Comedy v. Tragedy, Round 2

In this example of humor through pain, Jean Shepherd recalls a family trip to the county fair.

Context: the “old man” takes his two sons on his favorite amusement park ride, a “real gut buster” called the Whirligig Rocket Whip.  Once suspended in air, the old man loses his pocket change and his favorite fountain pen (the one with his name on it). That’s when the ride starts getting serious, as described in this excerpt:

Higher and higher we flew, swooping low to scream upward again. My kid brother, chalk white, whimpered piteously. I hung onto the iron bar, certain that my last hour had arrived. My head thumped the back of the car steadily as it spun.

“Ain’t this fun, kids? Wow, what a ride!” shouted the old man, sweating profusely. He made a grab for his hat as it sailed past.

“Wave to Ma, kids! There she is!”

It was then that the operator turned the power on full. Everything that had gone before was only a warm-up.  Our necks snapped back as the Rocket Whip accelerated. I was not touching the seat at any point. Jack-knifed over the bar, I saw that one of my shoes had been wrenched off my foot. At that moment, with no warning, my kid brother let it all go. His entire day’s accumulation of goodies, now marinated and pungent, gushed out in a geyser. The car spun crazily. The air was filled with atomized spray of everything he had ingested for the past 24 hours. Down we swooped.

“My new pongee shirt!”

Soaked from head to foot, the old man struggled frantically in his seat to get out of the line of fire. It was no use. I felt it coming, too. I closed my eyes and the vacuum forces of outer space just dragged it all out of me like a suction pump.

From “County Fair,” in Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories by Jean Shepherd

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