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The Hammer

August 19, 2016






This story about my childhood best friend is one of my favorites. It’s languished on my menu bar for five years. I’m posting it here in case you missed it.




Ricky Delgado nearly turned inside out the summer of ‘62 when ten rusty carnival trucks rattled onto the fresh asphalt parking lot of the new shopping center that sprang up a few blocks from where we lived. He watched as the attractions were unloaded and assembled: a carousel, a haunted house and a rickety roller coaster. But one attraction captured his attention more than the others—rising into the sky, even higher than the Ferris wheel, was The Hammer.


Ricky and I were best friends because he overlooked the fact that I was fat and blathered constantly, and I looked the other way knowing that, at ten, he still wet his bed. He’d been to carnivals like this before only to be turned away from the “cool” rides because he was too small. But in recent months he’d shot up half an inch.


I had to sneak out on opening night because my folks believed the rides to be unsafe. Point of fact: The Hammer didn’t look safe. The ride was a giant forty-foot steel blade that rotated using centrifugal force like an airplane propeller. An enclosed cage spun around independently at each end. Two victims could sit in each cage. Painted with flat green paint, the diesel-fueled Hammer roared like a beast defending its territory. It was gigantic and put out a burning smell that made my eyes water. Judging from the chart beside it, Ricky was still an inch too short to qualify for a ride, but nothing could crush his determination to get on. He begged me to accompany him. He taunted me and called me a pantywaist, but nothing he could say would coax me into joining him.


When the moment came for him to take his ride, I was amazed to see tough-guy Ricky walking away from The Hammer. I wondered if he was secretly as afraid of the thing as I was.


We wasted time inspecting the rest of the carnival, throwing dimes at towers of brightly colored glassware and failing to win prizes only babies or mushy girls would want. We inspected a reptile house that had a two-headed boa constrictor the color of a banana. Ricky swore the second head was just a tumor, but it was still really cool. There was also a fun house, but Ricky said it was bogus and for sissies.


We settled down to eat hot dogs covered with relish, mustard and catsup. I scarfed down two while he munched slowly on one, a concerned look on his face as he stole glances in the direction of the green beast waiting for him.


Finally, he couldn’t put it off any longer. Ricky wiped mustard and catsup from his mouth with the back of his hand and we headed on over. At first, it seemed like he was going to be turned away. The unshaven guy at the gate snickered at Ricky, “How old are you?”


“Old enough for your sissy ride,” Ricky shot back, struggling to make his voice as deep as possible.


Carnie Guy had the dead smile of a shark. He studied Ricky’s cockiness for a second. “That’ll be four bits, kid.”


Ricky handed over two quarters and Carnie Guy unlatched the rope to let him pass. I will forever maintain that I saw no fear, only a young Chuck Yeager calmly stepping into the cockpit of a sound barrier-breaking jet. As his best friend, I always felt honor-bound to promote this image…even though I did see his legs tremble as he climbed into the oval cage.


Carnie Guy strapped him into the seat with a cord that can only be laughingly referred to as a “safety belt.” He closed the wire door and latched it tight before returning to the controls. “Ready,” he shouted over the roar of the great engine.

Ricky nodded and stuck up a thumb.


At that moment I didn’t know if he was the bravest kid in the world or the stupidest. I’d heard rumors that a kid had actually died in The Hammer when his heart exploded, and I began to worry Ricky might not survive this ordeal: best friends were hard to come by, even if mine was a bed wetter.


I reached for the talisman in my pocket—a rare fossil Ricky gave to me after discovering it in his backyard. Ricky claimed his discovery was the penis bone of the world’s greatest prehistoric predator—Tyrannosaurus Rex. In all likelihood it was an old chicken bone discarded during a barbeque, but back then I carried it around, convinced that one day a museum would call to borrow it. That evening I held it tight…and waited.


The Hammer sputtered and growled as Carnie Guy opened an oil-soaked panel to check the beast’s black, slimy intestines. He did something with a screwdriver that caused the thing to roar more loudly; clearly, he was making it mad. He closed the panel and then up…up…up…Ricky rose into the sky. The cages began to slowly rotate at the ends of the long metal arms. So far, so good. For a moment I thought I heard Ricky call my name, but all I could be sure of hearing was the noisy machine. The setting sun was tipping the telephone wires with golden light as Ricky’s cage reached its zenith. It seemed to me that every noise hushed as my best friend hung suspended in time and space. The diesel-chugging pendulum of doom started inching forward on its trajectory, and then Ricky’s cage hurled downward in a dead-drop like a massive hammer intent on striking the earth.


I don’t know what was going through his head, but I’m positive that his pants, which he had a hard time keeping dry in the best of circumstances, were no longer so. But Ricky’s cage didn’t crash into the ground. Instead, The Hammer whipped Ricky back into space with even more force than before, and the process was repeated over and over as the individual cages spun in their own little orbits. Sometime around the tenth rotation I heard something: It was faint at first, and I struggled to hear it, and then it was louder. It was Ricky! I was actually hearing him through the racket. He was screaming, “SSSTTTOPPPPPP!!!!”


It seemed odd that Carnie Guy didn’t hear Ricky. At least I don’t think he heard him because he kept smiling and made no effort to slow the thing down, much less stop it. But I didn’t spend too much time observing Carnie Guy because at that moment I saw something flying out of Ricky’s cage and twinkling in the waning light of that perfect day...vomit.


When The Hammer finally stopped, Ricky struggled from the cage. White as a sheet, he wobbled about on baby legs. He brushed me away, and with a trace of vomit on his chin announced, “I’m hungry! Let’s get some more hot dogs.”




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You were wise not to go on that ride, but you have to admire his courage and bravado.
By: PT Dilloway on August 19, 2016
I was a bit of a daredevil as a kid, but you couldn't have paid me enough money to get my keister on that ride.
By: Susan Swiderski on August 19, 2016
holy smokes- Ricky was really brave- I never did go on any of those rides- too scary! Great story!
By: Kathe W. on August 19, 2016
Loved this story Stephen. You really captured the moment when most of us at one time or another went from hero to puking then back. Ricky had guts.
By: Arkansas Patti on August 19, 2016
Ricky always acted tough. Wish I was there to confirm that he was just like us. I remember going on Mad Mouse ride. I think it was a mini roller coaster, but I was scared. I never went back....
By: Linda Morris on August 19, 2016
Great piece. I've got those stories too and I've never written about them. Thanks for the smile. R
By: Rick Watson on August 19, 2016
Poor Ricky. Vomit on the chin is never a good look.
By: LL Cool Joe on August 19, 2016
I love Ricky Delgado!! Is he still around?
By: fishducky on August 19, 2016
Ricky was brave to get on there, even if it didn't turn out quite like he expected.
By: messymimi on August 19, 2016
Ricky ROCKS!
By: Val on August 19, 2016
The Mad Mouse WAS a mini roller coaster. I went on it and was sure I was going to die. But once was enough and the ferris wheel scared me more than anything because they'd stop it when I was clear up in the air to let somebody on far below and the carriage, if that's what it was called would rock back and forth. Never again.
By: Catalyst on August 19, 2016
Love it. I'm glad you shared it because I missed it on the menu bar. Ricky is the man. Take care Stephen.
By: Mr. Shife on August 19, 2016
Ricky became an Ace! Great story.
By: Tom Cochrun on August 19, 2016
ewww. i hate rides.
By: TexWisGirl on August 19, 2016
You were such a great friend to Ricky. And that last sentence made me laugh out loud!
By: Pixel Peeper on August 19, 2016
What a great story and you told it so well! Bravo! We had a ride that was the scariest in our town's carnival, too. It was called the Zipper and made me and my girlfriends scream every time!
By: Lexa Cain on August 19, 2016
Amazing that Ricky was able to talk his way onto the ride. Carnies are usually some of the brightest in society. :-P
By: Al Penwasser on August 21, 2016
I would have been on that ride in a heartbeat. I rode them all. Loved them. Fantastic story. Very well told.
By: Brett Minor (Transformed Nonconformist) on August 21, 2016
Ricky's swaggering display of courage was put to the test... could he hold down a hot dog covered with relish, mustard and catsup! His mistake was adding Ketchup. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on August 21, 2016

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