George sat in his chair, having already pushed the lever, and didn’t really look at anything. The bright lights and throngs of people registered in his brain like a TV movie that played only for the purpose of background noise.
He glanced over at the kid who worked the gate of his ride, who was probably nineteen or twenty years old, and saw that he was surrounded by several girls, all of whom were giggling and paying him the sort of attention he probably didn’t get very often.
He thinks he’s the man, George thought as he glanced away again and remembered what it had been like to work carnivals as a young man.
The weather was always warm, there were lots of people around, and it was just a summer job before he moved on to bigger and better things. He had hung out, met girls, and made friends with whoever was around. He remembered thinking to himself at the time that he should enjoy it now, because it wouldn’t last forever.
George pulled the lever.
For the umpteenth time that night the ride stopped spinning. The kids ran off screaming, and the adults, wobbly-kneed, followed behind them. A few teenagers on the ride did their best to look like nothing had happened. That the ride was no more exciting to them than taking a walk. George thought they were full of shit.
He looked over again toward the gate — at Mike or Matt, or something — and watched him take tickets from eager people who couldn’t wait to get tossed and turned and spun around on the ride. There was a time when George used to feel the same way.
But that was a long time ago now, back when his father used to operate carnivals and way before he had ever worked a carnival himself. Back when he saw carnies as benevolent older brothers who would give him pieces of funnel cake and joke around with him because he was their boss’s kid, who was always hanging around.
George turned to see a boy, maybe seven years old, right in front of his chair, speaking directly to him. He hated when people spoke to him.
“What?” George asked, and made sure to put a menacing expression on his face.
“I want to get on this ride!”
“So get on.”
“He says I can’t!” The little boy pointed at the young man taking tickets at the gate of the ride.
George didn’t bother to hide his disgust. He knew the little kid in front of him was referring to the fact that he was, according to the sign out front, too small to get on the ride, which George knew was bullshit.
“Kid, if you want to get on the ride, get on the ride. I don’t care.”
The little boy smiled in delight and ran off to get into one of the cars.
George wasn’t sure how the kid had gotten past the gate or if he had even handed over any tickets, but he wasn’t going to ask. This time when he pushed the lever, George had just the smallest smile on his face. To everyone else it looked like a small scowl.
The young man at the gate turned around to watch the ride, since he didn’t have to take tickets for a few minutes. George watched his facial expression in anticipation, seeing if he would recognize the kid who had gotten past him.
A minute and a half had gone by; the little boy was spun, swung and tilted by the ride and looked like he loved it. George looked over at Matt or Mike or whoever he was, but it didn’t look like he had spotted the little boy.
Finally, George pulled the lever and the ride slowed down. People began filing off and Matt or Mike, or maybe it was Mark, got ready to start taking tickets again.
George saw the boy get out of his car with a huge smile on his face, even as he was unsteady on his feet. He glanced over at Mark (he felt pretty sure now that his name was Mark) one last time, and got his pay-off.
Mark saw the boy and started to protest. George laughed the best laugh he had laughed in a while, and the little boy wobbled his way over to George.
“Hey mister! Thanks,” the boy said.
And George, who finally felt friendly, started to say, “No problem, kid, you’re we—,” before he saw Mark leave his post by the gate and march up onto the ride platform like he was king of the carnival.
“Hey man, that kid’s too small. I told him he couldn’t get on the ride.”
“Not my job, kid. He got by you, so I assumed he was good to go.”
Mark gave him a dirty look, but George didn’t care. The little boy bounced away with a wave to George, and George smiled for the second time that night, as his eyes fell on the ride behind where Mark stood.
“I could get in trouble for that,” Mark said, giving George another angry look, while turning around to go back to his post. George just waited.
The ride was now completely full. Kids and adults, all without handing over their tickets, had filled the ride while Mark had his back turned.
Mark started waving his arms and yelling at people to get out of the cars and off of the platform, herding them back outside the gate. George watched with glee.
But his greatest triumph came when the little boy who had taken a wild, unauthorized ride stopped just outside the gate and vomited in the exact place where Mark had stood all night.