Cold Coffee Chronicles

Poetry, fiction, children’s stories, and more

The Boardwalk

 Carnival Games

Pit, pat, pit, pat, the clap of the man’s feet matched the rhythm of the tide. His shoes sunk into the grains of sand. When he turned around, he could catch a glimpse of the waves claiming the prints as their own. The sky matched the cotton candy he’d sold earlier in the day to kids that swamped the boardwalk. Halting his pace, he studied the tip of God’s cigarette smoulder in the horizon and then accordingly flicked his butt into the sea.

Oh if only I had twenty more minutes to myself, he sighed,  Then I could really relax my brain before reporting for duty. Images of the children sticky-mouthed shrieking in delight at the inflatable prizes, vomit-inducing rides, and sugary treats ran through his mind. Working at the cotton candy stand was Thomas’ most enjoyable job of the day, he didn’t have to deal with the drama that comes hand in hand with carnival games. These games are an entity unto themselves at the Coney Island Boardwalk. Hordes of humans flock to this location to eat a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. Adventure seekers will wait more than thirty minutes to catch a peep at the freak show. And yet, games magnetize the most volatile crowd of all the attractions at the boardwalk. Since Thomas had taken up the evening shift at the “Bucket O’ Fun”, he had become accustomed to handling these gamers.

He ran the “Bucket O’ Fun” with an iron fist.  The directions to the game were printed in fierce, black font and screamed ordinance with the rules at all times. In order to play, one must firmly grasp a baseball sized plastic ball. Then, while standing six inches back from the counter separating the player from the bucket, the contestant must precisely toss the ball into the container. If the ball lands and stays in the goal, the player m is awarded a prize of his or her preference. However, winning at the “

Bucket O’ Fun” is an accomplishment many cannot claim. Even with the guaranteed three chances of a shot at success, the win ratio stays abnormally low at Thomas’ stand.

Swiveling back towards the boardwalk, he absorbed the stimuli flashing, singing, and smelling that emanated from the wooden stretch of amusement. Strolling along the planks, he craned his head up to admire the Ferris wheel. Glowing with neon exuberance, this wheel towered over the entire park. Red, white, and blue proudly pulsed across its framework as it took its passengers on a 360 degree tour of the Brighton Beach neighborhood.  This was the place he called home for longer than he cared to remember.  As he waltzed back to set up shop, he noticed the faces of his Coney Island comrades. Stu and Blake operated the dunk tank next to the “Bucket O’ Fun”. They all grew up on the same apartment floor from birth until they reached the age of abandoning the nest, and it would be fair to say that they were his best friends.  Stopping to chat, he felt the temperature drop and the breeze blow. A summer storm would be a welcome break from the scorching sun his skin had been subjected to all day.

“You guys smell that?”

“Hey man! Mhmmm, looks like rain I’d speculate”, replied Stu.

“Whew! Much needed. I feel like a raisin standing out here all damn day. Still got a couple more hours, too.”

“Yeah, maybe we can book it outta here earlier than usual, you know how this place clears out in a storm. Show me one person who wants to walk around during the storm tonight and I’ll personally pay your tab later on at The Didymus. No one wants to eat a soggy corn dog”, stated Blake with confidence.

“You got yourself a deal bud. With my luck I’ll get a lingerer as soon as you all have cleared out. Can’t wait for the date!”, and swift finger-gun motion, Thomas shuffled along.

Thunderheads rolled in over the Atlantic while he started counting the wooden nickels he’d collected from the park’s stragglers. The midway was virtually deserted when Thomas observed a figure moving his way. Last one of the night, he thought to himself. Plastering on a carnivalesque smile, he greeted his challenger with a bellowing, “So you think you got what it takes?” The whole charade was his enjoyment.

“Well of course sir. What kind of game is this here?” creaked a soft voice like the squeaking of an old porch swing.

Thomas hadn’t been able to distinguish what this character looked like, but as the speaker stepped into his vision he saw she was an elderly woman. He determined it was an oddity for such a creature to be found in such a place at such an hour engaging in such activities. However, he wasn’t a man of prejudice and proceeded with his game. He stretched out his hand to receive the expected payment and she let out a giggle. Wiggling her finger at him like a teacher scolding a naughty pupil, she reached into her satchel and produced a worn ebony box. Gold flowers ingrained into the top and sides of the chest gleamed under the stand’s halogen lights. As she opened the latch of the box, a breeze ruffled her shawl and a matching gold flower was exposed for only a moment. She dipped her hand into the box and pulled out a stack of cards. Thomas had seen these cards many times before, and could never grasp their appeal to people. They conjured up images of people he equated with those on a one way track to nowhere. The woman laid the tarot cards face down on the counter and instructed him to cut them.

“Listen lady, you came over here to play my game, not to swindle me into some gypsy hocus-pocus.”

“Sir, if you wish to deem my personal endeavors as hocus-pocus then so be it. However, as two individuals engaged in the realm of chance, I propose you play your part and I’ll follow suit”, she tapped the deck and gazed into his face.

Frustration began to swell in his chest, while he analyzed the situation. “So you’re suggesting to me that if I let you read my tarot cards, you’ll do it for free and fork over the dough for this game?”

“Sir I am suggesting that we exchange talents for our mutual benefit and experience”, replied the woman, “And as I’m sure you’re aware, a storm is inching nearer by the minute. Let us not waste our time together.”

Wanting to get on with it, he snatched the cards from the counter. Cutting, stacking, and placing them down, he waited for her turn. Taking the deck, now cut in two stacks, she told him to direct her in the placement of the cards in a straight line. After arranging them, he indicated which cards to flip over and expose. It wasn’t his first time at the rodeo and although fortune telling wasn’t a pastime of his choice, he knew what to expect. He was quite skeptical.  An Emperor, a moon, a Joker, and a Sun were flipped up and the woman’s eyes shone like rhinestones. Slowly great pearls of rain dropped from the sky, yet none of them hit the cards.

“Well sir, here you have the Emperor revealing a past pocked with control and ego. This Moon to the left symbolizes the transition from that era in your life into you present situation…”

“ Blippidy blah blah blah”, said Thomas saracstically.

“Hmm”, she continued without even batting an eye. “The Joker you’ve selected depicts an area of grey in your current situation … perhaps there’s a dilemma occurring and you’re not even conscious of it, or maybe you’ve gotten lost. Either way this Sun signifies a light rapidly approaching in your future. You’ll have to be aware and prepared for it or else this prospect will flitter on through your grey cloud without the slightest hint of existence”. And with a swift scoop she slid the deck into the container and dropped it into her satchel.

Thomas caught a glimpse of the antique flower dangling under her shawl, and in an instant it was veiled again. It reminded him of the sunflowers his aunt used to plant on the top of their apartment complex when he was young enough to care about the delicacy of a blossom. That was before he discovered the same golden tint could intoxicate his mind in the form of beer sold for 75 cents at the pier. The glistening condensation that dripped from those bottles ran down the merchant’s arm as they grabbed the containers. Drops ran down his hand and throat quenching his thirst and soothing his mind, much like the rain-drops that streamed on the canvas roof of the “Bucket O’ Fun” booth…

Ah, oh, ahem, well thank you ma’am”, stammered Thomas as his mind shot back to reality. “Seems as though it’s time for you to hold up your end of the deal. It’s starting to get soggy out here”.

“Of course sir! Do you suppose I have a fair shot at winning one of those prizes?”, inquired the woman while pointing to the oversized Mickey Mouses and Garfields.

“C’mon now! What do I look like? Everyone’s got a swell chance at the ‘Bucket O’ Fun’”, he belted out in a whimsical melody. “All you have to do is take this ball and toss it into the tub”

Extending her withered arm to its maximum length, she tossed the ball into the bucket and WHIZZ!! It rocketed straight out of the container.

“Okay! Two more chances now! You’ve got quite the slingshot on your arm there!”, sang Thomas.

Each throw bounced out with more ferocity than the last, and soon all her chances were exhausted. “Seems as though I’m simply not cut out for such games” sighed the woman as her eyes flashed towards the bucket. They shone like the flower tucked away under her flowing shawl. “Perhaps not all can have a fair shot here”, she murmured as she turned to walk away into the downpour that coated the boardwalk with brackish rain.

Thomas realized that she must’ve discovered his trick. She had to have seen how the balls pop right off the bottom of the container, he contemplated. For some reason he felt a fog of guilt creep over his conscience, and until now, he’d never experienced that feeling after all those years of ripping off kids. He yearned to yell at her to come back and allow some sort of justification for his tricks, but she had vanished.

At The Didymus later on with Stu and Blake, he recounted the tale of the mysterious woman. He told it in part because he was still dazed, but mainly because he had to prove the story true in order to receive his free drinks. “Ha! What a crazy old coot!”, laughed Blake.

“I can’t believe you went along with it and even feel the slightest bit of guilt, man” snorted Stu into his bourbon.

“Yeah, you’re right”, reasoned Thomas as he swilled back his lager. Draining the remainder of the mug, he spied a shimmering object at the bottom of his glass. With a shaky hand he fished out a golden flower soaked in suds. With a gasp he ordered another round and shoved the trinket into his pocket. He finished his foamy glass in silence and slushed home alone with only the sharp rain as his company.

As the sun rose, Thomas walked back to his booth at the “Bucket O’ Fun”. As he lifted up the canvas cover, hundreds of brilliant golden blossoms poured out from under the fabric. Flowers spilled out onto the walkway and fell through the cracks of the boardwalk. When Thomas brushed away the blooms, he noticed a tarot card taped to the spring-loaded bucket. “Not everyone gets a fair shot, but maybe you can help even the odds, Thomas” was written on the back, and he noticed the spring had been removed from the bucket. From then on, Thomas’ favorite station was the “Bucket O’Fun” because there was nothing like seeing a kid march off with her favorite Mickey Mouse toy. 

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About Me

An English diarist and naval administrator. I served as administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament. I had no maritime experience, but I rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and King James II through patronage, diligence, and my talent for administration.


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