The following was read onstage at "You're Being Ridiculous" at Mary's Attic in Chicago on August 16th, 2014. The theme was fear.
To watch the video of my performance, click HERE.
Host: Kelly Duff is from Elmhurst, Illinois, where she grew up listening to the "awesome" music of the 80's. Kelly has performed with You're Being Ridiculous twice and is on the advisory board of the Chicago Writers Conference. Currently, she's working on publishing her first of several novels and she apologizes in advance for her fucking profanity.
Fear by Kelly Duff
Thanks to all you a-holes on Facebook who think it’s funny to post pictures of evil clowns with big sharp teeth like Tim Curry’s Pennywise from “It” or that viral video where a guy dressed up in a clown suit fake-kills people. Yeah that’s frickin’ hilarious when you post that shit on my wall. Y’all know I don’t like ‘em. But you know what? I can handle it. I can turn away. Delete the post. Or if I’m in a subway in Washington DC and there’s a clown waiting on the platform to get on the next train…I can run. And take a cab. True story.
Clowns are evil.
But we’ll get back to that. Because what really makes me piss my pants isn’t John Wayne Gacy in colorful makeup and exaggerated footwear, oh no. For me, it’s amusement park rides.
It all started when I was six years old. My parents took me to the now defunct KiddieLand in Melrose Park. Now, I don’t actually remember going but my parents captured the moment in a Polaroid. A Polaroid, for you youngsters out there, was this piece of equipment we used to use instead of our cell phone—and there were very few selfies taken with these contraptions.
In this picture, I’m in a slippery blue jacket so shiny Shaun Cassidy would have sung a song about it. My hair was pulled tight in a high ponytail—a look my mom perfected by gathering my long hair into her hand until the sides of my temples stretched all the way back to my ears, she’d tie red, blue or purple yarn around the elastic hair band—whatever went with my outfit for the day—and then she’d spray the shit out of it with Aqua Net. My hair wasn’t going anywhere—ever. So, I’m sitting in a kiddie car made of metal along with half a dozen other cars rotating in a circle, my hair barely blowing in the breeze. The other cars all filled with kids my age squealing with delight as they pretended to drive like idiots.
Now my dad assures me it was a kid’s ride, because I’ve blocked out this memory. It wasn’t breaking any records for speed or g-force. It only turned left – it wasn’t Nascar, but apparently by turn number one, I—am—bawling. I was reduced to a hyperventilating, shrieking mess who would occasionally let out a hearty wail to “GET ME OFF THIS CRAZY THING!”
Years later, in the PARKING LOT OF A KMART, in an attempt to improve my amusement park ride status, my dad would take me on my first ferris wheel. As the little bench seat with the “safety” bar, lifted us up the backside of the ferris wheel, I thought, “Well, now, this isn’t so—OHHHHHHHH SHIT!” Over the top we went and down we came - along with my tears.
Now, I’m the first person to admit that some sort of fluky, mechanical malfunction is NOT the reason why I start to panic. I know the majority of rides are very safe, even if some dentally-challenged carnie put them together after an all-nighter binging on moonshine, just like I know when I travel in an airplane, the chances of it falling out of the sky are very slim despite the fact that it’s a tiny capsule hurtling through space.
There’s something about amusement rides that bring me to the verge of having a nervous breakdown. Maybe it’s being launched at bone-rattling speeds of 4.7 Gs, the vertigo-inducing heights, the unknown twists, turns, loops and rolls, or the feeling of falling in a drop—and perhaps the fact that I may be a bit of a control freak. I mean, the thought of doing all those things and not being in the driver’s seat does not sit well with me. And why do we have to go so effin fast? What’s the rush? I mean really?
It’s not like I haven’t tried…I’ve been to Six Flags Great America—home of Bugs Bunny and vomit inducing cuisine—I mean, really, a fully loaded hot dog followed by three corkscrews at 72 miles per hour and people think that’s a good idea?
I knew I’d have to nut up but the first time I stood at the base of these snaking structures of steel, I thought “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck that”. My heart pulsed in my ears as I watched the cars climb higher and higher until they reach the top and they just—hung there.
I waited, holding my breath, studying the people in their seats. I started to worry about items they had in their pockets falling out at this angle. And what about women’s purses? Are they clutching them tightly enough so they don’t fly out of the car? Are all their zippers zipped? The cars rolled forward, picking up speed in the drop, racing into the first of two consecutive upside down loops and the screams were deafening. My heart is now in my stomach. My stomach is now in my shoes. And I’m just WATCHING the damn ride.
But that day, we had boys with us and I MUST—BE—COOL. I do okay on the Batman ride. It’s like a swing set and I try not to think of my legs being severed by some unfortunate wire hanging at just the right angle. I really hoped one of my shoes didn’t fall off because I fretted over my fashion choices earlier that day because, well, boys. I didn’t puke, cry, wet my pants, or lose my sunglasses in a loop. I have to say, I kinda rocked it.
The American Eagle roller coaster? —I did not “rock” that son of a bitch.
At one point, after the 147 foot drop, after I’ve clenched my eyes shut and braced for impact, my friend Brian who’s sitting just in front of me turns back and says “oh my god, are you crying?”
Yeah, okay, I cried. Like a bitch. And for the rest of the day, I didn’t even bother going on another ride. When it was our turn, I’d walk RIGHT—ON—THROUGH the seating area of the ride to the other side, getting strange looks from the park staff as I’d book it down to the exit so I could watch my friends as they twisted and turned over my head. It became clear going to Six Flags was silly. I mean I was paying a lot of money just for access to funnel cake.
Then about ten years ago my hubby and I go to Disney. Don’t think for one minute my heart didn’t pitter pat on the “Small World” ride - you never know when shit might get crazy.
Hubby went on a few roller coasters by himself—awwww sad—and maybe out of guilt, curiosity and a little bit of sadomasochism and booze, I finally agreed to go on one roller coaster with him—the Aerosmith ride cuz you know, I rock. It was an INDOOR roller coaster—so I thought “okay great, I mean how big could it actually be?” and it’s in the dark so I’ll never see what’s coming. Sounds brilliant. Not so much.
After two and a half hours in line listening to every popular song Aerosmith has ever made being blasted from outdoor speakers, we finally enter the lobby that’s playing…? More Aerosmith of course! The lobby signage states we’re now in the home of G-Force records and on the walls, there are posters of bands such as Aerosmith, Queen and coincidentally, Radio Disney pop groups. Behind glass cases we get to peruse old sound recording equipment such as reel to reels and mixing boards and six different types of old-timey microphones. All of these things you can now find in your smartphone much like that Polaroid thing I told you about.
We finally enter “the studio” where a 3D video projection of the band is playing as if they’re really standing on the other side of the glass. They wave and welcome us to the studio but are quickly “interrupted” by the lovely and talented Illeana Douglas whose credits include Goodfellas, Cape Fear and Ghost World—she’s Aerosmith’s ‘band manager”. They’re supposed to be at their concert and they are very, very late (finger wag). Steven Tyler, always concerned about his fans, wants the audience to get there too so we’ve been ordered a super stretch limo for the ride across town to make it to the show in time because we need to get there quickly.
And by quickly, I think they meant, “take your sweet ass time” because the line inside the next room snaked around for what seemed like three miles. For over an hour, groups of “limos” would buzz out of a tunnel as we watched through a chain link fence that I guess was supposed to give it some sort of back alley/parking garage feel. The cars would zip ahead for the next set of victims—er, riders in line. A digital billboard screen counted until take off and the cars would explode forward with a force of speed like I’d never seen before and disappear into the tunnel’s opening. And all you heard were screams - over and over and over.
And I would go into cardiac arrest every—single—time.
Hubby knows I’m freaking out because I’m NOT talking. If I’m not talking you know shit just got real. I haven’t said a word since—well I can’t remember, probably outside in line where life was bright and sunny, and I was free to be me and not here, where the terror lived.
It’s our turn and thankfully we’re not in the first car, but still. We step into our seats, we get strapped in and—
Oh. My. God—
The cars slowly tick-tick-tick to the take-off platform and we sit there for what seems like forever in silence. The anticipation is going to kill me, I just know it.
I want off this thing but it’s too late and the fact that it’s too late has settled in—
Shit shit shit—
Hubby looks over and asks “You okay?”
“Noooooo.” Why did I agree to do this?
The surround sound speakers behind my head blast music and I have no frickin’ idea what Steven Tyler is saying then some douchebag narrator tells me we are sooooo lucky we have such a fast car and the highway is completely clear all the way to the Forum.
Then the countdown: 3…I take a deep breath and hold it.
2...I am gonna shit myself
1…The cars launch into darkness and I’m pushed back into my seat. Zero to 60 in 2.8 seconds. I squeeze my eyes shut.
I’m six years old again and yeah, I’m crying
Hubby yells out “Open your eyes!”
I sneak a peek. The room is lit with black lights, crazy freeway signs for Los Angeles whiz by. I finally realize that the thumping in my ears is not my heart, it’s “Back in the Saddle”? “Love in an Elevator”?
Holy shit, this is AMAZING!
I don’t even notice when we go upside down. Yeah I’m still scared shitless, but wow! I’m on a roller coaster and I’m loving it! I don’t even give the contents of my purse a second thought. The ride is over as quickly as it starts and I’m exhilarated. I get off the ride, and my whole body is shaking but I’m jumping up and down.
I DID IT! I DID IT! I—FUCKING—DID IT!
I think I remember getting on my knees and kissing pavement. I know I bought a t-shirt to commemorate my braveness. I call my dad and my sister and my friend Brian with trembling fingers. I’m still crying but I survived. I rode an indoor 60 mph roller coaster that went upside down three times in the dark for a minute and 22 seconds and I ROCKED it.
We walk out of the building and hubby hopefully asks, “now what should we ride?”
I turn to him and smile widely. “Oh, no, fuck off, I’m good. With my luck there’ll be a fucking clown sitting behind me.”