| Nearing the end of my fourteenth summer, my mother dragged me screaming and pouting away from my friends, away from the daily ball games in the sandlot and my track toward a record season pitching, away from Becky Anderson who I was determined to kiss before fall. “I’m not leaving you here alone. That’s final.” Although I knew “that’s final” meant there was no hope, it didn’t prevent me from sulking, shuffling my feet and generally being a pain in the ass the entire trip out to the coast. “You should really be a little more grateful. Aunt Dot has been very good to us. I don’t know what we would have done without her these past few years. And now she needs us.” “These past few years”, was code for the time since that no good son of a bitch father of mine walked out on us, without so much as a goodbye. “Dot isn’t well. I don’t know what…” Mom trailed off into her silent tears again. So I sat quietly watching the dreary scenery of faded and torn billboards, announcing the wonders to be found at the pier. Wonders long abandoned by the summer hoards. What a way to spend my last days of freedom before the fall semester, climbing among the ruins of broken down merry-go-rounds, treacherous Ferris wheels, and bumper cars which had long lost the urge to bump. Aunt Dot had been somewhat of an attraction in her day, a contortionist, whatever the hell that was. When the pier fell on hard times Dot just couldn’t bring herself to leave the only world she’d known. We blew in with the trash to the far end of the abandoned boardwalk, where Aunt Dot lived alone in a small apartment above the old soda shop. “Get the bags, and don’t dawdle.” Mom rushed inside calling “Dot, where here. Don’t worry its just us.” Even the sky was faded, the sea calm and hazy with that fishy smell. I packed myself down with as many bags as I could muster. A quick hello, and the dreaded kiss leaving too much red lipstick behind, and I would be free. Free to explore these ruins. Free to pout, like the abandoned boardwalk.
“Come give your Auntie Dot a kiss. Oh my how you’ve grown. So handsome.” She kissed me smearing waxing red lipstick across my cheek. “Run along now. Aunt Dot needs her rest. Just stay out of trouble. And don’t wander to far. I may need you.” Freedom. I wandered aimlessly, only the sound of the surf, and occasional rusty whine of the mechanical attractions no longer in sync, as though they whined for the good old days.
The pier was sound. Most of the old carnie attractions still lined each side. The rings toss, rigged Dot had confided, darts, water pistols, bingo, the Beebe gun target shoot, with their sights slightly askew. I knew their tricks, though I’d never seen the pier in its hey day. Before my time. I held no sentimentality for these ruins, but I couldn’t help but feel the motion, the interlocking nature of it all, one sight leading to another and another, all designed to drive the pigeon around and around, disoriented, quick to spend, seduced my the music and lights and bells ringing to announce another winner. Though that winner had just spent $10.00 to win a trinket not worth a dime.
I reached the furthest point out on the pier and wandered among the faded horses of the merry-go-round, nothing merry left here. That’s when I heard a ticking, a rhythmic tick tock. I followed the sound down and around a lower section of the pier. Imagined it was where the more unseemly transactions took place, in the shadows, out of sight. The sound was coming from a well-worn red and white striped canvass tent. I pulled back the flap and was startled to see a mechanical man in a glass box, like those Zoltan fortune tellers, that usually guess your weight or some extremely vague prophecy, vague enough for the believers to make them work regardless. I must have triggered some mechanism as he sprang to life as I approached.
“Well, well, what a handsome young man.” Flattery, a tool of the trade. “Do you seek wisdom, knowledge, the ancient secrets handed down from the Oracles? Only those worthy may enter the inner sanctum, where the true nature of reality awaits.” Here it comes, the price, everyone with sufficient funds proved to be worthy. “Don’t mock me boy. What use do I have of your meager financial offerings? I’m offering you the story of life. All I ask in return is your attention and a vow that you will heed my words.” I remained silent. Looking for some hidden microphones, or trap doors. “I’ve not much time. Do I have your word?”
Yea. What the hell? Lay it on me old wise one. His mechanical frame leaned forward and he spoke in nearly a whisper. “Life is a clockwork. An intricate conglomeration of dials, and springs and cogs that all must work in sync else doom awaits. As with any mechanism, repetitions occur, some quickly, some on such a grand scale as to be imperceptible to the mere mortal. Look to the past to find your future. Wind the springs, oil the gears, respect the machine and you will master life. Become lazy, indifferent, and the machine will falter." He faded and fell forward. His energy drained.
An arrogant fool I failed to heed his advice. I married Becky, but failed to wind the springs, she left me. My mother moved into Aunt Dot’s small apartment, but I failed to oil the cogs, she passed alone. So now I sit, in this tattered canvass tent. Hoping for someone, anyone to hear my words. Heed my warnings. The only truth in a mechanistic world; everything eventually repeats.