Life Is A Carnival



GORDONVILLE – A week ago, prior to the devastating news about James “Tony Soprano” Gandolfini’s sudden death, I was prepared to deliver a bittersweet missive about an about-face on carnivals and the “carnies” who work at them.
Well … why not?
It is still a story worth telling, and that’s kind of what I do.
It was a few years ago that the song “Everybody Plays The Fool” by The Main Ingredient went from pleasant 1970s ditty to funeral dirge when, at the carnival hosted by the Lower Providence Fire Co., I was repeatedly fleeced at the booths.
I spent about $120 and came away with a tiny wolf stuffed animal – probably worth 50 cents at a dollar store – for my trial and tribulations of shooting basketballs at baskets smaller than the ball and tossing softballs at jars with holes not big enough to fit a marble.
When the wife suggested we take Sofia to another carnival — this one hosted by the Centre Square Fire Co. in our home hood in Whitpain Township – my initial reaction was that I’d rather sit through a zoning hearing or an episode of “America’s Next Top Model.”
But Sofia gave me that “Please Daddy” face, so off to the carnival we went – with expectations about as low as those we all hold for the Phillies to turn it around this season.
Much to my surprise, it was the complete antithesis of the mockery of a farce of a sham in Lower Providence.
As a matter of fact, the Centre Square Fire Co. should put out a “How-To” DVD on ways to not alienate families looking for innocent fun.
Not only did Sofia have a blast on the rides, the alleged “carnies” (who must have been born-again Christians or something) could not have been friendlier.
And at the booths, where the prizes are supposed to be won? They guaranteed prizes. Seemed dubious at first, but they weren’t kidding – or understating it.
We came home with more than our money’s worth in stuffed animals.
And, a goldfish Sofia named Marina (she scoffed at the names we suggested, taking great joy in mocking her Nana for suggesting “Goldie”).
We didn’t quite know what to do with Marina, as it was too late to acquire the proper creature comforts for it.
As it was, my wife put her in a vase while I managed to find two containers of fish food at CVS (sneaking in another affirmative blood pressure check while there).
We had some logistical concerns as well, as we have two cats to consider. The older cat, Hank, didn’t seem to care as much as the little one, Licorice, but that could have only been because he was not as hungry as that moment.
We decided the only safe place was the bathroom. Another dispute was over whether or not to cover the tank/vase. My wife said it would “jump out,” but I had never – in my whole childhood of winning goldfish – seen one jump for joy.
Nonetheless, you never win an argument with a woman, especially one who is also a lawyer, so I went along.
The next day, I hit a pet store. The woman there gave me a refresher course in Goldfish 101. She said that it if it lived past a month, it could live for years.
I was determined to make that happen, even though building a pond in the backyard – like her husband did – seemed a little out of my skill set (we Jews may have been “chosen” to do some things – like control the media and Hollywood – but being handy isn’t on the list).
Knowing Sofia’s sensitivity level, a short was going to lead to a long grieving period.

The carnival that lifted my spirits was on a Friday night. Sunday morning, the wife and I took showers in the bathroom where Marina was housed in her vase covered by a spaghetti strainer without much of a break in between.
When my wife checked on her a short time later, Marina had made her way upstream to Goldfish Heaven.
We broke the news to Sofia and got the expected, and heartbreaking, reaction.
The official inquest revealed that, indeed, the covering vase/bowl – and the combination of two hot showers – caused what seemed to be a happy and active goldfish to suffocate.
I’m more into mammals than fish, but it was still upsetting – mostly because of Sofia.
In her lifetime, which totals a little more than 6 years on the planet, she has lost three grandfathers (counting my stepfather in there, too) and two cats (Tyler and Donovan).
And while I could gloat to my wife that she was wrong about covering the vase/bowl, I am still responsible for letting Donovan slip outside one night. We were unable to find him until dawn, and he was dead of unknown causes by then.
They say a child doesn’t fully comprehend the brevity of death until they reach a certain age, but Sofia has always been ahead of the emotional curve.
When her Pop Pop died on her third birthday, she was told he was “with Jesus.” She asked if he was coming back and was bereaved when we told her it was not going to happen.
She fought through her grief for Marina by organizing a funeral, during which we buried her by a mermaid statue outside. We each said a silent prayer, during which she began to sob.
At that point, I sat her on my knee and said it was time for a discussion.
I promised we would get her a real fish tank with fish that live longer than goldfish and that we would always remember Marina, because she was her first fish (she even giggled when I said when would name this joint Marina Memorial Aquarium).
We also won’t forget the carnival that restored our faith in the American institution of cotton candy, bumper cars and guaranteed prizes.

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