April 5, 2011

A Giant in Playland [justin]

You have to be careful where you touch the children.

No... let me start earlier than that and give a backgroundal anecdote. My first adult experience was somewhere in New Jersey. I was 20 at the time, and a small gaggle of high school seniors and myself were on our way to a friend’s parents’ beach house for the weekend. It was dark, but not late, when we pulled into the parking lot about an hour out from our destination.

For one reason or another, James, one of the seniors, and I decided to crawl around the subhuman-sized gerbil tubes, a collection of mass proportion in comparison to other golden arches locations. It must have been a full moon or maybe an overdose on orange drink or perhaps all Jersey children struggle with cannibalism, but for whatever reason, a pact of them decided we were a threat and started bombarding us relentlessly, some screaming Roman war phrases.

It’s a scary thing to be suspended in a confined space, far from home, hearing the guffaw of human hyenas, feeling the whole structure shake as they get closer. At the end of the the tube I’m in, I see a little girl slowly turn the corner with blood around her mouth... this is obviously ketchup from her happy meal, but with the florescent lighting casting shadows in weird places, she might as well have been a Zombie. And one thing is for sure, kid zombies (or vampires or disembodied spirits) are always more frightening than the adult version.

I quickly make it out to freedom, but James was stuck in section 4, between the cargo net and the firetruck wheel. The kids attacked from both sides and I remember James’ face peering out through one of of the small windows in the red tube with a look of disbelief, almost like he was thinking, “This is how I’m going to die?” What do you do in such a situation? You can’t hit the kids and saying anything in grown-up speak just kindles more rage (damn Power Rangers) that they’ve been suppressing since lunch time when Dad wouldn't allow seconds on the fruit roll-ups. So you cover your face with one arm, and your groin with the other, and push through to the escape hatch—that is, the slide.

James made it and we laughed about the whole thing with wide eyes. Parents just nodded with big grins about how athletic or imaginative or resourceful their little angels were in the pilage. It’s hard for parents to be objective with their kids in given situations. Typically we either exasperate our offspring with correction in trying to create a better version of ourselves or we get all starry eyed as we stare into Narcissus’ pool and say they can do no wrong.

Anyway, I digress. The invasion of elderly persuasion was 9 years ago and things have changed in my world. Now when this giant enters playland, his 19 month old daughter, a native ambassador, escorts him. This doesn’t make things perfect, but I have yet to be unrighteously ambushed in my travels with her. In fact now I have to be more aware of those without than those within the PVC tubing.

As we pull into the parking lot and my daughter realizes what we are doing, she gets uber excited, with arms flailing, saying “Yeah? Yeah?” in a way that means “Daddy, please don’t break my heart. If this is a tease, let me know now.” I enter in with her like any other onto the shores of playland; the only thing distinguishing me, initally at least, is that I have the cutest girl in the room. After her shoes are off, mine come off (using two cubby holes to my daughter’s one) and that’s where people start noticing me more.

It’s more than likely a Saturday morning so I’m wearing torn pajama pants with Adidas shorts over top of them; my hair, if not under a hat, is unkempt; my facial hair, typically not trimmed. None of these things really matter. But in some way, they do when you know your child is going to be in a confined area with this person.

Which brings me to the opening line. Once an adult enters playland and is cleared by the presence of their ambassador, they simply become a tool for the smaller kids to make it to the next level, usually in order to get to the bigger slide. In the space allotted typically it would be most natural and easiest to help the kids up by pushing on their butt, and while they wouldn’t think twice about it, a parent on the outside might. Instead, I suggest grabbing their chubby little legs, one per hand, and hiking them up that way... it’s surprisingly more awkward logistically, as sometimes they’ll flail in different directions as compared to the centered rumpus, but it is safer in terms of “why is that guy touching my kid?”

Another tip... don’t disappear for a long time. Sometimes my daughter just wants to spin the car wheel around and around and around in the back quadrant, which is fine, but when Johnny 5 comes to check out what’s going on and mom or dad can’t see him directly with the Giant, things could get sketchy in their minds. Also, stick to the corners, being careful not to block the windows to the outsiders for too long... drug deals can happen fast nowadays.

Oh, and for the love of God, watch your elbows. At the time of writing, I count six plastic brush burns from the slides. They are the kind that look sort of wet and white at first and then turn red and scabby later. Beware, my friends—Giants can be hurt, too.

Last note. If you are a young male and you’re going to enter the playland place fully, you are absolutely not allowed to have just a mustache for facial hair. People will automatically assume that the child with you was kidnapped and brainwashed... just avoid any possibility of that debacle and you should then fall under peaceable diplomatic legislation.


  1. This made me smile.

    It also made me think of the time that I took your little girl to the McD's playland and her poop rolled out of her diaper and landed on the concrete right below the picnic table I was changing her on. The family at the table next to us assured me that "it happens to everyone."

    I'm laughing right now as I type this. Thank you for sharing this wonderful image :)

  2. Hilarious principles. :) It's odd how ingrained the tendency to judge based on scruffiness or mustaches is.

    My favorite image: your friend peering out of the plastic tube, thinking "This is how I'm going to die?" That's vivid, believable, and totally funny.

  3. Oh man, the most frightening group to be attacked by is definitely children--I've experienced many gang-ups that had me hearkening back to the Lord of the Flies, wondering if my life might last much longer.

    It's interesting, the transition between contender (playmate) and overseer (adult). After a certain point, you're only the facilitator of play, which to some degree is natural, but at the same time... who knows?

  4. I particularly enjoyed the Johnny 5 reference.