Table for two

When I was ten years old the three most important places in the world were my home, my school and a cheesy little amusement park at nearby Oneida Lake. Compared to the enormous theme parks like Disneyworld or Busch Gardens, Sylvan Beach Amusement Park was/is a grubby little fly speck. But to a kid growing up in 1950s upstate N.Y. it was a glittering world of joyous adventure and at that age I could not imagine any place more wonderful and exciting.

My folks would take my 2 siblings and me to the park 2 or 3 times a year and once we were old enough to run around on our own they’d just buy us a handful of ride tickets and turn us loose.

They were old people (to me as a kid) who really didn’t understand the concept of fun. Their idea of fun was to sit in a beach restaurant called “Bubbles-on the Midway.”

We’d ride a ride or two, look in on the old people, use the bathroom then tear off to another ride. That’s how the afternoon usually went.

“Bubbles” was your basic mainstream America burger and fries joint. It wasn’t as nice as the table in the picture–no table cloth–just formica and chrome trim—but they had a specialty I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else. (If any of my readers in upstate NY know of a place—please send me a comment via the comments button at the base of this post.)

I remember very clearly this huge (to a 10 or 12 year old) grill up front—not in the back or behind a wall in a kitchen—but right up front where you came to place your order. It was always covered with hamburger patties smothered in bubbling, crushed tomatoes and spices. It smelled wonderful, the burgers looked great. When you bought one the cook would scoop up the patty covered and dripping with tomatoes and plop it on a bun that was a little bigger than a regular burger bun.

I don’t remember ever actually eating one. I won’t say were poor—our basic needs were always met—but we weren’t far from it. So we rarely ate out. I think all my folks did sitting there waiting for us kids to burn up our tickets was drink coffee.

“Bubbles” had that wonderful “Beach” feel to it.

It had ceiling fans (that was the only place I ever saw a ceiling fan until I was in my 20s) all four sides of the place were open but covered with screens (in the spring and fall glass windows were put up. The place was closed in the winter). The cool breeze off the lake would blow through in the afternoon and there was always that slight “fishy” smell that came with it.

I remember sitting there with my folks (once the tickets were blown) and watching people on the beach a few hundred feet away—walk around, play in the shallows, toss a football, swim, doze on blankets—and think—why would anyone want to live any place else but here? I mean you had this laid-back-take-life-easy atmosphere, cool breezes, the beach and the midway with all the rides and great smells like popcorn, caramel-covered apples, cotton-candy, and French-fries.

But most of all this place was a place where my folks actually seemed relaxed. Here in this exotic, magical place—mom & dad weren’t always worrying or having to get something done or being grim and serious because of all the things in the world and their lives that were wrong.

If you set aside traumatic stuff—the impressions of youth are generally the most enduring and shaping of our temperament as we blunder through the rest of our lives. As I sit here typing this and remembering those days, it occurs to me “Bubbles” was what I call an “Aleph.”

You serious, all-grown-up people who think life is pretty much about paying bills, getting the job done, raising kids and getting enough nutrition and rest to keep going, will think I’m full of pixie-dust but…

One—I don’t care,

Two—I don’t care,

Three—I don’t care and

Four—I’ll bet you don’t have any Alephs in your life (or pixie-dust.)

You need some. Ah!—no!—I don’t want to hear any crap—trust me—you need some.

An Aleph is a place where you feel safe, at peace and relaxed and as aware of your surroundings as you choose to be. It’s a private, personal space but—people you like can join you there without spoiling it. It’s quiet and at a remove from the usual frantic tail-chasing that seems to define our twenty-four-seven culture. It’s a place where nothing is crowding you and you can quietly step back from the twenty-four-seven-tail-chasing. You can examine your life, weigh your options, catch your breath and enjoy the relaxed people around you (or absence of people), the burgers cooking on the grill in crushed tomatoes and the cool, fishy breeze.

“Bubbles” is gone—for many years now. I think it changed hands and was called “Eddie’s” for a few years. The last time I was in Sylvan Beach—not as a kid—but as an old man rummaging around in his past—the building was gone. The lot has been bought by the city and an adjacent park expanded into it.

It’s nice. There’s grass growing there now—and a bench. I sat on the bench for quite some time. It’s one of those things old farts are expected to do—sit on park benches—so I did. (Wouldn’t want to incur the wrath of the retirement police.)

It’s a very nice bench and the grass is kept mowed, the trash cleaned up. It’s nice.

You can still enjoy the cool, fishy breeze off the lake, the midway smells of popcorn, caramel apples and French fries. The people on the beach are still there in warm weather, throwing the football.

It really is nice.

But I do miss the burgers on the grill. I’m pretty sure I could even afford to eat one now.

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