits of the rip-off carnival games against the rip-off video games, I tried to get a handle on the familiar heart-breaking feeling welling up inside me. It didn't make sense – I had given her a boundary and provided an age-appropriate morsel of freedom, and she was merely consuming it. But like my mother before me, everything inside me wanted to protect her from my own cruel limits when her last quarter disappeared. Into that son-of-a-bitch prize-grabbing arm machine: It suckers every kid into fishing for an illegally produced Spongebob ripoff doll.

Here's the thing: She's young enough to get excited about an arcade, but old enough to remember how quickly that little cup of tokens ends up empty. And I'm crying inside because I just don't know how to tell her that the reason I'm not pumping quarters into these devices is that they're really not any fun! Once you get past the lights and sound effects, and the daze-inducing gestalt of a room packed with such machines, they just don't deliver. The promise is a lie. You just walk away an hour or two later, from the arcade or the mall or the casino, with your pockets empty, coated in a dirty film of consumerism and waste. Silly rabbit, you can't buy happiness! Instead, happiness sneaks up when you pause to hold your lover on a windy day between your eye appointment and a trip to the DMV. As far as the vast sea of happiness for sale out there, flashing and spinning and screaming for your attention, the truth is painful and simple. Sure it's cool and elegant that M. Scott Peck opened The Road Less Traveled with the phrase "Life is difficult." But festering in the day-to-day noise of rudeness and rushing is the unavoidable and far less gentle: "Life sucks." And anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.

Later, as Linsey listened to my memories of that day, her words were like a soothing balm on my psychic wound. Ashley will not remember that the machine stole her money or that I was a little distracted. To her, that noisy room wasn't a depressing symbol of life's disappointments or a reminder that getting excited just makes getting hurt feel worse. She'll remember a day with her dad, and a roller coaster ride that she was tall enough to ride. She probably won't remember that we talked about her sexual abuse and self-esteem on the walk back. And I'll remember that for one afternoon, my little girl was in love with me, not her boyfriend or her husband, but her broken, guilty, make-it-up-as-you-go father, who was discovering at that very moment where true happiness is found.


  1. I was so glad to read the last paragraph, because all I could think during the second-to-last paragraph is, yes, you CAN buy happiness when you're a kid! And we adults can buy it, sort of, by giving our kids the ten bucks, which, to them is still close to a million, and loving their love of lights and flashes and impossible odds more than they could know.

  2. An old program named GO BACK is one indispensable item I use several times each month, brings back everything just as an exact time of my choosing.

    Your use of links to "go back" to an aged blog is interesting--as is your writing prowess.

    My problem is I'll spend an hour in your digs, and there's maybe thirty or forty to go...I am SO glad that is my only problem.