By the time I decided it was “only” 5 stories high most of the damage had been done. I had been standing at the base for several minutes and watched as little humans were dropped in, looped over then shot out of the tube like wet bullets painted with smiles. It felt like a good idea, an opportunity to lasso in my age and replace it, for just a minute, with youthful exuberance.
Cathy tried to steer my attention elsewhere. She reminded me about the time I spent hobbling around Navy Pier with chunks of elephant ears pasted down the front of my shirt because the swings that looked “harmless enough,” crippled my equilibrium. Deep down I knew she was right, but when a beautiful Siren calls, the temptation can be too much for a mere mortal such as myself to resist. The curves, the lines, the laughter… Ooh man, I knew it was not to be trusted. You know, there was a time (1997) when I thought I was some kind of low-grade superhero (outsmarted a rabid dog): Jim Noonan, born with the innate ability to steer clear of sketchy situations and the ulterior motives people tend to hide in casual tomfoolery. That was a top 5 summer. Now, I approach life like a baby in a mid-life crisis. Common sense begs me to stay away, but an unreasonable amount of curiosity and fraudulent machismo often convinces me to follow the pretty woman who “Pssts” me down a dark alley.
“It looks like fun right? I mean… it’s a slide, just a big wet slide. It’ll be fun - - Right? Right?!” I beg her to agree; she doesn’t say a word, only motions that she and the girls will be waiting for me at the Lazy Lagoon. As they walk away, my inner demons give way to battle once more. Pro. Con. Pro. Con. I can make the right decision. For the love of God, I have 38 years worth of experience on this Earth and I know, I KNOW, that if you’re wrestling with the idea of doing something for more than 30 seconds, odds are you should take a deep breath and walk away…WALK AWAY!!! The Lazy Lagoon looks nice, but it doesn’t look exciting, so I begin to climb.
I have little to no emotion while I mosey up the stairs. I’m neither nervous nor excited. I’m just a confident grown-ass man going against my better judgment.
As I stand in line, I begin to collect a bit of crucial information that was overlooked or undisclosed during my decision making process. First, from the base of the slide, 5 stories doesn’t really seem that tall, but as I stood on the platform I was convinced I could see Germany. Second, you have to step on a huge digital scale before you enter the slide. Your weight and a green light determine whether or not you have enough mass to send you through the loop. I mean, there’s an honest-to-god weight, velocity, and gravity formula involved. Finally, the door. You didn’t just go up, sit on your butt and gently push yourself down. No-no-no, you step into half a tube and onto a piece of clear Plexiglas and then told to cross your arms so as not to have them separated from your body during the fall! Next, a steamy milk-ish colored door seals you in, “Clank. Whoosh. Next?” The 6 kids behind me seemed really excited, so I let them cut in front. I let another one jump ahead, because I felt my suit was not properly tied and when I thought I heard some loose change in my pocket, I let a couple more kids go while I looked for it. Then...
“Hey buddy, you’re up,” says a small prepubescent voice.
I look over the edge and see Cathy and the girls waving at me from that lovely, Lazy Lagoon. From up here, it looks a little nicer, maybe even a little exciting, but I do not wear defeat well. I turn for the scale. With one foot on, I’m halted by a 16-year-old in a red tank top, who is apparently running this operation, “You can just hop right in, you’ll go down just fine. In fact you’ll go faster than most these kids.” I’m not sure if he’s being efficient or insulting me. In either case I thank him and proceed to step into the tube. I look down at my feet and realize I’m floating above the rushing waters as they spill inside down throat of this thirsty demon…. I-immediately-regret-my-decision-to-partake-in-such-a-ridiculous-and-callus-act-of-arrogance.
“Cross your arms over your chest and keep them like that until you get to the bottom.” The boy in the red tank top yells. I nod, but I don’t know why. I want to step out, but the door begins to close around me S-L-O-W-L-Y. I begin to hyperventilate and the clear tube is starting to fog up from my heavy panting. Suddenly, I remember that scene from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure where a time traveling Napoleon has this euphoric wet slide experience at Waterloo in San Dimas, CA. He’s smiling, laughing and slowly twisting through the turns, it’s pure joy. That’s what I want, that’s the kind of slide I should be on... not this! THIS is some NASA astronaut training shit, that's about to go down. I hear a voice.
“Three.” It’s a countdown. It’s a prerecorded robot lady voice and it’s not comforting. I look at my feet.
“Two.” It’s not a lady; it’s the sound of the Devil. It’s the voice you hear when you play a Sheryl Crow album backwards! My chin is quivering.
“One.” The floor gives way and for a split second I hover above the hole like Wile E. Coyote after realizing he has just raced a bit to far over the cliff. Then my body begins to fall leaving my head level with the boy in the red tank top. I hold up a sign that says “Yikes!” I try to let out a scream, but the only sound to come out of my body was a very faint “Oh.”
The speed at which my body begins plummeting to Earth had only ever been achieved in a dream. I tried to close my eyes but the force of resisting air has my eyelids peeling over my forehead. I feel no sense of joy, no exhilaration; just regret. I see visions of fire, war, steam, babies crying and raw meat… It’s clear I’ve hallucinated myself into a U2 video.
The loop is a non-factor; I’m going way to fast to even remotely comprehend the fact that I’ve just defied gravity. My main concern is my swim trunks, which are stuck so far up my ass I can feel mesh on the back of my throat! What started as a small wet wedgie has progressed to the point where I’m manically worried that this colon-cleansing ride will rip me lengthwise into two pieces. And then… It’s done. It's over.
I’m spit out of the tube and down a long straight-a-way. The water is a bit deeper and my feet provide the resistance needed to slow me down. At the end of the ride stands another boy in a red tank top. I look at him and I’m overcome with emotion. I literally have no idea what to do. He has no sympathy or compassion for what just happened, he simply tells me to move. I stand up, but there’s more blood in my head than my feet, this makes me hobble. As I pull my shorts down off my nipples I’m suddenly overcome by that weird panicky don’t let them see you cry in public feeling. My eyes well up and I begin that bottom-lip-sucking-in-silent-cry you get after having the air knocked out of you, or after being hit in the face by a baseball.
The only legitimate option I had at this point was to run away, run far away from slide.
By the time the girls stop me from frantically meandering through the park, I’m back to my normal shade of pasty white and my eyes have stopped watering. They’re eager to hear about the ride. They ask about the temperature of the water and how many steps there were. They ask how long the line was and if there was a lifeguard. Finally, they ask whether or not I’ll be going back down? I hug them. I hug them hard. Cathy has that “I told you so look” on her face. I kiss her and I want to renew our vows. I ask the girls about the Lazy Lagoon, “BORING!” they both screamed. “Nice,” I replied, “let’s go there.”