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The Agony and the Ecstasy


Harry Buschman

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 Park.

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 Wilderness!

(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 shelf.

©Harry Buschman 1997

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