Chowder, 10 cents!
Ride The Whipper -- The Sensation of the Age!
Eddie blinked hard. This was the Ruby Pier of his childhood, some 75 years ago, only everything was new, freshly scrubbed. Over there was the Loop The Loop ride -- which had been torn down decades ago -- and over there the bathhouses and the saltwater swimming pools which had been razed in the 1950's. Over there, jutting into the sky, was the original Ferris wheel -- in its pristine white paint -- and beyond that the streets of his old neighborhood and the rooftops of the crowded brick tenements, with laundry lines hanging from the windows.
Eddie tried to yell, but his voice was raspy air. He mouthed a "Hey!" but nothing came from his throat.
He grabbed at his arms and legs. Aside from his lack of voice, he felt incredible, as pain-free as a first grader. He walked in a circle, then a backwards circle. He jumped. No pain. In the last ten years, he had forgotten what it was like to walk without wincing, or to sit without struggling to find comfort for his lower back. On the outside, he looked the same as it had that morning: a squat, barrel-chested old man in a cap and shorts and a brown maintenance jersey. But he was limber.
So limber, in fact, he could touch behind his ankles, and raise a leg to his belly. He explored his body like an infant, fascinated by the new mechanics, a rubber man doing a rubber man stretch.
Then he ran.
He ran down the heart of the old midway, where the weight guessers, fortune tellers and dancing gypsies had once worked. He lowered his chin and held his arms out like a glider and every few steps he would jump, the way children do, hoping running will turn to flying. It might have seemed ridiculous to anyone watching, this stout old man in a brown maintenance jersey, all alone, making like an airplane. But the running boy is inside every man, no matter how old he gets.
And then Eddie stopped running. He heard something. A voice, tinny, as if coming through a megaphone.
"How about him, ladies and gentlemen? Have you ever seen such a horrible sight?..."
Eddie was standing by an empty ticket kiosk in front of large theater. The sign above read
"The World's Most Curious Citizens.''
Ruby Pier's Sideshow!
Holy Smoke! They're Fat! They're Skinny!
See The Wild Man!
The sideshow. The freak house. The ballyhoo hall. Eddie recalled them shutting this down at least 50 years ago, about the time television became popular and people didn't need sideshows to tickle their imagination.
"Look well upon this savage, born into a most peculiar handicap "
Eddie peered into the entrance. He had encountered some odd people here. There was Jolly Jane, who weighed over 500 pounds and needed two men to push her up the stairs. There were conjoined twin sisters, who shared a spine and played musical instruments. There were men who swallowed swords, women with beards, and a pair of Indian brothers whose skin went rubbery from being stretched and soaked in oils, so it hung in bunches from their limbs.
Eddie felt sorry for the sideshow cast. They were forced to sit in booths or on stages, sometimes behind bars, as patrons walked past them, leering and pointing. A barker would ballyhoo the oddity, and it was a barker's voice that Eddie heard now.
"Only a terrible twist of fate could leave a man in such a pitiful condition! From the farthest corner of the world, we have brought him for your examination "
Eddie entered the darkened hall. The voice grew louder.
"This tragic soul has endured a perversion of nature "
It was coming from the other side of a stage.
From The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. Copyright 2003 Mitch Albom. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Hyperion.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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