My favorite uncle holds popcorn in one hand and an upside-down witch’s hat of pink spun sugar in the other, asks me if I heard about the big fight last night, the one where two suckers got licked. When he buys a bag of M&Ms, the red ones are missing, but it’s 1970 and the war is still cold and red is a communist color. That’s what he likes to tell me and I believe him because I think my uncle might be God.
It’s always night at Palisades Park and always 1970. The Hootenanny sweats music and the penny arcade pings and pongs. Maybe I’m a Kewpie doll, frozen in the same spot, looking out over the Hudson. The air smells of burnt candy. Mom and Dad are riding something. Or eating something. Or kissing. Everyone is impossibly young.
“Come on over!” the radio blares. We pile into Dad’s Barracuda, the one that will be stolen in Manhattan next year. Everyone smokes with the windows up and no one minds. Then they chew Certs and suck Tic Tacs on the way to the park. Funny how I remember the smoke clouds and the mint breath, but never our destination.
In my dreams, there’s a wrecking ball that swings and stops in mid-air, an earthly death star aimed at an apartment building where none of the tenants has ever uttered the word ‘fun.’ I don’t know whether to be afraid for them or not.
Dad went to Connecticut today, a strange and distant place that doesn’t pronounce all of itself. He brings back Chinese food from Lums and half-sours from a deli barrel. For reasons I will never be able to explain, these things go together. I read somewhere that the restaurant and the deli closed in the same year.
Sometimes I wake up and everyone is dead.
Next time we drive out to Palisades Park we go in the daytime and not in the Barracuda. My favorite uncle is back in college; Mom is in the front seat, crying into her fur collar. When the wrecking ball swings into Fairyland, she looks away. “They’ll put high-rises here,” Dad says.
One thing I know: It’s always night at Palisades Park and always 1970. The Hootenanny sweats music and the penny arcade pings and pongs. I’m a Kewpie doll, frozen in the same spot, looking out over the Hudson. The air smells of burnt candy, not dust. Mom and Dad are riding something. Or eating something. Or kissing.
Everyone is impossibly young.
Flick. Hit. Pocket. Cover. The rules of our game are simple: Mom flicks a sideways glance at Dad, ducks the words that fly in response like they’re going to hit her square on. I stuff my hands in my pockets to keep them obedient. My brother runs for cover. We play this once a week.
We used to have real Carrom nights with the lacquered board, the tiny wooden men, the single red queen, the powder that made you sneeze. Flick the striker, hit the queen into a pocket, cover her with a man. Flick, hit, pocket, cover. Aunt Sara said I was the best. I always covered my queen on the same turn.
Aunt Sara wore red lipstick that made her look like she ate kittens for dinner. Or children. Aunt Sara would smile at our father, sometimes let him win.
Once, I found an extra disk, painted it with cherry varnish, and tried to play with two queens. Mom said there could only be one. Aunt Sara agreed.
The only part of Aunt Sara we see anymore is a smear of red lipstick on Dad’s collar (cheek, earlobe) when he comes to pick us up on Saturday morning. We still play the game, still follow the old rules of flick, hit, pocket, cover. But I miss the board with its shiny-smooth inlay, the talc that slides you from corner to corner like you’re on an ice sheet, the single red queen nested in the center of her men.
I read on Wikipedia that Carrom is a competitive social game. It is commonly played by families, including the children.