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The Agony and the Ecstasy
Part 1 - Steeplechase
(Some adult content)
When I fly into La Guardia on the southern approach I can look down and see the
Coney Island Housing Project. It's a prison-like complex of red brick, built in
haste with little love or respect for the people who live there -- a form of
residential regimentation you can find on the outskirts of any major city in the
world. In happier and simpler days it was the site of "Steeplechase" Amusement
In those days Steeplechase was called "The Funny Place." It was a wonderland of
merriment and uncorseted fun. No matter who you were, rich man, poor man, beggar
man, thief, you could have a good time at Steeplechase. It was a steel frame and
glass structure built in 1897 then torn down to make room for the project in
1964. There has been little love or laughter there since.
Steeplechase was America's first Disney World, conceived and built by George C.
Tilyou. It was Maxim Gorky's favorite place in America. Imagine! Not the Library
of Congress, not the Lincoln Memorial -- STEEPLECHASE!
The way it worked was like this -- you bought a ticket, one dollar; that's it.
The ticket entitled you to one admission and one ride on every attraction in the
park. They called them "attractions." Some of them were as simple as ten minutes
on the dance floor, or the privilege of looking at yourself in a warped mirror,
or maybe having your fortune told by a stuffed swami in a glass box. The
grandest attraction of all was the ride on the steeplechase itself, a
breathtaking sprint on wooden horses set up on trolley rails. They
circumnavigated the entire park complete with hairpin turns and even a brief
sprint out over the heads of strollers on the boardwalk.
There was a carousel with chickens instead of horses. There was a magic
elephant. There was even a clown with an air hose who blew the skirts of
unsuspecting ladies sky high. No wonder Gorky loved it, how could a man not have
fun in a place like that? On a more serious note, many a maiden had been
de-flowered there, and conversely, many a lusty young male discovered forbidden
fruit there -- there, riding on a papier mache chicken built for two, the secret
of life might suddenly reveal itself. Ah Maleness!, Ah Femaleness!, Ah
(I hope you'll pardon me, I am an elderly gentleman, and such thoughts may
appear unseemly in a man my age. I hope you’ll forgive me, but the memory of
Steeplechase is still a magic elixir that still stimulates me more strongly than
the first Martini of a long winter evening.)
I was seventeen at the time, full of pimples and unrequited satisfaction. All my
friends had been "laid," (we called it that in those days) a term I hope has
been changed for the better today. I had not .... been laid that is. The
fantastic sexual adventures of my high school friends stirred my being. I wanted
desperately to be a member of that laid fraternity, so that I could add my
personal chapter to the teenager's book of conquest.
Steeplechase was a likely spot, and Florence Sawchuk seemed a likely subject. My
friends told me that Florence was a 'good sport'. Phil Miller had many good
things to say about Florence, and Phil was a recognized expert in such sporting
matters. We agreed to double date on a Saturday evening, he with Pearl Elefant,
(everybody knew Pearl was a good sport) and me and Florence.
Florence was a tall brunette with a relaxed and promiscuous air. She wore a
mixed expression of wonder and bewilderment. She vaguely resembled Fay Wray, and
had eyes like two porcelain doorknobs. She shared Fay's overbite as well, and
for reasons I can't remember, girls with overbite signified unbridled lust to
me. Fay Wray, as you may remember played the part of Anne Darrow in "King Kong."
I think Kong and I shared similar tastes in women with overbites. Flo and I were
not total strangers, we had spent some time together as volunteers making a mess
of the high school library catalog.
As Saturday evening drew closer I spent more and more time on personal hygiene
in the bath room. On more than one occasion, my father was forced to hammer on
the door and shout, "What the hell'ya doin'' in there!" My father would get very
cranky when he was locked out of the bathroom. I eventually confessed to him I
had a big date coming up on Saturday night at Steeplechase, he grinned knowingly
and gave me a dollar to get a haircut. My father and I never had a discussion
concerning the origin of life and the events leading up to it. I believe the
subject was as great a mystery to him as it was to me. He did, however, warn me
to be careful because he knew all about what went on over at Steeplechase.
I picked up Flo around seven on Saturday. I was early and she wasn't ready, so I
sat in the living room with her mother and I was sure she could read my mind.
Her husband, Max, was building a shelf in the kitchen so I went out and sat with
him a while.
"Where you takin'' Flo?" he asked guardedly.
"We're thinking of going to Steeplechase." I replied hesitantly.
"Humph, she hangs out there a lot -- be careful, the two of you." Then he added,
"I know all about what goes on over at Steeplechase." Her two younger brothers
were sitting at the kitchen table and they began giggling together. Flo finally
walked in and the two of us fell over each other getting out of the house to the
strains of "Don't do nothin' I wouldn't do." from her mother.
At that particular moment the prize didn't seem worth the game, and I was half
tempted to call the whole thing off. But I didn't. We took the subway to Coney
Island and met Phil and Pearl in Trommer's for a beer. Phil told me earlier it
was a good way to start off, "It loosens them up a little -- know what I mean?"
The first 'attraction' at Steeplechase was the revolving tunnel set horizontally
at the entrance, through which young and old had to walk to get inside. It
couldn't be done. Someone young and agile might have done it alone but the
tunnel was normally filled with people who had fallen and couldn't get up and it
had to be stopped occasionally so they could crawl out. Flo and I went down in a
tangle of arms and legs along with Phil, Pearl and a half dozen other couples.
It was impossible for us to restrain ourselves from playful grabbing and
groping, and with whetted appetites and the evening hardly begun we headed for
the Chicken Carousel.
Most of the 'attractions' were built for two and the Chicken Carousel was no
exception. It was a choppy ride. With Flo in front and me close behind, the
chicken heaved and jiggled -- up and down and side to side and had it lasted a
moment longer, I believe the magic moment would have come and gone before the
evening was underway.
"Wait'll you try this," Phil enthused as we approached the "Human Roulette
Wheel." This diabolical 'attraction' was indeed a roulette wheel about fifty
feet in diameter. Made of polished wood it had a raised center hub upon which
twenty or so eager couples sat. From this hub, the wheel sloped down and back up
again to an almost vertical rim. It began to spin slowly, almost lethargically,
then gathered speed. Two by two the riders lost their grip on the center hub,
and spun off by centrifugal force they were plastered to the outer rim. Once
there it was impossible to move and a person would remain immobile in whatever
position they arrived until the damn thing stopped. People lay plastered to the
outer rim like swatted flies.
Flo and I clung to the hub longer than most but the laws of physics eventually
prevailed and away we went. We were squeezed together on the outer rim and
forced into a modified missionary position from which we could not extricate
ourselves. It could have been pleasant except we were in full view of more than
a hundred spectators.
Today, as I look back at Steeplechase, I am convinced that George C. Tilyou
created a monumental machine devoted to foreplay. A mammoth mechanism dedicated
to the proposition that all women are created differently than men, and need the
stimulation that most men are in too much of a hurry to provide. The
'attractions' had stimulated Flo with no effort on my part and I believe I could
have accomplished my goal right then and there on "The Human Roulette Wheel."
But that was yet to come. We danced, we looked at ourselves in curved mirrors,
her skirt was blown up over her head before my very eyes and we groaned and
grunted our way through the "Tunnel of Love."
Steeplechase had done its part -- the rest was up to me! .... It was Phil who
saved the day.
"Meet you under the boardwalk!" Ah! Now I understood the where, how, and what of
it. That's why they built the boardwalk! There in the dark and dimness, with the
smell of pine pitch and popcorn, and with the shuffling of feet on the boardwalk
above us I heard the distant rumble of thunder -- the roll of drums, and the
clashing cymbals of ecstasy.
At last I had achieved what all men treasure the rest of their lives. Their own
personal Richter scale of sexual triumph by which they measure all succeeding
ones. It was my baseline, and although at the time I didn't know whether it was
high or low, I'm sure Flo did.
Looking back on it now, I'd have to say it was a 5 -- not powerful enough to
cause structural damage, but strong enough to rattle the dishes on the kitchen
©Harry Buschman 1997
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