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Friday, March 22, 2013

Crazy Carnival Rides



CRAZY CARNIVAL RIDES

            To say that I don’t like going to amusement parks would be totally incorrect.  In my younger days I loved a good Topsy-turvy, world-spinning, near-vomit-inducing string of carnival rides as well as any kid who likes an exhilarating, gut-wrenching thrill.  I’ll admit that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve encountered a few problems with amusement park rides… mainly that they’ve lost most of their amusement.

            Physically, I don’t really fit well into rides which are designed to hold more “Average” sized people.  You know how they have the little signs at the entrance to the rides which read, “You must be at least this tall to go on this ride”.  Well, they should probably have one that also shows, “If your legs are longer than this point, you will suffer knee cap dislocation on the first turn,” or “If your torso is this Girthy you will suffer rib fractures & collapsed lungs in the first corkscrew,” or “If your waist size is bigger than this, the lap bar will crush your pelvis at the first drop off” and so forth.  But I’m sure some fear of lawsuit or discrimination prevents such warnings, which I feel would actually be quite beneficial for a guy of my… ample body build. 
            I remember being with my kids on what I think was called the “California Screamer” at one of the Disneyland locations.  Crammed into the average seat and harness with my knees already forming dents in the front of the seat well, I knew there might be trouble before the ride even started.  But I was trying to show my kids what a fun Dad I was, so you know, I was taking it for the team in order to create the memories.  When the ride suddenly went from a full stop to about a bazillion miles per hour and straight into two consecutive upside down loop-d-loops, my spine literally compressed and I felt my legs go numb!  I then knew where the “California Screamer” screams were coming from!

            When the ride came to a much welcomed stop, I ran through a quick physical assessment and was pleased to find that I could still feel and move my legs and was able to walk (albeit awkwardly) without having to call Mickey for an ambulance ride.  My “Common Sense” personality cried out to the “Cool Dad” personality and jolted into a memory a long ago carnival ride, which should have taught me my carnival ride lesson many years before.

            I was probably around 14 years old on that fateful day, and a youth group from our church had taken a trip from our Idaho home to a neighboring state to visit and amusement park for the day.  We arrived early as the gates were just opening, and rushed inside so as to not miss out on any fun, only to realize that many of the rides wouldn’t be open for riding until another hour or so.  With only a few of the smaller rides operating at the early hours, my friend Brad and I scoured of the map of the park, and finally decided to head towards a ride in which its early victims were emitting what sounded like screams of delight.

            It was a Ferris wheel design with about 7-8 egg-shaped metal cages which not only went up and down with the spinning of the wheel, but also contained a lever bar inside, which if you pulled would lock your cart in position and allow you to make the revolutions upside down.  If you were a real thrill seeker, you could both push and pull on the lever during the rotations and engage in a fully brain-rattling series of forward and backward spins as you attempted to defy the laws of gravity.  Being just 14, and with they day just starting, of course we fell into the “real thrill seeker” category.

            We eagerly and willingly submitted to allowing ourselves to be strapped and locked into the cage.  I remember the carnival worker slamming down a metal bar on the door, which meant it could only be opened from the outside when the ride was over.  Of course at the time, I wasn’t thinking about anything but the thrill of the next few moments.  Nothing else in the future or past seemed to matter.  All consciousness was focused on the present exhilaration as the wheel began to quickly pick up speed.  Our shouts of excitement mingled with the riders of the other cages as we spun willy-nilly through the air.  UNTIL….. a great shuddering brought the revolving metal wheel to an abrupt and unexpected stop!

            The thrill was instantly gone, as my friend and I found ourselves near the top of the ride… our cage inverted… fully upside down.  Our cries of joy quickly turned into shouts for help as the blood rushed to our hanging heads and the harness straps strained uncomfortably against the weight of our bodies.

            The carnival worker who had so eagerly invited us onto the terrible trap was helpless to provide aid, as he flipped the switches and pulled on the levers without result.  Our pleas for assistance fell on deaf ears.

            My head pounded from the strain as we hung for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably a matter of only ten to fifteen agonizing minutes.  The lever bar was locked in position and despite our straining; we could not release it to flip ourselves upright.  Even if we could have removed the restrictive harness, we were still helplessly trapped in a cage which could only be opened from the outside and which hung suspended at a height which would have caused significant, life changing injuries.  We were completely helpless and unable to change our condition.

            Finally, a concerned park manager heard our cries came running to the scene. With expert precision he inspected the motor box and mechanisms, and within a matter of minutes flipped some switches and returned us and the other riders safely to ground level.  I had never seen a more welcome sight or concerned face as he personally unlocked us from our temporary prison.  My pain and anger was superseded by the gratitude I felt for this savior who had come to our rescue.

            At the time, I failed to realize the great lesson these events would teach me.  But as I reflect on what happened, I cannot help but recognize the parallels to this mortal life we live and experience each day.

            The world about us is filled with enticements of momentary thrill, excitement, exhilaration and pleasure.  All we have to do is give up our freedom and allow ourselves to be restricted and bound to the actions.  Addictive drugs, alcoholism, pornography, and a host of other lures promise a temporary release from reality and a false sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.  But what we fail to realize is that we cannot control the results of these choices.

            The false and temporary thrill is soon gone and we find that we cannot control the consequences.  Broken hearts and homes, financial ruin, loss of employment and health are some of the unexpected results we do not think about or foresee when we are focused on the satisfaction of the moment.  Then, whether we would admit it or not, our lives are turned upside down, and we are trapped in a prison of our sin and behavior from which we cannot escape without help.

            Luckily for us, we have an expert who always hears our cries, and is willing and ready to answer our sincere, heartfelt calls for relief.  He is our Savior, Jesus Christ.

            Only He can fix what our errant choices have broken, turn upright what is upside down in our lives, and restore us to solid ground and offer release from the prison which can only be unlocked from His outside help.

            As previously mentioned, despite the difficulties of that day and what I suffered, I returned to other carnival rides throughout my life, and as I explained, they brought physical distress and emotional suffering. 

           
           Similarly in my life, at times, some of the choices I have made have not been wise.  Despite our attempts at perfection, all of us repeatedly fall prey to errant choices and mistakes to one degree or another.
 
           I am grateful for the One who has the compassion, understanding and love to come to our assistance when we realize our error and call to him for help.  And I know from experience that no matter what our condition or state of distress, He will always come if we turn to him.  That is why we call Him our Savior!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Night I Shot Bigfoot



The Night I Shot Bigfoot



            After a long, hard day’s work, I was really looking forward to a good, quiet night’s sleep.  It was the perfect night for just such a sleep.  The calm summer evening was neither too warm nor too cool, it was just right.  Several windows were open, allowing the clean, fresh evening air in through the screens.  It was moments like this that I really enjoyed having moved back to my home roots in Idaho, after several hectic years in the choking pollution, noise and crowds of Utah.

            When we’d moved back to Idaho, now a little over four years ago, my wife and I had made it a point to try and find a house outside of the city if possible. My new job was in Rexburg, which is a nice and relatively small city compared to many, but with construction and new college apartments going up in every direction.  Such signs of rapid growth, made even little old Rexburg unappealing.  Looking around the area, we could quickly see that anything between Rexburg and Idaho Falls would eventually grow and fill in with housing and development.  So we turned our gaze northward.

            When we discovered the quiet little town of Newdale, we thought our prayers had been answered.  Located about 15 minutes outside of Rexburg, the little community has a population of only about 350 salt of the earth, country folk.  In fact, the only reason I think it’s actually considered a city at all is because it has its own post office and a single building with a plow, used to clear snow from the five or so city blocks in the wintertime.  Life here is quiet and easy going.  There are no traffic signals or even stop signs that I’m aware of.  It’s just one of those great small towns located on only the most detailed of maps; a literal cozy blip in the road wherein everybody knows everyone else and is comfortable with it.

            As I lay in my bed, drifting off to sleep, I couldn’t help but smile.  The soundless night was just the kind I knew I could get the deepest sleep and most pleasant of dreams in.  As my thoughts melted into wistful oblivion, my aged dog suddenly awoke me with his yodeling, hound-dog bark of alarm.

            I’m pretty used to getting up, at least a few nights a week, to let the groaning arthritic little beagle out to relieve himself.  After all, he’s nearly seventy in dog years and his weakened bladder just can’t hold it through an entire night much anymore.  But then, neither can mine, so generally the timing works out to the benefit for both of us.  But on the night in mention, his waking call was not the usual whine for relief, but that of a hound dog, hot in alarm and eager to get on the trail of some unseen prey out in the night.

            I looked at the clock and begrudgingly drug myself out of bed.  I’d only been asleep about forty minutes and my bladder wasn’t even in need yet.  I tried to calm him down so that he wouldn’t wake up everyone else in the house, but he was not to be contained.  Standing eagerly by the front door, he twitched in anticipation to get after whatever foul creature was out in the yard, having dared to cross into his urine marked territory.

            I opened the door, gave him a gentle nudge in the rear, and sent him scuttling outside.  Peering intently into the darkness, I could neither see nor hear a thing.  I watched sleepily as the brave little watch dog tracked back and forth across the yard, desperately searching for a trail of what he’d either heard or smelled from within the house. 

            Frustrated, I plopped tiredly down in a nearby recliner and watched him through the front blinds as he zigzagged back and forth across his precious turf.

At first I was irate about the disturbance, but then I started to feel a little sorry for him.  He’d become a part of our family while we still lived down in Utah, and had been forcibly raised into the mold of a city dog.  Already past his prime when we’d moved back to Idaho, he’d never really got a chance to use his inherent beagle instincts to their full intent.  Now, as I watched him hobbling, nose to the ground, I realized sadly that his eyesight and olfactory senses were probably incapable of even noticing any natural quarry, even if he walked right over it.  In fact, he’d probably been awakened by some imaginary specter from a senile dog dream and was unable to distinguish it from reality.

I tiredly let him back in a few minutes later and stumbled back to bed.  My wife awoke and asked what he’d been barking at, and I told her it was nothing.  Finally drifting off to sleep again, I was awakened, not twenty minutes later by the same urgent barking.

This time, it was my wife who got up to let him out.  But as she put on her robe and headed for the doorway, she froze at the foot of our bed, next to the open screen window. “What is that?”

“What’s what?” I mumbled in fatigue.

“That breathing sound.”

I drug myself out of bed and moved to her side.  Together, we cracked open the blind and peered into the night.  We couldn’t see anything, but could definitely hear the deep, heavy, ragged breathing of something, just out of sight, along the front of our house.

“What is that?” she whispered nervously.  “I’ve never heard anything breathe like that before.”

“It’s probably Bigfoot!” I teased boyishly.  “I’ll get my gun!  You just go back to sleep.”

I grabbed in the closet, bypassing my rifle, and pulled out my air pump BB gun, the perfect weapon for chasing off a stray dog trying to take a dump in my yard in the middle of the night and ruining my sleep.  I put my dog into a back room and closed the door, not wanting to accidentally shoot him if he ran in front of the invader.

I came back to the front room and peaked through the blinds, looking for the annoyance.  It was too dark to see anything, but I could still hear the persistent, deep panting breaths of something in the front yard… something much bigger than the usual local invader.  Now awake, I had to admit that it didn’t sound like any type of dog I’d ever heard before.  It was far too large and beastly for any of the strays I’d normally seen around town.

I tiptoed over to the front door, flung it open and flipped on the outside light, instantly illuminating the front yard.  Standing in the doorway, I swung the barrel of the small gun back and forth as my eyes tried to adjust to the sudden brightness of the flood lights.

I couldn’t see a thing.  But then I heard it… the same low, rumbling exchange of air, from larger than average lungs, through an open salivating mouth.  Whatever it was, it was hidden behind the row of huge lilac bushes on the front corner of my yard.

“Go on, get out of here!” I hollered out into the darkness.  But the beast gave no sign of movement and the breathing continued.

Not daring to run outside in my underwear, I stood in the doorway for nearly a minute, listening to the breathing, my nerves getting the best of me as to what might actually be out there in the dark or night.  Finally the panting breathes faded away and I could hear them no more.

“It’s just a stupid dog!” I thought, trying to reassure and calm myself, as I came back inside and plopped down into the chair beside the window overlooking the front lawn.  “I’ll just wait here a minute.  If he comes back I’ll plink him and end this crazy business, so I can get some sleep.”

Sitting in the recliner, with the BB gun along my side, I accidentally drifted off.  I’m not exactly sure how long it’d been, but the next thing I knew, I was again awakened by my bawling beagle, which was still locked in the back room.  Coming partially into consciousness, I again heard the deep breathing, just on the other side of the screen window, not more than two feet from my face!

I jumped in startled alarm, my half-asleep senses still mingling with my jumbled dream as the words, “BIGFOOT” jumped into my brain.  With the BB gun still in my hand, I accidentally squeezed the trigger.  Having forgotten to put the safety on before drifting off to sleep, the gun discharged.  The small round projectile ricocheted off of the top of my foot with a searing sting.

Jumping around in agony, I let out a guttural yell and dropped the small gun to the floor.  Soon, everyone in the house was awake, wondering what the ruckus was about.

“He’s just old, probably having some crazy, senile dream!” my teen-aged son muttered before he and his brothers headed back to bed.

After I explained, my wife shook her head, chuckled at me and said, “Just come to bed and leave Bigfoot alone.”

I took one last angry peek out into the night, but whatever had been hanging around, was now long gone; no doubt scared off by my own monstrous cry.  Hobbling in shame, I followed my wife back to bed.

The next morning, as I was preparing to leave for work, I saw one of the neighbor’s dogs from down the road, walking by, dragging a long broken chain behind him.  He was a huge, hairy Husky with only three legs (having lost one to a shooting accident several years before.  Overweight and struggling on his limited limbs, he struggled for home with familiar, raspy, heavy, panting breaths.

Limping to my car, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself.  Here in the quiet little Southeast Idaho country town of Newdale, I’d actually shot Bigfoot.  Never you mind that it was actually my own big foot.

“You gotta love Idaho!” I thought to myself.  “You can’t get excitement like that in the big city!"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cotton Candy Conspiracies



Cotton Candy Conspiracies

            As a young boy I remember the excitement of going to my first carnival at the county fair.  All the whirling rides, flashing lights, people laughing and screaming, clowns walking around on stilts and food booths, were enough to give a young kid like me sensory overload.

            Of course, being just a young kid, my resources were very finite and limited.  I had already blown a few precious nickels and dimes trying to defy the laws of physics unsuccessfully tossing bouncing plastic rings around some too-large bottle tops in attempt to win some stupid stuffed animal.  I don’t even know why I thought a stuffed animal was that important to win anyways, as I probably would have only used for target practice with my BB gun at home. With my meager funds dwindling, I decided to use the last of my change on something that I knew would guarantee me some satisfaction… FOOD!

            The big question was what to get with the lonely, metallic coins jingling in my pocket?  The corn dogs looked good, but one didn’t look like it would even come close to filling me up.  The popcorn smelled fantastic, but when I saw another kid trip and dump his bucket of kernels into a pile of horse manure, I sort of lost my appetite for it (No offense, Mr. Orville Redenbacher – may you rest in peace).  And then my eyes caught site of a wondrous concoction which appeared too fantastically good to be true… Cotton Candy!

            It was like magic!  The guy behind the small table somehow waved this long paper cone around inside of this whirling drum, and bright colored candy began to grow out of nowhere in a giant, cloud-like apparition of heavenly, sugary goodness!

            To my childlike eyes, still looking up at the larger than life world around me, the mass of blue fluffiness on the end of the stick looked enormous, even to the point I wasn’t sure if that flimsy little paper stick would hold it up.  But when I emptied my pocket in exchange for the overwhelming treat, which was bigger than my head, I was surprised by how light it was in my hands.  In childish wonder, I thought, “How in the world could I possibly eat it all?”

            Gaping my mouth wide, I took an enormous, bite out of the side, but in some cruel trick, the sugary sweetness magically evaporated inside my mouth before I could begin to chew it!  “What happened?”  “Did I close my eyes and miss when taking my bite?”  But there was the divot on the side of its glorious puffiness as testimony that my aim had been true.  Bewildered, I tried again… and again.

            The result was the sadly the same every time!  It was disappointingly like eating sugar-air.  Nothing of substance to savor and gone in a flash, it soon left behind only blue stained hands holding a wilting paper stick and a sticky face and lips that seemed to attract every animal hair from the nearby petting zoo like a magnet. Oh, and a blue stained tongue for the next 3 days, which wouldn’t come clean no matter how many times I scrubbed it with my toothbrush.

            What trickery!  What deception!  How could have something that looked so enticing and appealing be so hollow and non-substantive?  As crazy as it might sound, my disappointing encounter with cotton candy and that rigged carnival booth resulted in me losing a part of my childhood innocence that day.  I became aware that the world of wonder around me, with its enticements of sweet, immediate satisfactions could be deceptive and leave me in a rather sticky mess.

            In a way, I guess I should be grateful for my unsatisfying encounter, because it taught me an important lesson about life.  So often in our search for satisfaction and gratification of our appetites and desires, we try to find it in things that are hollow, fleeting, unhealthy, and can leave our lives in a mess which doesn’t easily come clean.

            In a world of fast food and at your fingertips technology, with a seeming array of beckoning carnival-like attractions, which promise rewards and satisfaction for minimal effort on our part, it is easy to get distracted and spend our precious time and means on things which, if we are not careful, can leave us emotionally broke, with spiritually empty pockets.  The fluffy enticements of the world provide no substance for personal growth or lasting happiness.  Its attractions and “too good to be true” promises are just that, too good to be true.

            So no matter how much we might crave to consume our time with nothing but the quick fix, easily accessible, vanishing substance the world has to offer, we would all be better served to follow the wise advice of our parents to “eat your vegetables”, “be wise in what you spend your money on” and so forth.  If you find your life empty… consider what you are consuming with your time and effort.  It may very well be that you are partaking of things which are like the disappointing, hollow and vanishing cotton candies of the world.

            I have found in life that true fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction come from the things of real substance: QUALITY TIME WITH FAMILY, PRAYER, STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES, INTROSPECTIVE PONDERING, MEANINGFUL SERVICE TO OTHERS, and so forth.  These are the true, substantive meat and potatoes of the world in which we live, and what we should be consistently consuming in order to have a healthy and happy life!