Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Anticipation" By Joshua Schwartz - 2016 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

Joshua Schwartz

I was going to live in a 2-bedroom condo across the street from Coney Island. At least that’s what I said when I was 12 years old. I didn’t take into account that my fantasy pre-teen bachelor pad was actually a low income housing project. Probably not the ideal location for a 12-year-old from a good neighborhood in Queens to start his adventure called life. That’s the funny thing about being 12 though, anything goes. Reality does not necessarily need to add up to actuality. Besides, there is plenty of time for those two roads to meet.

The chatter of Howard Stern was blaring as I was half of asleep. It was usually a quiet ride when I headed into work with my father. I hated the mornings and our ambitious 5:45am escape onto the Belt Parkway kept me speechless for quite a while. I always secretly hoped for traffic just so I could have squeezed out a little more sleep. Thanks to the Belt Parkway, I often got my wish.

“You ready today?” my dad asked in a more chipper voice then I would have hoped to hear. Those 3 words were the only trio that could have awaken my nervous system this morning. Unfortunately, this was the one part of my body I would have wished to keep asleep. 

“Possibly,” I said, not wanting to commit fully. He of course was talking about the Cyclone. A rollercoaster that I truly developed mixed feelings for at a young age. You see, I loved Coney Island and the atmosphere it provided. However, I was petrified of roller coasters. How could one love a place and never experience that places staple. I was in a pickle. For a while I was able to milk my lack of height. I loved watching some guy with no teeth measure me, knowing I wasn’t going to make the cut.

“Oh man!” I had sighed, “Well there is always next year.” However, I recently hit a growth spurt and I knew that was not going to fly this year. My stomach started to growl from nerves. I was awake.

When we arrived at the warehouse I sprung out of the car, eager to have arrived, more eager to eat. Bagels were brought in from Bagel Boy every day and I had my mind set on an everything with lox. The fresh squeezed orange juice would generate enough serotonin to counter my nerves for the time being.

I sat down on a box of matches and felt at peace as I wiped some cream cheese from my lip. What was I so worked up about anyways. The whole ride lasts no more than a minute. How bad could it be? Easy to say on my own two feet, where gravity was still intact.

After breakfast I decided to wander around the warehouse. My father was the owner so everyone sort of had to entertain me as I went from station to station. However even at a young age I could tell the feelings were genuine.

“Little man!” Jeff screamed as he saw me walk by. Jeff was the head of security and always had a smile on when he spotted me.

“I heard you had a big day at bat last weekend,” he went on to say. He was right, I hit two home runs last weekend at Crocheron Park. Truth is I did not like Jeff only because he flattered my sports ego often, but the fact that he cared enough to know the facts. Nothing worse than a person trying to relate only for the sole purpose of relating. Of course, flattering the ego never hurts either.

“Eh I’ll be honest they weren’t that good, but hey, I’ll take it.” We went back and forth for a while before a large order came through the front door, cutting our little league baseball chat short.

At this point I had almost forgotten all about the ride that awaited. I walked into my dad’s office in a better mood then before. He was on the phone with someone so I sat down and started to play with a rubber band I had picked up on the floor. I always found a way to entertain myself at the warehouse. By the time he was done I was in Athens, Greece. In my mind at least. I had created an imaginary pole with a paper clip and a pen that the rubber bands were to be launched onto. Each color rubber band represented a different country. At this point it was a tie and the next rubber band to launch onto the pen would win.

“What are you up to?” my dad asked.

“Nothing,” I replied.

The day was flying by and I knew we were about to leave soon from the business that was taking place. The last activity was always to match up the receipts and checks. Often this is where I would step in and read the receipts out loud. However today I took the day off.

“…….105, 2046, 2200, 800, 44, 44, 200, 988,”

“44, 512, 100, 100, 3216, 100.”

Everyone had their own style of reading the receipts. Some people would pronounce the entire number where as some would pronounce each individual number. Today was an individual number day. 105 was pronounced “One-zero-five” instead of “One hundred and five”. I often went back and forth between both styles. Pace was my main concern. I was in it for speed.

“Done!” I heard someone say and with that I knew we were off.

The car ride to Coney Island was painful for me. I felt my body start to tingle. I hated being nervous. My dad was planning out the entire day and every single activity sounded amazing. What I would do to eat a Nathan’s hot dog in peace on the boardwalk. Today was business though, I knew it was time.

Parking at Coney Island was a puzzle for many. Luckily my father had solved that puzzle years ago. We drove up to Gargiulo’s like usual and pulled in the lot. I learned at a young age that a 10-dollar bill and a good hand shake could buy you anything in Brooklyn.

Instantly after getting out of the car we gravitated towards the Cyclone. My father knew well enough not to push the issue or mention it because I would be keen to protest. It is better not to talk much about those things we dread. Instead, actions produce the results anyways. As we passed the Freak Show I thought to myself, “Maybe it will be closed today due to some weird maintenance issue that often occurs.” This thought was erased immediately after hearing the loud rumble produced by what could only be an 85-year-old rollercoaster.

The line was short today. It was a Wednesday afternoon so there really was no surprise there. My father went up to buy two tickets. No need for measurements, I was tall enough that’s for sure. I was always intrigued by the individuals that were in charge of operating rides. Coney Island especially seemed to make it their mission to hire only the shadiest characters to press the buttons that send us to extreme heights. The shady character today had a friendly aura about him though.

“Step up into the zone fella’s,” Shady uttered.

I was shaking on the inside, but managed to stay presentable on the outside.

“Front or back?” asked Shady.

Only negative connotations came to mind when hearing both choices. The front, allows you to see your demise clearly whereas the back, generates more speed; ultimately making this experience more painful. Before I could chime in on this ultimatum my father interjected.

“Front!” he yelled excitingly. I was doomed.

We hopped into the cart and got strapped in. The anticipation can make you sick. Worrying, speculating, trying to understand an outcome that could never be understood without living it. I spent the entire day miserable waiting for this moment. Yet as the cart gained traction gradually, I started to feel at ease.

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick,”

We climbed up the track slowly, you can hear every movement and range of motion on that ride. I never felt more intimate with an inanimate object before. As you elevate up the track, if you listen closely you could hear the story of the coasters rich history. It opens up to you like an old friend the minute you hop on board.

Finally, we reached the top and for a second the Cyclone shows you a side of Brooklyn you cannot see anywhere else. The view at its peak covers the entire park, spanning out to the ocean. It’s the Cyclones way of smiling at you, right before it spits you into 60 seconds of turbulence. The ride itself was a blur, like most moments you waste time worrying about. I remember screaming, but not of fear, instead of relief. The ride came to an abrupt ending and I was now a slightly different person then I was 3 minutes ago.

“So, how was it?” my dad looked over and said to me as we awaited the seat belt to release.

I smiled, “Let’s do it again.”

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