Where everyone would love to drown

That summer I worked in a large Pepsi can selling sodas at the state fair. There was only room for me, the equipment, a leaning stack of cups and a bunch of bees. A stool where I sat pouring sodas all day, well into the night. Kids got drunk and tried to tip me over in the can. Once I got stung on the webbing between my fingers. And that’s about all that happened, except I made close to a thousand dollars in just three days.

I was barely 15 and didn’t have luxurious tastes. I bought James Bond paperbacks and Dungeons & Dragons figurines. I wasn’t into drinking or drugs and didn’t have a girlfriend so I bought IZOD shirts and corduroy shorts and then all my money was gone.

My friends in the other cans made more than me, they took some off the top. It was easy because everything was in cash, there were no sales records. The guy owned several cans and came by periodically to take all the cash. I guess I could have been robbed, working alone with all that money. Still it didn’t feel right stealing from the guy who gave me work. I’d learned my lesson on stealing before. And I’d never do it again, not until I started that job at the drug store. And learned how much men’s razors, condoms and blank cassettes really cost.

Working at the fair spoiled the magic of going there for fun. I was in the food court in the thick of it with the grease and fried funnel cakes. The lights and sounds of games, people screaming on rides. The sense that everything was coated in a greasy film, the ground oily and gray.

I didn’t have a girlfriend then but wanted one badly. And that’s where I met Sara Kearney, whose family owned a stand and traveled around setting up shop in rinky-dink towns like ours. I didn’t know the word carny back then either, so it’s funny Sara’s last name was Kearney. But I did know the Fleetwood Mac song Sara, and I was ready to drown in the sea of love. Where everyone would love to drown.

Sara came by my can for the first time and gave me a look I hadn’t seen before, like she was trying to do telepathy on me or put me in a spell. She had her hair tied back in a bun but some of it spilled on her cheeks and got in her eyes. She brushed it away and seemed self-conscious about how she looked, pretty in a way that didn’t need make-up. She was sweaty and plain-looking. But when I watched her walk away through the crowd and look back at me, I was in love.

I started popping by Sara’s stand on break. The guy who owned the cans came by every few hours to let me go pee or walk around. Sara’s parents had a game with a bunch of bottles on a table where you tossed plastic rings and tried to get them around the necks. She recognized me and offered me a free round. She laughed and teased me. She asked if I was from around here and what grade I was in. I wasn’t skilled at that kind of talk but it’s like riding a bike, you just get on and start wobbling down the street.

Later that night I found myself in the bleachers at the football stadium with Sara’s tongue in my ear and my hands on her hips. She wore the same pair of jeans every day, I could tell by the aspect of the holes. But unlike the other girls in my school who wore ripped-up jeans, Sara came by hers honestly.

It was the last day of the fair and that meant Sara would be off to the next town, so we made plans to see each other at the end of the night and share phone numbers. But when it was time to meet Sara wasn’t there, and I knew she wouldn’t be, trading phone numbers didn’t make sense anyway. It’s like we knew what we were supposed to do but saw the uselessness in it. And part of me wished I hadn’t even met her.

But I did have a note she’d put in my hand that first time I visited her stand. It was just a scrap of paper and she’d written in pencil, Your cute in that can! I hope we CAN meet sometime!!! It made me smile, she came through on the paper somehow. With a little smily face that meant she liked me by the way she drew the eyes as hearts.

I didn’t know anything about anything back then. I was lost in my James Bond novels and D&D campaigns drawing maps on graph paper. Dreaming about being with a girl and some day growing up, getting out. Following those voices on the radio as they lifted me up and drew me to a place you imagine only exists for grown-ups. A place called experience.

We heard hints of something real in those songs about love and wanted to go there. Even for all the loss and wisdom it would bring. The heartache it seemed was part of the whole thing and that’s what they were singing about. You could have it but you’d lose it too.

Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: ,

30 replies

  1. Shit, those feelings, that look. I remember it all so well. It’s like an old injury, you feel it when it rains. Love this bit of nostalgia.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh my gosh! You’ve summoned to the surface long-past memories of learning to be with a BOY (shudder!) At a carnival in a small town (where we were classmates newly established as girlfriend-boyfriend, a first for both) – I wanted him to kiss me and he just wouldn’t – so I kissed him! Found out later his reluctance was he’d had a cigarette and worried I would be judgmental! My first lesson in patience with romance …

    Thanks for my surge of recall. Good to recognize the role long-past connections played in shaping us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why does it always happen after the fair? There’s something in that lemonade maybe. I’m happy I triggered a memory for you Jazz and thanks for sharing. There’s the seedy underbelly of fairs too obviously and I’m glad I was able to restrain myself from going there, this time…ha ha! To cigarette breath and worse!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When I saw your title, I felt compelled to listen to “Sara” while reading. Found this version, which fits the bill for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this, know this one by heart, worked a concessions trailer at the county fair when I was 15 and crushing on the blond runner. Never ate cotton candy or a corn dog after that…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish I had a cigar box full of all the tiny notes from school, to kick off memories like this, 99% cringeworthy I guess never mind. I really enjoyed this story, 007.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a lovely, warm remembering. I love stories like this, especially when they have a soundtrack. Can we look forward to a drug store tale or two? (With enough setting to skill up a foreigner!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there Bruce, thanks for reading and happy this was up your proverbial alley! I had to reach as this was more than 35 years ago, but it was fun. Will see about the drug store, thanks for that…!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey Bill, I really enjoyed this story and the way it has been written.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey David thanks for that! Good to hear and hope you’re well. Happy Friday to you!


      • Hi Bill, this was so good I suppressed my natural inclination to make self deprecating jokes, if they can be called that, like not wobbling, merely oscillating to describe my romantic sway.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey you! Wobbling always welcome here, along with the self-deprecating jokes…but thank you, happy you enjoyed the piece David. Hope you’re enjoying your weekend now, too. Best, Bill


  8. How funny, I worked at the zoo when I was 14. No Pepsi can, just me by myself in a wooden shack selling popcorn, sodas, and cotton candy. No one loved the cotton candy more than the bees. And no register, of course. Just a cash drawer, a board with a list of prices, and my brain to do the math. Didn’t skim off the top, though. In fact, I added a twenty once when I came up short. I was short a lot more than 20, but 20 was all I had. When I told my supervisor I needed off because I was going on vacation with my family, he said, “are you coming back?” It hadn’t occurred to me to not come back, but since he offered, I thought about it for a second and said no.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s brilliant, the not coming back part. And the math vs the cash register. Man, those bees. I remember the kind of horror I had watching them wiggle and burrow into the soda taps. I tell you, memory is so funny isn’t it? About 10% of this piece was pretty accurate and the rest I cobbled on top. Was a fun exercise that way. And odd – slash existential when you think in a way, our lives are that looking back, only a sliver of which is “real,” the rest either missing or made up. I can’t seem to let that go, and kind of won’t. Anyhooie, you go Texas! I’m proud of you guys. And that march at the end of the month too. Good to see people doing something.


      • I’m not sure if he was joking or didn’t want me to come back, but it seemed like a good idea not to. Yeah, the bees were ferocious. I’m sure one or two made it into a customer’s cotton candy. But woah, the cobbling? A 90/10 split is … quite a split. But you’re right, we definitely have stories of ourselves that we tell ourselves, and end up believing. There is an entire therapy model built around that — it’s called narrative therapy. Don’t like the story of you? Change it! As for the march, I’m hoping that not many people along the route are exercising their “constitutional right” to pack a gun without any training. Good thing we still require a license for the really dangerous stuff, like fishing, or cutting hair. But yes, people doing something is good. We’re not ALL backward-ass unhinged cowboys down here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Narrative therapy, makes sense. Worked quite nicely for our man the Donald, dinnit? Don’t like it? Change it! Ha ha ha!


      • And you know I think I’ve done similar as an adult as recently as a year ago, when asked if I was coming back or taking time off. Given the option it seems the gut prevails over the head sometimes.


      • Thank goodness for the gut.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Enjoyed reading about you and Sara, the lovey dovey innocent mushy tale and cuteness. It makes for a beautiful story that you should write in a short story form or book, someday. Wow! 1000 dollars in 3 days that was big and even in today’s times. I admire you man for your work ethic and very few people have this honesty in them. Mind-blowing piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey man, thanks for this! You and I have been connected a while now and I’m grateful we found each other. Admire your persistence and passion as writer too as we both spend our lives trying to figure this out and writing our ways through it. Be well, Vishal!

      Liked by 1 person


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