“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
That first afternoon in Chicago I helped with setting up the swing ride the YoYo and went over to work on Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Parents like to comment on Dumbo’s glassy eyes and half-witted smile, which makes Dumbo look very high. Or as they say on the midway, ‘Dumbo looks like he’s flying twisted.’ A look that isn’t unfamiliar in these neighborhoods.
On the Gage Park lot, the Dumbos didn’t fly because we were too close to the Fire Ball’s swinging arm. It was close enough for stray cell phones to come flying at the kiddy ride. The kids, almost all under 10-years-old and some in kindergarten, were living in neighborhoods where flying cell phones were less a danger than flying bullets.
In California, my routine on the Lolly Swing was, “Up I say, up I say and awaaay I say.” In New Jersey my routine on the twirling Apples ride was the magic word, “Applesauce.” In Chicago, I went with a magic words, “ Mumbo Jumbo.”
I put kids in the cars and whispered in each one’s ear. I told them when I ask, they must shout out the magic words and then see what magic happens. After the third and final “Mumbo Jumbo” call-back, I switched on the ride and they lurched forward.
“What are the magic words kids?”
“I can’t hear you.”
The kids loved the Mumbo Jumbo routine so much they shouted it to me as they passed by all ten turns. “Mumbo Jumbo” “Mumbo Jumbo” “Mumbo Jumbo” All night long. They came back for repeated rides breathlessly saying, “I already know the magic words!”
Little Black girls wore braided hair that bounced like popcorn strings. Little Black boys ran in groups of best friends. Hispanic kids stuck close to their mothers but broke away when they saw a ride they liked. Single moms, couples, gangbangers and West Side preachers all came by my Dumbos. In the middle of their hard Chicago neighborhood, the carnival landed like a space ship and kids were flying away from it all.
It was wildly popular. I remembered the workers in California admiring my energy at the Lollys, so I wanted to be known for my energy in Chicago at the Dumbos. I ran from car to car all night long treating every child like a superstar. I ran like nobody in that carnival ever saw. I created a kid frenzy for a flying elephant ride that didn’t fly.
Children spinning, laughing, screaming in flightless circles, as if going fast enough or screaming loud enough, might change something forever. The next day all the smiling, happy kids woke up right back in their shoot-em-up neighborhood looking both ways on the way to school.
In my own childish imagination, those innocent, tiny people walked to school carrying backpacks with something new inside.
I am still searching for an agent, editors or a publisher for “Eyes Like Carnivals.” I can also be read on Huffington Post. Several YouTube videos can be found under my name. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org