Suddenly, it was time, and I found myself unsteady in the theme park. The fantastic churro raced back up my esophagus. Chased by fear, the dizzying 15 stories that towered over the sheltered waiting area was visible now and left us all speechless. As the airbrakes hissed, the train plunging into the station to a stop, the waiting passengers seemed as enthusiastic as gathering mourners.
Once we boarded, the barely audible click of safety harnesses locked in place, followed by a half-ass tug from some attendant, left me with more than little doubt about our safety, even though it’s a known fact that these coasters are tested dozens of times. Still, knowledge doesn’t replace odds as gamblers will attest.
The Vertical Velocity is one badass son-of-a-bitch!
In no time, we were dashing forward at 70 miles per hour. My balls sat in the back of my throat as whiplash craned my neck awkwardly and slammed my skull against the headrest. The coaster arched and bent at steep angles, obstructing Newton’s laws of gravity for the better part of three minutes. I wondered if the show that the Goulds were taking in was anywhere near this electric. So long as they were with each other all bets were that anything would be, and though I didn’t get it, that was becoming OK with me.
It had been an hour-and-a-half since we arrived. Hunger and nausea battled, sweeping through in waves as I scoured to find Paradise Snacks where Mongo and his family were waiting. I followed a trail of children carrying plates of floppy, oversized slices of pizza, and found the shack and the Goulds.
We shared stories—although Founda did most of the talking—and grabbed a light meal. I tried to tolerate her but she was completely drab. Every story, somehow, eventually, wound up being about Divot. She told them all as if the balance of life hung atop their child. And what did I care?
Mongo was engaged in every syllable, and his eyes gleamed with each mention of their daughter’s name. Whatever we both once cherished in our days together, he now found in his family. For the life of me, I didn’t understand the enchantment for my old friend to this woman and her O.C. habits with their kid, but none of that mattered. Mongo chased his dream and found it; I could only hope that being in his graces would allow some of the mojo to rub off.
We disagreed peacefully on what to do next. Again. Founda granted Mongo and I the four o’clock hour to meet up at Oasis Club, grab a drink and talk about old times, new times and everything in-between. In the meantime, I went nostalgic, streaking the park from end to end and springing from coaster to coaster, while scarfing down funnel cakes and milkshakes, living the dreams of a 10-year-old.
Why not?! Everything’s day to day right now. I’ve never been more in the moment in my life! I can be anything I want—at any time I choose.
For just a little while, that’s all I wanted. And all I could take. As early afternoon became late afternoon, Father Time sent bitter reminders of the truth.
At four o’clock I huffed and puffed into Oasis Club, the sweat of a thousand men drenched my arms and neck, and the fronts of my legs were the color of boiled hot dogs. Mongo was already at the bar, hair still perfectly in place and not a drop of sweat stain on his clothing. He had some kind of -politan or -tini girly drink in hand and was waving me over unnecessarily; four o’clock drinkers didn’t seem to be a big crowd at theme parks. Besides, his bright pink shirt was easily distinguishable from other drearily dressed drinkers.
I made my way over and ordered a cold beer; the bartender promptly brought over the eight dollar item. He took my $10 with a grin and delivered nary a cent in change, but that was OK.
It’s all Mongo’s money anyway.
“So,” Mongo began, “good times?”
I nodded in exhaustion. I was burned, both physically and mentally. My senses were down, and Mongo’s comment caught me off guard.
“Look, I—uh. I just want to apologize for springing my family on you. I’m sure it’s not quite what you expected while heading over this way. I shoulda just called and told you. But isn’t it funny how time just slips away?”
I could think of nothing to say and filled the awkward silence with a sip of cold beer while Mongo continued. “It’s not exactly like I knew you were coming either. Coulda given a brotha some warning.”
Coulda given myself some warning!
“You know, I still think about college and hangin’ out almost daily,” he continued. “Those were damn good times weren’t they? Where’d it all go? How is it that we’re both in our thirties now? Damn, man, our thirties! And I’m married! Can you believe that shit? I woulda called you on that way before me!” He slapped me on the back and sipped from his poli-tini.
Suddenly, it all seemed strange: Mongo apologizing to me. I couldn’t even look him in the eye—only grunt, nod and sip the overpriced beer.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I guess I just want you to know that I’m sorry for not keeping up with you more, man. I mean, we all just get busy sometimes, you know? But I want you to know that I still consider you one of my greatest friends. No hard feelings, right?”
No hard feelings? Are you kidding? I’ve been worried for a day-and-a-half that you’re pissed about my random arrival. The Great Mongo is apologizing to me? I can’t just let this happen.
I turned and slammed my beer on the oak-bar top. No words, only the motion of my jaw wiggling back and forth, teeth gritted behind a tight authoritarian line of mouth. Mongo sipped his chick-a-tini nervously as silence bore down, helping to create an uneasy tension. I quickly reached out my left arm, grabbing for his chest and captured his right nipple between my forefinger and thumb. Coldly, I twisted it in a counter-clockwise motion.
Some may know this as the vaunted Titty-Twister. Others whisper the name of “Purple-Nurple.” Nevermind the name for the pain, Mongo screamed and other patrons arose from their glasses half-full of misery. With a snort and laugh, Mongo drew his fist back then fired it into my bicep. Suddenly, we were 10 years younger, and the tension that had seemed prevalent over the previous evening and morning melted away like memories of a dream upon waking.