Saturday, November 29, 2008
Shocks and Bonds
(Author's note: here's something I wrote in Lynda Barry's Writing the Unthinkable Class. It's in the second person, but it happened to me in the 1980s)
Disneyland's Main Street Penny Arcade is full of early 20th century amusements. Most are in wood cases and cost a nickel. There's black and white slide shows, a wooden fortune teller, and a machine that will rate your kissing ability (with lightbulbs) when you squeeze the handle.
You're at the Electricity is Life shock machine. For a nickel you can test how tough you are: insert the coin, grab the two upright bars, and see how long you can hold on. An increasingly strong stream of electricity flows through your hands and arms. A dial measures progress.
Are you tough enough to take it?
You admire tough people in adventure stories. Do you have any trace of toughness? You've never taken a bullet or won a sword fight. Could you? Maybe the shock machine will tell.
The current starts as a faint buzz. It grows stronger as the dial rises, points up, than dips to the right. It hurts, slightly. Like a Novocain shot. Your arms grow stiff.
Don't wuss out! Hold on!
A bell goes off. The electricity stops. The relief is soothing, like you've dipped your arms in warm water.
You did it! You're tough! Okay, this isn't as tough as taking a bullet, but you didn't wuss out.
One day (you spent a lot of time at Disneyland) the machine is broken and gives shocks for free. Dozens line up for free shocks. Then everyone finds they can all get shocked together by holding hands, with members on each end of the chain touching the machine. It's an odd bonding experience.
Years later you question the saftey behind playing with a malfunctioning shock machine. And is it ethical to get shocks you didn't pay for? Or were you shocklifting?