The Column of Disquiet – A Fond Summer Memory

From May until July of 2014, I was unfortunately unemployed—or, as I began to call it, ‘funemployed.’

I had been somewhat unceremoniously, though not unsurprisingly, laid off from the job that I had managed to keep for about three years, working as a ‘marketing assistant’ for a small, family-owned company that had absolutely no idea how to market itself. Since that was the case, I wound up doing a lot of data entry, answered the phones, and by the end, I had become nothing more than a glorified assistant1 to my immediate supervisor.

Because the company had no idea how to market itself, and spent almost three years not really listening to any of the suggestions I would present during the arduously long staff meetings we had, there reached a point where there were a number of well known financial uncertainties—and since, in a staff of six, I was one of two non-family members, I was the first one to be let go.

It was a Monday, mid-May, and I was told that they weren’t going to have enough money to pay me in June; I was asked to quickly brief my immediate supervisor on a couple of things I had been working on, pack up my cubicle, and if I could, be out by lunchtime.

Rather than try to balance the sudden free time I had by doing things for myself as well as diligently looking for a new job, I pretty much threw myself into leaving the house every day at roughly the same time, and spent hours at either the public library, or one of the college libraries, occasionally writing an album review for my music blog, but mostly combing the internet, looking for work.

I made myself leave the house because at the time, we had two companion rabbits, Annabell and Sophie, and a common misconception about rabbits is that they are nocturnal. This is not the case; they are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the morning, and in the evening, meaning they do a whole lot of sleeping during the day, and they had a penchant for becoming most displeased when someone was home, prattling all around, while they tried to snooze.

If this had not been the case, a summer of ‘funemployment’ would have more than likely resulted in, for at least part of the time, a one-way ticket to sweatpant city and a re-watch of all 60 episodes of “The Wire.”

Despite my commitment to applying for jobs that I wasn’t even remotely qualified for, and sometimes not even really interested in, throughout the summer, there were minor reprieves from the rigid schedule I had set for myself.

During this summer, my wife Wendy was in a production of Meet Me in St. Louis, being performed in a neighboring community. She would carpool to rehearsal with a friend of hers who had also been cast in the show, and toward the middle of June, they noticed a carnival being assembled in the town’s ‘Central Park.’

The carnival in question was for the town’s upcoming annual summer festival, Heritage Days, and as they slowly drove by the park, they noticed that, just slightly adjacent to the standard small town carnival rides you usually see, there was a large, shallow, inflatable pool, and floating on top of the water were two very large, human sized, clear, plastic hamster balls.

It may come as a surprise to you, but I’m not really the kind of person who enjoys things like carnivals—because of my dietary ethics, I can’t, with any kind of confidence, partake in any of the food, and due to my moderate fear of heights, I don’t do very well on rides. I mean, the rides don’t even have to be terror-inducing roller coasters at an amusement park; anything that is going to lift me off the ground and move me around2 is something I find incredibly problematic.

For some reason, my wife was incredibly interested in these human sized hamster balls; so much so that, on a Friday afternoon, during the week of the Heritage Days festival, she took a half day of work so that we could drive to the next town over and experience what she was expecting to be fun.

There was a huge red flag right out of the gate as we rolled up onto Central Park, as the carnival was just beginning to come to life for the day. There was a reason the giant hamster balls floating on water were adjacent to the rest of the rides and whatnot—they were not really part of the carnival. I mean, I don’t think they were set up illegally (maybe they were?) but it was a completely independent offering, outside of the midway fare from Goldstar Entertainment.

I was familiar with these giant, human sized hamster balls, only because I had seen countless photos of the guy from The Flaming Lips, wearing his trademark tattered and dirty white suit, wandering the crowd at concerts, in one of them. But at no point did I see these images and think, “Well this is certainly something I’d like to do at some point in my life.”

I had also never taken into consideration how one gets inside one of these hamster balls.

Throughout life, I’d say that I am not exactly claustrophobic, but I’m about as much of a fan of small, tight spaces as the next person. And allowing yourself to be secured inside one of these balls certainly puts your limits to the test.

After paying the people who were in charge of hamster balls (cash only, folks), and removing my shoes and socks, and the contents of my pockets, I was instructed to step through the opening on the side, and encouraged to kind of drape the heavy, sticky, clear plastic over myself, as the small opening I had entered through was zipped up, and the ball itself was then filled with air from the outside.

The concept of being inside a large, inflatable, human sized hamster ball, at its core, seems simple—specifically when it’s resting on top of a shallow pool of moderately dirty water. The person inside the ball is expected to walk, and with each step, move the ball under them so that it propels them forward across the water.

However, actually being inside the hamster ball, and attempting to do this, is not simple at all.

If I can recall correctly, the first thing I noticed, after the hamster ball had been inflated and I was all set to go, was the sound of my own breathing; that, and, I guess, wondering exactly how much air I had within the ball, and if I should take smaller breaths to make that air last, rather than desperate gasps.

The plastic of the ball does a surprisingly good job muffling nearly all outside sounds—so all you can really focus on is the sound of ‘you.’ The sound of your breathing; the sound of your thoughts, racing through your head; the sound of your frustration as you try to navigate the stupid fucking human sized hamster ball you’ve found yourself enclosed in; and the sound of your own sticky, sweaty skin, slapping against the sticky, sweaty plastic.

Adrift on the waters of the pool, it didn’t take me all that long to realize that my time spent in the hamster ball was not going to be fun, or enjoyable in any sense of the word. Because as easy as walking forward in the ball in order to propel it forward sounds in theory, that’s not at all what happens once you’re sealed up inside.

The very act of standing up inside the ball, and being able to balance yourself, is practically impossible. I’m not entirely sure how long we were given in the hamster balls—it could have been like fifteen minutes or less, but it felt like an eternity—but I spent a majority of this time trying to stand up, attempting to brace myself by placing my hands against the ball in front of me, but being unable to, and continually toppling over, my body slamming and bouncing around my round, plastic prison, my sweaty skin sticking and sliding along the inside.

The excitement and anticipation my wife was feeling regarding this activity all but vanished the moment her respective hamster ball was zipped up. She felt her stomach drop, and started to wonder, before the leaf blower, or whatever, was attached to begin filling the ball with air, if this was how she was going to die—like, she was unable to get thoughts of her own mortality out of her head during the entirety of the time we were flailing around on the water. Rather than wondering how much time we had left of being stuck in the hamster balls before we could be done with this excursion, she wondered how much time she had left before she died.

Wendy, too, was hot, sweaty, and slippery within her floating, plastic prison, and in reflecting on these events, told me she was, “really fucking bad at walking on water,” and that hamsters are really talented for being able to do this kind of thing.

“I can remember walking a couple of steps, tipping forward, and then laughing and crying,” she continued. “It’s really menacing to hear the sound of your own heavy breathing and laughter.”

Also, after realizing just how difficult it was to do, Wendy preferred just sitting on the bottom of the hamster ball and floating—the temperature of the water made the bottom cool, and it was like floating in her own sphere where, in comparison to the frantic attempts to propel the ball forward, it was ‘okay.’

So why did we do this? Or, rather, why did my wife want to do this, and drag me along?

One of the reasons was that Wendy wants to like fairs—she has fond memories of going to fairs and carnivals as a child; but despite that (and, I mean, I have those too, though I stop short of saying fond memories), it should be fairly obvious that we are not ‘fair people.’

Another reason was an effort, on her part, for us to be spontaneous—but as she learned, and as I knew all along, nearly everything done in an effort to be spontaneous, or to do something unexpected, winds up being not as awesome as originally anticipated.

So what is the lesson here?

Is it never leave the house, or try anything out of your comfort zone? It seems a little extreme, but that’s, more or less, how I’ve lived a bulk of my life for the last seven or eight years; and even before that, I think I was never that interested in trying something new, or different.

In reflecting, my wife said that, despite how poorly this had all gone once we were zipped up in our human sized hamster balls and pushed out to drift and flounder on the water, she was proud of us for at least trying.

And, she added, now I have this story to tell.

 

1– I’m not joking when I say this; to begin with, I definitely overheard my boss refer to me as her ‘assistant’ on the phone once, then immediately caught herself, and looked up at me to see if I had noticed. Also, it seems worth noting that part of my job involved printing mailing labels to send out samples of the company’s product to prospective customers. She would send over an email with the addresses, and near the end of my time, she couldn’t even be bothered to put ‘labels please’ as the subject line. It became ‘lbls plz.’

2– About eight years ago, we went to an amusement park to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I reluctantly went, and paid the admission to the park, knowing full well I would just be standing at the end of every ride, holding people’s shit. My wife conned me into going on the Ferris Wheel, and I was pretty sure that I was going to die the entire time we were on it.

 

Kevin Krein has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones, since 2013, and he contributed the back page column to the Southern Minn Scene magazine for roughly three years. His writing has appeared on Bearded Gentlemen Music, Spectrum Culture, and in River Valley Woman. He is completely incapable of having a good time, and he often tweets about that: @KevEFly.

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