As usual, walking north on Beach 116th Street and away from the Flight 587 Memorial, he kept his fingers tightly wrapped the roll of quarters in his suit pocket until he was safely past his decades-old temptation. Without incident, he took the A Train to the Train to the Plane, ultimately boarding a 737 heading southwest to meet his date, the first in years.
“Would you describe this date as ‘corny’? I mean, at our age. And aside from the fact that we’re eating corn dogs.” Devin, tall, an interesting combination of his Sami and Slavic heritages, wearing probably the only tweed suit at the Fare, hadn’t dated in a while and needed a soupcon of something, validation, enthusiasm, anything.
“I would call it a fine tradition,” Jill, a central casting southwesterner in sensible shoes told him, and gave him a peck on the cheek, careful not to get corn dog juice on either of them, and then continued. “The Greater Vinegaroon County Fare has been going on since the state was still a territory. Family legend has it that my great-great Uncle Japheth ran the ecdysiast tent, which of course was the gateway to, shall we say, even greater sin. I’ve got carny in my blood. So, even if it isn’t fine, it’s definitely a tradition. Relax, you’re doing swell. This is my third date from Eminence Gris. You’re the only one to show up in a car that wasn’t a truck, and with flowers, wearing clothes that suited you rather than what the kids are wearing now. The only thing missing was meeting my parents.” They both got a chuckle out of that. “How did you like the Blue Ribbon hog?”
“I never knew pigs cold have a belt pattern. I thought they were all pink or speckled. And why did the judge count nipples on the pigs?
“You’re probably thinking of the Landrace pigs, they’re the cute pink ones that might show up on a TV show, you know, TV Screwups and Agents Trying to Get Airtime for Their Clients, one of those. They count nipples on the hogs for genetic conformity to the breed. Some breeds can have up to 32 nipples. They count functional teats on the sows. Innies and pinpricks don’t count.”
“So farmers are really going to pay, what was it, $1,750 for DonJon to stand for stud? Don’t the farmers have their own boy pigs?”
“Devin, this is really what these fares are about, seeing the breeding stock up close and personal, rather than going by auction prices. But now you tell me. How did you get the bell to ring when six guys, all of them bigger than you, couldn’t do it? You’re in pretty good shape, but we’re both AARP material.
“Oh, Jill, should a physicist tell his secrets?” Devin’s date punched him on the shoulder.
“Well, this biologist just gave you a lecture on nipples. When was the last time you had a first date that included a discussion of nipples? I mean, before anyone coming in for coffee?”
“Fair enough. Moment arm, acceleration, and cosine theta. Most people hoist the hammer up high and swing. But the swing describes an arc, so the hammer is really coming in at an angle. The force is reduced by the cosine of the angle at which the hammer strikes. I stood on my tippy toes and squared the hammer like a baseball player who gets a sudden bunt signal from the coach. My cosine theta was nothing. And may I say that the cultured pearl necklace I won is quite fetching on you. Wow. Talk about a mixed marriage, a biologist and a physicist. Like Sheldon and Amy on Big Bang.” Devin, a trained observer, noted a reaction to the word ‘marriage.’ Jill, also a trained observer, noted her date observing. They came up to the Midway.
“Freak Show, anyone?” Devin tried to gauge if Jill was joking. But her pupils were dilated; she probably wanted to go.
“I still have lab space at the University for my virgin fruit fly work, but I’m on call for Middle School Bio subbing. Middle School. Now that’s a freak show. I understand the freaks are all performers now, no more exploitation of the unfortunate. That’s not the only thing on the Midway, you know. I understand the sword-swallower puts on quite an interesting performance. Shall we?”
“Surely!” With that, the pair went arm and arm to see what diversions awaited. Neither of them wanted their weights or ages guessed. Both of them had a professional interest in Madam Connie the Maddening Contortionist. Both of them, being of course, trained observers, discreetly took notes. Jill, as a biologist, cautioned against the Fun House; disorientation could be a lot of non-fun to those without the reflexes of youth or experience of convex mirrors and M.C. Escher floors. The Tunnel of Love won by unanimous voice acclamation. Their first kiss was also unanimous, but unvoiced.
“When you drive me home, do you think you’d like some coffee or something? I only ask because my coffee maker is now on the Internet of Things. I can have it start perking with the App.”
“Perked Coffee? Count me in.” Once again arm in arm, the smiling pair headed past the games of chance toward the parking field. And stopped at the Game of Skill. Skee-Ball. Indoor Bocce. The greatest gift of Brooklyn Culture. Devin’s hand dipped into the change pocket of his suit and he wrapped his fingers around the roll of quarters he always kept there, just in case.
“Do you mind if we roll a few? Old time’s sake for me,” Devin lied casually. “Did young Jill indulge?”
“I was a Fascination girl. We went to New York once a year to see a few Broadway shows; I would make my family wait outside the place in Times Square until I won at least a little something. Fascination never made it to Vinegaroon, probably ‘cause there was nobody to fix the machines if they broke. What about you and Skee-Ball?”
“We spent a summer in Rockaway Park one year. The 116th Street arcade rivaled anything in Times Square. Every day we, my little crew, would swim, nosh, lay out, then hit the arcade. Sometimes some of us would take the train into the city and bring a city girlfriend to the beach. The arcade let you bank the tickets you won. At the end of the summer I had 3,000 points. Enough for a fancy China service for six. I got it for my mother.”
“Very touching. So show me what you’ve got, Skee-boy!”
The first roll was a respectable 30, not bad for someone who hadn’t played in years. Then a few 10s and 20s and a gutter ball. Devin ripped the measly two tickets from the dispenser and fed another two quarters into the slot. This time he got one bull’s eye, 50 points, but three in the gutter. It was four tickets this time. A long way to a dining set. Just before the next set, Devin’s face lit up like Archimedes’ getting out of the bathtub. He fished his phone from an inside pocket, triggered an App, and then fumfered around looking for something else.
“I should probably put my glasses on for this; what an idiot I am.” The next set was five 50s, two thirties, a 10 and one flop. Thirty tickets. “That’s more like it, don’t you think?” Another 50 cents went in and 200 tickets came out, a perfect game plus the next game free. Devin was able to put his roll of quarters back in his pocket. People were gathering around, some were trying to compete, other people, of course, were taking action on the players and the games. The owner of the Skee-Ball concession was now permanently occupied in emptying quarters and replacing tickets in the twelve machines. Devin was up to 2,800 tickets which were transferred to the custodianship of his date. Then the tornado warning siren went off, heralding the closing of the Fare.
“You can’t close now! We have history in the making!” The Skee-Ball owner plus the Fried Oreo, Candy Apple, and 200 Kinds of Beer stand owners pleaded with security. One of the Fare guards was kin to the Oreo lady and he pulled strings to get management on the radio.
“There’s a World Record being set right now, right here in Vinegaroon! Can’t you give us another 20 minutes? How do you want the paper to read tomorrow? Fare shuts down Skee-ball World Record or Vinegaroon Sets World Record in Skee-Ball? There’s a reporter from the Republic Herald standing by,” the guard exaggerated; the reporter was ‘reporting on’ 200 Kinds of Beer.
“Jill, you wouldn’t think a place like this would have Montblanc and Moleskein as prizes, but here you go. 3,000 points in one night. A scientist can never have enough notebooks and pencils, don’t you think?”
“Spill it, tensor-analysis boy. What’s in those glasses?”
“Something I’ve been working on for some tinkering on Young’s Modulus. It requires ridiculously careful measurements. So I rigged up a Bluetooth UV-B laser rangefinder pair of glasses. I fed in my arm length and ball weight to the App. If I could hold steady enough to follow the red dot, which, admittedly, only I could see, I could range and hit any spot. Technically it wasn’t cheating, but neither was it playing by Hoyle. Still, the owner is going to get far more visitors tomorrow, bringing in far more revenue. Fair exchange, pun intended, don’t you think?” Jill’s answer was another peck on the cheek and shoulder punch.
Jill and Devin enjoyed their percolated coffee and the last remnants of the Viennese Table from her cousin’s wedding a few days before. Devin admired the collection of Kewpie Dolls and stuffed animals, all antique carnival prizes.
“I guess you were telling the truth when you said the Fare was in your blood.”
“Would I lie to you? By the way, what other kinds of spots can that thing find, old man?”
“It can analyze, locate, and target based on heat, galvanic response, material viscosity, and a bunch of other parameters.” Devin, not the quickest outside of his magisterium, caught the intent in his date’s question and gave her a shoulder punch right back.
The next morning, Jill organized breakfast and then woke Devin with more perked coffee, V-8 juice, and her own special cheesy eggs.
“So, how was I for an old fogey scientist?”
“Devin, my darling, I’ve been waiting to say this since I started thinking about trying dating again.” She pointed to the display of the most special prizes in her collection, and told him, “Honey, pick any doll from the second shelf.” And punched him on the shoulder.