Faulty Rims…Faulty Backboards…Faulty Logic?
Scents of sweet cotton candy and salty popcorn wafted through the thick summer air, mixing perfectly with the excitement that could be generated by one event, and one event only--our annual trip to Dairy Days at Lagoon. The only thing more palpable than the salt and saccharine-infested atmosphere, was my eager anticipation. Yes, for the first time my parents were allowing me and my younger brother, Todd, to tag along with our older siblings--without adult supervision. In our young minds, it was a rite of passage that meant we had officially arrived.
My sister Julie, five years my senior, was kind enough to share her food purchases with me and more than happy to instruct me on the finer points of scary rides and carnival games. I remember watching with admiration as she made a series of baskets at the Hoop Shoot, coming up just one shot short of a prize when her ball took a lazy stroll around the rim and lipped out into the dirty hands of an unsympathetic carnival worker. “Sorry, Ladies. Come again,” his gruff voice growled as we turned away.
“Do you think I could try?” I asked my sister, hope rising in my voice.
“Sure,” she said, “if you think you’re tall enough to shoot over the counter, and if you can talk Mom or Dad into giving you a couple of bucks.”
A wise mentor, Julie had brought up two valid obstacles that would have to be considered: my small stature and, even more challenging, our parents' tight wallets. Feeling optimistic, we set out on our monetary quest. It wasn’t too long before we spotted Mom and Dad sitting on a bench in the fairway, holding hands, contentedly observing the menagerie of blinking lights, pipe organ sounds, and the throngs of people passing by.
Acknowledging the hint my sister had given me just moments before, I headed straight to the parent who would most likely fork out the cash. "Dad, can I have two dollars?"
"What for?" he inquired suspiciously.
"I wanna win a teddy bear at the Hoop Shoot. It’s a basketball game and I think I can win. Please?"
He thought for a moment, giving me hope. "Look," he said. "There is something you need to understand about carnival games..." He then settled in to deliver what would become one of the most memorable 'Dad lectures' I have ever received.
He went on for what seemed like an hour to my fifth grade brain. I'm sure I pretended to listen intently, nodding knowingly, as he blabbed on about how carnival games were a farce: the hoops were always smaller than the balls, the rims were bent to make success more difficult, faulty backboards made the ball's bounce unpredictable--then there were percentages and odds working against me! Finally, he paused and stared at me inquisitively, lips pursed, eyebrows raised as if to ask, You get it don't you? I'm sure he was waiting for a look of understanding to wash over me, but instead, my father got the response of a typical ten-year-old girl. “So...can I have the money...or not?”
With an exaggerated roll of his eyes, my father turned to my mother who was now stifling inexplicable laughter. He shot her a dramatic look as if to ask, Can you believe this girl? as he slowly reached into his wallet, handed over the two dollars, and jokingly asked me to return his change. I wholeheartedly agreed and took off on a full jubilant trot toward victory, leaving my mother giggling and my father shaking his head.
My excitement must have gotten the best of me because to date, I cannot recall if I used all of the money that my dad reluctantly gave me that day. I couldn't tell you if the balls I shot were the traditional bright orange or if they were Globe-Trotter red, white, and blue. I can’t even remember how many shots I made or how many I missed on that summer eve back in 1981. But, the one thing that will forever remain with me is the image of my parents erupting into a full-blown fit of hand-clapping, head-tossing, Bert-and-Ernie laughter when I rounded the corner just ten minutes later, carrying one of the world’s ugliest teddy bears tucked proudly beneath my arm. Never had my dad been so genuinely shocked. Never had he been so genuinely proud. Never had he been so genuinely wrong.