Monday, March 10, 2008

Ricky Sprague's Tales of Regret

PROLOGUE:

In March 1991 I went to King’s Island, a popular amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio, about two hours east of my hometown back in Indiana. It was fairly common for me to make this trip, but this year I went not with my family, but with my friend Brian’s church group.

Brian and I rode all the rides together, and then when it was lunchtime, I said, “We have to go to Skyline Chili. That is the best stuff you’ve ever had!”

He’d never heard of it, but he trusted my judgment about food. Not about anything else, but that is neither here nor there. Anyway, we went to the Skyline Chili booth and I ordered the classic chili and spaghetti, while Brian ordered the “3-Way,” which is chili, spaghetti, and cheese; also a classic.

“This is great!” Brian said. “The only problem is, they don’t give you enough!”

We ordered two more helpings of our respective dishes, which amounted to about a pound and a half each of a good thing.

When it was done, our faces were covered in chili and our bellies were full and we were so content that it felt like everything was going to be alright, for the rest of our lives, which is unusual for high school seniors. We were so happy, and so content, that we couldn’t wait to get back out there and start riding the rides again. As we walked along, examining the map of the park, Brian sensibly said, “Let’s start out slow, since we just ate.”

I agreed. “Let’s do one of the kiddie rides, like the teacups that spin around!”

We made our way to the children’s area of the park. There was no line for the teacup ride, so we made our way to one of the giant teacups, took seats across from each other, and started the thing spinning.

The way the teacups work, there is a wheel in the center, and the riders spin the wheel, which in turns spins the teacup-shaped car in which you’re sitting. Then, once the ride gets going, all the cars spin around in a wide circle. The intensity of the ride is determined by how fast you want to spin yourself.

Brian and I were both young and strong, and we got that baby going!

But the ride was too short, and since there was no line anyway, we decided it would be fun to ride it again. We spun the hell out of that thing. Then we rode it again. And spun the hell out of it. Oh, how we laughed! It was fun.

But as our teacup spun, I realized the Brian had stopped laughing. Then I realized I wasn’t laughing either. And I realized that my stomach was churning madly.

“Oh boy,” Brian said, holding his stomach. “Could you maybe, stop spinning the teacup?”

“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.” We each put our hands on the wheel, trying to get it stop. Eventually, it did, but then the ride started up, so the entire teacup was spinning, almost like it was taunting us, and Brian and I sat there, our faces pale, holding onto our stomachs and trying not to throw up. That was not funny, and neither of us laughed.

Finally, the ride ended, and we both staggered out of the teacup and walked slowly, so as not to disrupt our delicate stomachs and send the food we’d just eaten a few minutes before back up our esophaguses, to a bench. We sat, and moaned.

“I hope I don’t throw up!” Brian said.

“What were we thinking?”

“You and your dumb Skyline Chili idea!”

“You didn’t have to go back for thirds, you know.”

“I’m never listening to you again!” It was the most sensible thing Brian had ever said.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” I said. “I’m never doing anything like that ever again!”

STORY:

Nine years later, in March 2000, I was working at one of the major movie studios in Hollywood, California, in an extremely menial “foot-in-the-door” position. I had several friends there, and one night we decided to go to the Saddle Ranch, a restaurant and bar on Sunset whose main attraction is a mechanical bull.

“We’re all going to ride the bull!” we’d agreed. I was looking forward to it.

I was there with my coworker Gary, my coworker Jeremy and his girlfriend, another coworker that I had a crush on named Kelly, my coworker Jennifer (a woman I also had a bit of a crush on, but who liked sports a little too much for my taste) and her fiancé whose name was I think Brian (not my friend from the prologue), and a couple of other coworkers, who were also cute women I had crushes on, whose names are lost to me now. It’s important to this story that you know that each of the women at this table was extremely cute, because our server was a man who was not blind. In an effort to impress them, he offered us free appletinis.

I’d never had appletinis before, and I belittled them, mostly because of the name. The name just sounds so cute. But what the hell, they were free, and I’ve had a standing policy, since junior high school, to never turn down free alcohol. So I accepted. Everyone accepted.

They tasted delicious. I say “they,” because the women didn’t want theirs, and gave them to me. Jeremy didn’t drink, so he gave me his. “It tastes like fruit juice!” I said.

Gary, who was more of a drinker than me, said, “That’s because they are. There’s hardly any alcohol in these things at all.”

We ordered. I got the plate of mini cheeseburgers and fries. I can’t remember what everyone else got, and I don’t think it’s important, but what is important is the fact that the server asked us how we’d liked the appletinis, and we all said they were great. He offered us some more, and we graciously accepted.

Everyone gave theirs to me, and I drank them avidly. As I drank, I realized just how much more charming and funny everyone seemed. I became more charming and funny myself. Everyone was laughing and having a great time, intensely interested in every observation I made.

One of them told me she thought I was drunk.

“Oh, please,” I scoffed. “I’ve had, what one-two-three-four-“ I pointed at each of them, counting off the drinks they’d given to me, but finally I got bored and said, “It’s just fruit juice anyway!” which got a big laugh.

I ate the plate of mini cheeseburgers in record time. They were good, but greasy. And I guess they didn’t mix well with all that fruit juice, because I started to feel a little queasy.

“So, when are you going to ride the bull, Richard?” Jennifer asked.

“Oh, man,” I moaned. I looked at the bull. Someone was riding it at that time, and the back and forth up and down movement it made was slightly nauseating. I stared at it, transfixed.

“You okay there, Richard?” Jeremy asked. “Uh-oh, he’s lost it! He’s gonna pass out! Look out!”

I turned back and smiled. “That’s not funny, because it’s true.” But I felt like they were challenging me, and I didn’t want to wimp out, so I was about to tell them, Yes, I’m going to ride that damned thing, but something stopped me. I cast my mind back to that day nine years earlier. The Skyline Chili Teacup Incident. Hadn’t I made a promise to myself never to do anything like that ever again? Yes, I had, and no, I wasn’t going to be stupid.

I finally said, “No, I’m not going to be stupid. If I ride that thing now I will throw up all over everything and embarrass myself, and they’ll probably charge me to clean it up!” There was more laughter, and promises to come back some other time, and ride it “Before Richard gets drunk on his ass!”

Later, as I was turning the key in the door of my car, Kelly asked me, “Are you sure you’re not too young to drive home?”

I laughed hard. “Kelly, you know I’m old enough to drive! I’m old enough to drink, and you have to be older to drink than to drive!”

She said, “I asked if you weren’t too drunk to drive, you jerk!”

“That’s not what you said,” I insisted. “You asked if I were young enough to drive, or something silly like that, which I am!”

“Alright, I’m not arguing with you,” she said, looking in my eyes. “Just drive safely.”

As I was sitting in my car, waiting for a break in traffic so I could pull out onto Sunset, I congratulated myself on my sensible decision. I got the break, so I pulled out, and I realized I was behind a police car, and it really helped to steady me as I drove. I followed it almost all the way home.

EPILOGUE:

About two months later we all went back to the Saddle Ranch, and I had every intention of riding the bull, but someone pointed out that the creators of “South Park,” Trey Parker and Matt Stone had shown up and taken a booth with a clear view of the bull, and there was no way I was going to make an ass of myself in front of those guys. “South Park” is probably the best show on television.

I guess I regret not riding the bull that night, but I have a feeling if I had ridden the bull, I'd regret that, too. That's the funny thing about regret.

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