Hashtag Themepark Life

19 Jun

I’m standing on the top platform of an old indoor stage at King’s Island. Behind me is a “patriotic” backdrop, two electric guitars crisscrossing each other with bold red font across the front that reads: “AMERICAN COUNTRY!” Surrounding this musical expression of electric southern patriotism is a flowing collage of multicultural humans engaging in oddly specific activities: A Chinese woman is dressed in a kimono, smiling and waving. An old white police officer who kind of resembles Steve Martin bends over a ladder, looks towards the sun with crinkled eyes squinting, his face obviously distressed in a moment of heightened heroism. A football player holds his hands above his head in complete and total American teenager victory. I’m wearing a short, pink, Little House On The Prairie-esque dress, a strapless bra that digs into my armpit fat, and a limp, thoroughly seasoned cowboy hat that is probably the only thing in this building more jaded than I am. There was some miscommunication between the costumers in charge of laundry and their managers, so all of my underclothes, including the Capezio dance tights strangling my sweaty lower back and muffin top, are wet.

It’s hot. It’s just so effing hot. The doors to the “Festhaus” are kept open, to encourage park guests to enter and enjoy their lunches in the comfort of “air conditioning.” (Lies. Complete and total lies.) The smell of Panda Express and LaRosa’s pizza has been billowing into our greenroom all morning, and now, standing on the top platform of the stage, I’m forced to now not only smell the food, but see it entering the blank expressionless drone faces of the guests who are tired, hot, and not in the mood for live entertainment. I haven’t eaten breakfast because I woke up late. My hair is reacting to the humidity and the unruly frizz is starting to stick to my cheeks, shoulder blades, and most enjoyably, my armpits. It’s week four.

During our “AMERICAN COUNTRY!” show, the live singing and dancing is temporarily interrupted to show videos of average, every day, all American citizens giving their opinions on country music, September 11th, and whether or not they are pro Taylor Swift. This is why I am standing on the top platform; I’m pretending to make new discoveries about the same 47 second video clip that I’ve been forced to watch four times a day for the past five weeks. A wide smile is spread across my face. My cheeks hurt.

My friend and fellow Amurican DJ stands to my right, staring at the TV with the same plastic smile that I’m sporting. He watches the large woman on the screen with feigned interest and concern. She’s wearing a pink cardigan and her dark short hair accentuates her round, toad-like face. Imagine if Dolores Umbridge and a bitter and jaded Santa Claus had a daughter who grew up being raised by Paula Dean in southern Tennessee… THAT would be the equivalent of this woman.

“Taylor Swift’s not my thing,” she says angrily to the camera. DJ and I continue to act like this is the most fascinating thing we’ve ever had the privilege of watching. “I do like Carrie Underwood, though. I was NOT a fan of her on Idol, though, I thought she was flat. HUH HUH HUH!”

“She’s a mess,” DJ says quietly out of the side of his smile. My shoulders start to shake from silent laughter.

The interview continues, but out of the corner of my eye, I see something very odd. A young black woman dressed in a food services uniform is walking across the front of the stage. But, she’s not alone… she’s carrying something… big? Or… pushing something… And all the while, a deafening SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK! is causing the people in the front 5 rows to cover their ears and grimace.

I feel myself wanting to pull away from the screen to take a good look, but I’ve been told to act like I’m watching the video… and that I like it. My smile is now so large and so strained I feel my left eye start to twitch… all I want to do is look down and see what the heck is going on. I hear a child in the front row exclaim, “OW!” in reaction to the squeaking noise.

I see DJ abandon the screen and look down. That’s all I need. I immediately look down, too, and what I see completely baffles me.

The young food service worker is pushing one of those huge, industrial tray-carrying carts. You know, the ones that look like the skeleton of a mini skyscraper when not carrying any lunch trays? And this woman, this happy, blissful, eager woman, is pushing the huge contraption right in front of the stage, (SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK!), at an uncomfortably slow pace, all with a look that says, “I’d rather be getting paid to shit out week-old left over Mexican food in a baseball field porta-potty instead of pushing this effing cart.”

I look to DJ to see his reaction. I’m sure my face says something like, “Are you kidding me right now!? Is this real life!?” and I want to see if he feels the same. But DJ can’t even bring himself to fake smile anymore. His face is completely blank, and in that moment, it seems like every hope of making this show a success has been drained from him. In fact, every dream he’s ever had about being successful, about being artistically and creatively fulfilled at his place of employment, about being on Broadway someday has been viciously ripped from him as well. He looks at the girl and her cart (“SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK!”) Then he looks out to the park guests who are not watching the video, and are certainly not watching us, but are instead devouring their Panda Express and ignoring their children who are now playing freeze tag around the woman and her cart. DJ doesn’t look at me. He lets out a defeated, empty sigh.

“What is my life?” he exclaims to the cosmos.

I can’t stop laughing. I see that woman’s empty face, her obnoxious blue uniform overalls, and her complete disregard for our show, and I have to hand it to her. Pushing the ear-shattering cart in front of the entire crowd, along the front of the stage, is really actually a bold life choice when I think about it. She really gives zero fucks today. And I can respect that.

Suddenly, the video is over, and the intro music to the next song comes in. I slap my plastic smile back on and manage to compose myself. I start slapping my upper thigh to the beat, and look out enthusiastically at the crowd.

Us: “It’s a high school prom! It’s a Springsteen song! It’s a ride in a Chevorlet…!”

I see the faces of empty souls. I see the faces of crying children. I see the faces of Americans who hate their families right now, hate what they do for a living, and hate that they had to pay so much money to get into an amusement park where they would then be forced to pay 50 dollars for their families to eat generic general tso chicken and cold string beans.

Us: “It’s a man on the moon, and fireflies in June! Kids selling lemonade!…”

These empty souls? They hate me. They look at me and say, “Who are you to sing to me about how great America is? Why are you so loud? Stop singing. Stop dancing. Stop smiling. Do you even know where you are? This is an amusement park, and we are here on a family vacation. We are NOT here to have fun.”

Us: “It’s cities and farms, and open arms! One nation under GOOOOOD!”

And it’s hot. Dear sweet Lucifer’s scepter in the corner of hell’s office, it’s hot. And we just. Keep. Singing. And. DANCING!


BOOM! The big finish. We stand there, holding our microphones in the ending pose, breathing heavily, smiling, and looking out to the crowd. Silence. Complete, and utter silence. Then, finally, I guess someone realizes the lack of background noise or something, because from the very back corner of the building comes a single, weak clap. Then, a few more people join in, and finally, the whole crowd has the courtesy to clap a few times. It’s the weakest applause I’ve ever heard.

I remind myself that it could be worse. As I walk down to the font of the stage for the daily “meet and greet,” I remind myself of my waitressing days. I remind myself of those 3 weeks I worked as a customer service representative and spoke to senior citizens on the phone all day about converting their analog TVs to digital cable. I realize that I could be the girl pushing the Squeaker McSqueakerson cart. Or I could be the mother in the third row, house left, ready to commit suicide because her children are just so loud, sticky, and ungrateful, and her husband is doing nothing to help, other than devouring the pizza that her children are using as food fight ammunition. I realize that while I am hot, tired, and feeling like no one actually cares, these people are also hot, tired, and probably feel like no one cares either. And it’s my job to try to help them have a slightly brighter day, one patriotic, red white and blue let freedom ring to the oceans white with foam and the bombs bursting in air song at a time. Here I am, getting paid to do what I love to do. I’m getting up in front of people, no matter how brain dead they may seem, and I’m singing and dancing, and getting paid to do so. That’s a blessing in itself. And I need to remind myself of that.

And so, with new found determination and inspiration, I sit on the edge of the stage and smile to the children who are now looking at me as if I’ve just sprouted a baby arm out of my forehead. A little girl who was bouncing in the second row is hiding behind her father’s legs. She’s dressed in a pink shirt, and I can tell that she wants to talk to me, but she’s too frightened to approach. I hop off of the stage and kneel down to see her closer. She hides her face behind her father’s legs.

“I love your shirt,” I tell her. “Pink is my favorite color.”

She peeks her head out and stares at me, still cautious.

“My name’s Carolyn. Did you watch the show?”

She nods.

“Did you get to see the whole thing?”

She nods again, eying my microphone.

“Thank you for coming! I loved seeing you in the audience. Did you like the show?”

“My dad likes sharks.”

Making me think on my feet. Well done, Kid.

“Really? Does he watch shark week on the Discovery Channel?”

Suddenly, her entire face lights up. “YES! We watch shawk week and they have big teef and eat other fish sometimes…and, and… um, this one time? We went to the zoo and… you’re really pwetty.”

Suddenly and without warning, her father picks her up and carries her off without so much as a, “Nice show,” to me, and those two wide eyes stare back at me over his slightly bouncing shoulders.  She looks a little lost, a little sad, and a little confused as to what the hell just happened in her life. She whips around frantically, unable to do anything against the relentless force making her go towards a destination she can’t even see. I watch that little dot of pink disappear into the unforgiving crowd, and despite the 90 degree heat, I shiver. I shiver because I recognize the look in her eyes far better than any other plastic smile… For it’s the first time since graduating college a month ago that I’ve been able to recognize that same, lost, helpless feeling that has been dragging me towards a destination I can’t see.

I smile with my mouth, and wave to the strangers who are throwing away their trash.


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