David Mohan has work forthcoming in or has been published in Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Opium, SmokeLong Quarterly, FRiGG, Contrary, elimae, NANO, and The Chattahoochee Review. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
What sort of Angel guards the gates to this abomination on Surf Avenue?
A fallen one surely. Fallen and made caryatid to immensities of tacky glamour. We queue for hours in her cloud shadow, ogling cigars in store windows, sodas, making faces at the girls in Zollies’ Coney Island Pharmacy. The mood of the line is Samsonian circa Gaza—mutinous whispers all over.
Mostly, the dissenters’ murmurs go, “Will it match Luna Park?”
I’ve read the flyers you find posted around town. This place is the best new story—you’ve just got to see Buffalo Bill’s Congress of Rough Riders of all Nations, not to mention the midget city or you just ain’t in the know. After a while in the cool shade of the arch I crumple these rumours up in my mind, then let my fist release a paper ball of anxiety. The street gathers it up in a sea breeze, taking it off to pollinate some other sucker.
Then we’re moving and it’s an amazement, a wonder in its own right. Hold on tight, I say, passing under the naked breasts of our patron sea goddess, my street hat doffed out of respect.
We pass through and there it is, the promised land—our waterfront paradise. And it’s most definitely a little bit pagan in its style of decor—more Olympus than Heavenly. All kinds of Classical mock ups. I can see people grown a little bit wary and foolish under the shadow of such grandeur. It’s not a get-your-hands-dirty-kind-of-place like Luna. It’s more a tread carefully, don’t-get-the-pedestals-grimy sort of joint.
I can see awe on people’s faces, but it’s mixed with the sort of buttoned-up feeling you get when you pass into the foyer of a too-fancy hotel. Is this place for the likes of me, people’s eyes seem to say. Are you allowed to smile out loud?
It doesn’t have the easy grace of the old Arcade Bathing Pavilion or any of those grand follies you could raise a toast in without feeling out-of-place.
I proceed in an in-flowing mob down one of Dreamland’s broad avenues. Woo, there goes The Canals of Venice. Is that the Doges’ Palace? As close to a facsimile as you can get, and look now at old Frank Bostock’s circus converted into a proper Animal Arena. Will there be fighting tigers? Will there be gladiators? Can we turn our thumbs down and boo?
No sign of the midget colony yet, but there’s a rather fine Japanese Teahouse you won’t pass every Tuesday, and here’s another Steamship arriving with boatloads from Manhattan and beyond as though this were a Deep South nighttime regatta. And here’s the infamous Baby Incubator where only the best kids sleep. Form an orderly line to view the new-born infants—blue ribbons for boys, pink for the little misses.
Our pace quickens, all of us excited by the prospect of the main attraction, the amusement that, on paper at least, seems to promise the most. Better than the circus or the dancehalls or the white Beacon Tower, or C. E. Boyce’s Over and Under the Sea. It’s the ride that will take you furthest of all—Creation, the Biblical boat ride that ferries you across Christian versions of the Styx to the birth of time itself.
The lines here are themselves near-Babylonian, the ushers Old Testament severe. We’ve waited some and so we can wait some more, especially when the ride in question is the ultimate epic made landscape.
When our time comes, I and a cast of the uncountable stream in and strap ourselves in place, waiting for motion, commentary, revelation.
The boat jolts forward and we’re off—here’s the desert prophets, the Kings, the Patriarchs. Here’s Moses, Abraham, Jezebel, the whole gang. Then we become less Nevada and more Amazon. We leave behind the lightning-struck cities of the plain and head towards the menageries of Eden, the squawks and snakes, the lush orchards, here’s Adam, there’s Eve and the Satan-snake. The old story gets played out as theatre, as mime-show diorama. Then the boat turns and some dames begin to scream as the sky goes dark. They start up the lightshow of the stars, the planets, the attendant-moons. We become church-reverent, hushed, chilled, waiting for the big spark, the whoosh that will take us back into the waterfront air like a fizzing Catherine Wheel, fried by sermons, and certain as lawyers we’ve just witnessed the absolute origin of everything.