Categorized | Arts & Culture

Amusement Park Blues

I first notice the horrible music. Walking down the stairs toward the plaza in front of the Old Stage, the cheesy and plastic sound of Swedish Folk gives me a good idea of what’s to come. I already know what the band members look like: aging, with frighteningly white smiles.
[andreas1] The sun’s finally setting on the brightest day of the year, and a slight chill sets into the smoky air. It usually rains on Midsummer’s Eve, one of a few Viking holidays to survive the Christian invasion a thousand years ago, but it’s been sunny all day. Maybe the old gods knew I’d be working today.
I saw the midsummer pole when I punched in. The grass cross, taller than the nearby buildings, looks spectacular. At each end of its horizontal bar, a huge circlet shifts in the wind. Tourists landing at Swedish airports always get a movie display of people dancing around the pole in the arcane costumes a butter-churning maid named Helga might wear. I’ve met only one person named Helga and never seen anyone wear the folk outfit, but the dancing part is true.
Midsummer’s the very epitome of what’s Swedish, a day of feast and celebration. While parents dance around the pole with their little kids, teenagers drink like fish, throw up in bushes and rape each other in dark forest areas. It’s the most traditional and hilarious aspect of our society. I didn’t know until I was 15 that what I had danced around with my family as a kid actually was a phallic symbol, begging the gods for fertility.
Surrounding the pole is a mass of activity. On top of a large mat of artificial grass stand the now abandoned dinner tables, full of discarded plates and napkins. People are dancing in the ridiculous recreation of a lush meadow that’s supposed to make them forget they’re in the middle of Stockholm. In their forties and fifties, they are a sharp contrast to the bubblegum-chewing teen crowd we usually get on a Friday night. Before this summer I would’ve expected a contrasting behavior, too, but the theme park has given me perspective on growing up. The dancers smell of smoke and roast beef, mature scents mingling with those of popcorn and candy to produce a nasty funk. They’re nostalgically skipping and twirling and laughing, and for a moment I think I’m on a different planet. The scene reeks of happiness, which angers me. I can’t believe I’m stuck operating the fucking Loop on Midsummer’s Eve. And what are these people doing here? This is the Theme Park, the home of simulated unity and manufactured joy. On the most natural day of the year, they came to the most mechanical place on earth. They are pathetic.
[andreas3] Still, anything breaking the monotony of a minimum wage-paying shit-job like this one is welcome. The usually boring walk to the cafeteria is now infested with drunk middle-aged people, and one in particular grabs my attention. His suit is white, the jacket hanging open to reveal a wrinkled blue shirt and a flowery tie. While everybody else is teamed up, resting happily in the arms of a partner, he is on his own, swaying his hips and arms in the wide uncoordinated arches of someone with too many drinks in his system, the persona of the suburban drunk. The worst failure among failures, he is both amusing and saddening. Shaking my head, I go grab some dinner.
I stop by to see Johanna in the Play Land on my way back. Like any gratis playground, the Play Land is where parents drop their youngest while herding the older ones around on the rides, and where management places unruly employees to teach them a lesson. A day of dealing with screaming kids and their psychotic parents while sitting on the most uncomfortable chair in the world is supposed to show us. We all hate the Play Land, but not as much as Johanna. Responsible for most of the “I’M NEVER GOING TO HAVE CHILDREN” inscriptions on the wooden panel at the entrance, she’s in there alone almost every other day. The hellhole is now blissfully free of kids, but she still looks unhappy.
“I can’t take this music anymore,” she says, sounding like she really means it, like she’s going to explode. “They’ve been going on for hours.”
I try to come up with something encouraging to say, but stumble on the fact that neither the music nor our shifts will end until midnight.
“At least you don’t have to mop up any piss or vomit today,” I finally say.
Johanna glances toward the midsummer pole.
“Don’t be so sure about that.”
Walking back toward my cell I run into Helena. She cocks her head over at the band and takes a few sarcastic dance steps. I do the same, and she smiles.
[andreas2] “What’s wrong with these people?” I ask. “Don’t they have any imagination?”
“I know,” Helena laughs, “who goes to a theme park on Midsummer’s Eve?”
“Yeah, why don’t people go out on the countryside and rape and stab each other like they’re supposed to? Nobody respects traditions anymore.”
For once, Helena doesn’t laugh. The joke was carefully formulated during the many hours already spent today pulling levers and pushing buttons. The lack of response disappoints me, but her eyes tell me she’s preoccupied with something better.
“Oh my god,” she says. “Look!”
It’s the suburban dancer again. He’s rocking out hard, plucking vigorously at the strings of an air guitar, drowning in the greasy notes blasting from the speakers. Both Helena and I are shocked by such a blatant display of lost self-respect, which clashes with every social convention we adhere to. We laugh in disbelief as he leans backward, lifting his imaginary fret board toward the darkening sky.
We talk for another few minutes, but then realize we have to return to our posts. We nod in mutual sympathy, knowing there’s no need to say anything.
I wait a while before ascending the mechanical ship that is the Loop. They named it well, everything about it is routine and repetition. The darkness left by its broken lights makes it look imposing and menacing. My temporary replacement sighs in relief at the sight of me and hurriedly leaves. Once again confined to the loneliness of the Loop, I look across the plaza to my bored colleague at the Ferris wheel. Tiny and dark under its bright glowing circle, he looks as crushable and insignificant to me as I must to him. Like Johanna, Helena and the rest of us, he hates the theme park. Like us, he knows he has to get out of here. We don’t want to end up like Rolf, the 70-year-old who’s spent 50 years operating the bumper cars.
While we point fingers at middle-aged losers who don’t know how to celebrate Midsummer, we know our very presence here marks us as losers, too. One day that might be one of us dancing alone around a giant grass cock, playing a guitar that isn’t there.

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