Betty Duffy

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Festival Grotesque

The Gravitron sends out its Metallica siren song from the Parish lawn, and from all the corners of town come Catholic school children and their hard-working parents, nubile young girls, and the boys, who’ve not yet thought to return their stare, and miles and miles of bleached, frosted, split and tied up hair. Pale men stamp out their cigarettes, then head down into the multi-purpose room for black jack and a spin of the roulette. The Parish Festival with hopes to win the funds to execute our Mighty Lord’s call, brings us with all of our sin to the public square for a rollicking fall.

In the underground kitchen the women cook with sweat on our foreheads and a frequent look at the clock that tells us when the crowds will arrive. In the wee morning hours I cracked eighty eggs, sifted one hundred cups of flour, stood and stirred til I was weak in the legs, and drizzled the dough on the fryer. We load our cakes in a pan and send them up to the stand for purchase and possibly to clog an artery and claim a well-worn life.

When my shift is over I walk home from Church, past carnie trailers and a merry go round. My children, anticipating a Poor Jack ride, race to the door at the sound of my return. “Can we go now?” “I want to ride the Pirate ship!” with its rickety pulleys and chains and greased up rails, I shudder, envisioning my children’s entrails kersplatting on the Parish parking lot. “Sorry, my dears, the cost is just too high for each and every one of you to buy five tickets apiece for one measly ride.” So they all lay down at my feet, and cried. “Maybe you can try to win a gold fish at the ring toss,” I say, calculating in my head, the odds of my children’s aim and the likelihood of loss.

It’s a deal we make, that I will take them for a quick turn past the scary half-clad dame on the fun house wall, so they can see the rides they will not ride, if they promise not to whine or bawl when I say it’s time to go home. But I should have been more wise, than to think a glimpse of the moon walk, and the smoking pit where the Knights of Columbus grill turkey thighs, would satisfy my star struck, festival happy little guys. Each one I had to physically remove from the crowd, load into my van with reassurance of my love. The festival, with its head-banger music and obscene tees, will always be more for the enjoyment of other families.


Pentimento said...

No lie, this really does remind me of a Debussy song.

Betty Duffy said...

Thank you, P.

Pentimento said...

The song is a setting of a poem by Verlaine, "Chevaux de bois" (Wooden Horses, referring to the carousel horses).

Here's a good performance:

And here's a translation:
Turn, turn, good horses of wood,
turn a hundred turns, turn a thousand turns,
turn often and turn always,
turn, turn to the sound of the oboes.

The red-faced child and pale mother,
the boy in black and the girl in pink,
the one pursuing and the other posing,
each getting a penny's worth of Sunday fun.

Turn, turn, horses of their hearts,
while all around your turning
squints the sly pickpocket's eye--
turn to the sound of the victorious cornet.

It is astonishing how it intoxicates you
to go around this way in a stupid circle,
nothing in your tummy and an ache in your head,
very sick and having lots of fun.

Turn, wooden horses, with no need
ever to use spurs
to command you to gallop around,
turn, turn, with no hope for hay.

And hurry, horses of their souls--
hear the supper bell already,
the night that is falling and chasing the troop
of merry drinkers, famished by their thirst.

Turn, turn! The velvet sky
is slowly clothed with golden stars.
The church bell tolls sadly.
Turn, to the happy sound of drums.

Pentimento said...

Whoops, try this.

Robert said...

oh my.

Robert said...

that was actually my "oh my" not my husbands...... although i am sure he would ay the same thing.

Betty Duffy said...

Pentimento, It's interesting, especially in the Verlaine poem you kindly posted for me, how the innocent and the sinister co-exist in such close quarters at such an event as a Parish festival. Our children want to be scared by the daredevil rides, and parents are literally scared by the threat of ride failure, or the even more real threat of putting our children into the hands of notorious transients. I want to know why we do it--or is the festival as I know it now only a Midwestern event?

Pentimento said...

I think carnivals are entirely scary for all the reasons you mention, and also apt to plunge one into a morass of despair when one considers, as you say, the juxtaposition of the innocent and the sinister.

jen said...

we have parish school festivals here, but they are all kind of self-contained. no carnies, just moon bounces and stuff.

aside from all that - this was a very compelling post. i would have been thinking all the same things - and then i would have spent at least half a day wondering why i had to be such a difficult person. why can't i just enjoy the festival like. everyone. else.

John said...

Come on, Betty. Don’t you want your tattoo artist son to have a little street cred?

Betty Duffy said...

As long as he can obtain his street cred from the end of my very tight leash at the Parish Festival.