Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 25)

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Chapter Ten

Dear Grasshopper,

Napoleon once said there is one step from the sublime to the ridiculous, though with insight, the ladder works most profoundly in reverse.

Self-contradiction is generally thought to be an impediment to clear thinking, yet Whitman got it right when he justified his contradiction by claiming he contained multitudes. Contradiction for its own sake is an unimaginative inversion of unimaginative thinking, but as a high art it is a rejection of the inert substance of truth for its creative spirit.

Absurdity, too, is regarded with suspicion, although it was Emerson who, in poet’s terms, referred to wild and unfettered creation as speaking “with the flower of the mind.” Wittgenstein told us, similarly: “Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.”

Blessed is the man who embraces contradiction and absurdity in the best sense, for eternal youth shall be his reward. Blessed is the man who endlessly reinvents himself and his opinions, for he shall lose the whole world to gain his soul. ~Omar

         The Dancing Star, Part Two

According to Emma, the miniature golf course (originally called Putt-Putt Palace) fell on hard times in the early Eighties. It was almost boarded up, but a last minute bid by a chain of adult-themed motels saved it from demolition. Though a name change was allowed, the property was sold under the condition that it remain a family attraction.

Strictly speaking, the golf course did not reside within the city limits of Stonesthrow, but was closer to the neighboring town of Eastfawn. An ongoing squabble over which municipality could claim it existed, and this fueled a longstanding football rivalry between Purcell College and Eastfawn’s State College.

Dusk was fast on the couple’s tracks, although glow on the eastern horizon made their destination easy to spot. A large billboard emerged in a cornfield to confirm their heading: PEEK-A-BOO PUTT-PUTT THREE MILES

Floodlights were disentangled from a concealment of trees, whereupon an unassuming motel sprung up next to the fenced-off park.

“Here we are!” Emma sang gleefully, yanking down the rearview mirror to freshen her lipstick. “Let me do the talking. I can get us in for free!”

With camera bag in hand, the brigand charged off over asphalt. Aloysius joined her at the front booth where she was doing a number on the male ticket-taker. She held up something laminated and purred through deep crimson lips. “I’m a graduate photographer at the college. I have a standing arrangement with the management to come here and take pictures without paying admission.” She turned to her lagging companion and shoved her bag in his arms. “This man is my assistant!”

The two passed through the turnstile with surprising ease, and the first-time visitor took a moment to read the dedication plaque to the park’s designer.

Emma yelled to be heard over cacophonous music. “Daedalus Monet had a morbid fear of electricity! Wouldn’t even come on site when they were building this place!”

Given the gaudy neon spectacle, any astronaut circling the Earth likely knew Peek-a-boo Putt-Putt was open for business. Aloysius was determined to be good-humored, although his sensitivity to noises and bright lights put him on guard.

The complex was bigger than it looked from outside the fence, and contained many courses. Every hole was adorned with mind-boggling obstacles and tiered greens of jarring chartreuse. Some holes played on optical tricks, or gravity defying features like inverted staircases and inclines where balls appeared to roll uphill. Other courses revolved around improbable themes, such as “Darwin’s Missing Links,” or “Imperial Airships of Germany,” or “Peptic Disorders of The Edwardians.”

A scale model replica of the golf park stood on a large table across from the entrance, and an inch-thick magnifying glass on a pivot mount marked the center of the display. Aloysius leaned over to peer through it, and was shocked to see thousands of fleas, grotesquely enlarged, milling around exacting reproductions of putt-putt obstacles. Unbelievably each insect had a tiny hat fastened to its head by means of a bead of glue. The viewer backed away with a shudder on realizing no Plexiglas covered the exhibit, and asked the attendant, “How do you keep the fleas from escaping?”

The man replied, “A magnet.”

Incredulous, Aloysius knelt to glimpse a dark box bolted to the underside of the table.

The attendant explained, “We’ve got little metal hats glued to their heads. Keeps them from jumping off.”

“How would you know if one was missing?”

The fellow found the question nonsensical.

The leggy companion had seen enough bugs. Latching onto her “assistant,” her heart was set on one pavilion: The House of Mirrors. She stopped at the tent’s entrance with a ringing endorsement. “This will be fun!”

Funhouse mirrors lined the interior walls of the attraction, but there were no greens as such. Each hole resembled a lava lamp where struck balls rippled down long glass chambers filled with mercury-looking stuff. This required a Herculean feat of optical compensation for the putter to correct for the distortion. Additional unintended obstacles littered the thoroughfare: cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and abandoned balls in mirage-like gullies.

The graduate student seemed an old hat at it, dropping one hole after another with admirable single-mindedness, although the churning topology of flesh in the mirrors was of greater interest to the painter than watching himself get skunked. His feeling was one of being surrounded on all sides by Picasso’s abstract brothel, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, where Emma, with awning bosom and panoramic hips, loomed.

Having handily beaten her competition, the photographer tugged him back down the boardwalk. Amusement park rides were interspersed among the courses, and the sight of them (even the kiddy ones) made Aloysius tremble. The Ferris wheel was the tallest attraction, and the spirited girl, scrounging in her purse for coins, gravitated toward it.

The companion wanted to stop her—not out of gallantry to pay but to spare himself humiliation. It was too late. The ride attendant strapped them into a cage, and with a screech and a lurch they were pitched into a cloud of flittering night bugs. Emma only noticed Aloysius’ white-knuckles when they reached the ride’s apex. “Are you alright?”

He stuttered. “I… I have a thing about heights.”

She clutched his forearm, which resembled rebar, yet could do little more than sympathetically endure his torture.

Once safely returned to earth, he felt more than foolish. He felt emasculated. This was not merely a result of the ride but the location itself. The noisy environment deprived him of the subtle talents he employed back at the pub. His wit and charm were useless here. This was the realm of the body; and Aloysius’ relationship to his body was anything but felicitous. Any physical context he was likely to be thrust into in the name of recreation would either induce phobic attack, profound embarrassment, or injury.

A distraught Emma insisted they rest on a bench, although the tarnished knight did not want to be mollycoddled. Their repose stretched into minutes, while their respective gazes drifted in different directions.

Though the park was family-friendly, it was mostly ceded to teenagers, whom either roamed the premises in herds or, where matched-up, found amorous occupations between pavilions. The photographer was blank under her smokescreen-of-a-smile, and her companion scarcely understood how such a vivacious creature should be content with his sedentary company.

She sensed his stare and leapt to her feet to snap several pictures of him. Aloysius did not want his photo taken, but his effort to dissuade her only egged her on.

Prodded to his feet, the two were again swimming upstream. They passed one course under a poppy red big top. Sawdust was scattered between the greens, while the smell of simulated elephant dung lent authenticity to the circus experience. Inflatable clowns were among the obstacles, and roared with the glow of blowtorches where they snapped against the canvas tent. Despite their trajectory, they remained anchored to the ground since they were obliged to terrorize shrieking teenage girls on the way to the carousel horses.

Emma wisely had a sedate course in her crosshairs, one themed on a Las Vegas-style wedding chapel. No matter how many distractions surrounded them, Aloysius did not relish being judged against a backdrop of valentines with a woman many years his junior. Regardless, the pair worked their way down a set of holes based on oddly shaped wedding cakes. One hazard included a Dickensian literary reference: cobwebbed fondant falling off a four-tiered monstrosity entitled Lest We Forget A Jilted Miss Haversham.

Mercifully there were only eight holes by which to measure his humiliation this time, although the last obstacle was slow coming into view: It was Jacques Creiter remade as a stone Cupid, complete with bow and arrow and adult diapers. He already spotted the two, and his look was one of being found out.

A child just then struck a ball that rolled to within inches of one of his feet. He broke his stance to snatch it when it passed. The little boy, not anticipating this, screamed before laughing at his scare, whereupon Jacques resumed his pose.

Emma said nothing, but stepped around the little man’s plot of turf to the final hole. Squaring herself with the tee, she made a hole-in-one with characteristic steeliness; a robotic priest (resembling a one-armed Vegas bandit) piped up with a canned rendition of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus: two plastic wedding rings popped out of its change slot. She was wandering back to the boardwalk before the refrain finished, leaving sentimental Aloysius to grab the two rings and hurriedly catch up.

The photographer dimmed with a confession. “Jacques had a crush on me for a while. He even posed in my yard.”

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