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FEARLESS MEMOIR: 'World's Fair' (Chapter 18)

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"World's Fair" is the raw and witty true story of a dysfunctional Southern family's harrowing motor-home roadtrip from South Carolina to the Montreal World's Fair in 1967 (aka "The Summer of Love"). Told from the point of view of the author -- who was 15 at the time -- this intimate coming-of-age story shines a bright light on the issues of alcoholism, adolescent sexual confusion, family violence and the universal need to love those who hurt us, despite their frailties.

Warning: Contains strong language; may not be suitable for all audiences.

CHAPTER 18: Through the Rabbit Hole

The rest of the afternoon started out better than it ended. Gee, Matthew and I headed off to go pavilion-hopping now that the two of them had quit arguing over which ones to see. We passed the Kaleidoscope and Kodak pavilions, but didn't go in either. We were wandering without any direction, simply taking in the experience, when we found ourselves within a group of pavilions from African countries. I tried to picture The African Queen with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, but couldn't get the right feeling.

So I thought of being in the jungle with Tarzan, swinging from vines and living in a treehouse. I loved Tarzan movies and had always wanted to go to the jungle and spend time with him. He was the perfect example of the older brother I had always wanted -- one who helps you when you are in trouble and always treats you nice. He was strong but also gentle, which made me weak in the knees. Anyway, it was while I was dreaming about being in the jungle with Tarzan that I turned around and found that there was no Gee or Matthew.

I was all alone.

And there was no Tarzan to rescue me.

I was in the midst of thousands of people, surrounded by buildings, surrounded by water, in a foreign country, near the North Pole, where I would freeze to death if I didn't find my family. To keep myself from panicking, I told myself that maybe I'd been transported into some new Alfred Hitchcock movie being filmed at Expo '67, and that I was the star. Or maybe I was guest-starring in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Alfred won out in my mind, so I imagined that I was in the middle of filming some additional shots for Torn Curtain, and that I needed to get to the U.S. Pavilion because I was escaping from East Germany. This thought lasted about a minute before terror reared its ugly head. This was no Alfred Hitchcock movie. It was an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I should have taken advantage of being on my own, but I wasn't only alone -- I felt lost. The only time I'd ever experienced my heart pounding in my chest was after running a long distance, but now I was standing still and it was about to burst out of my body. I could even feel it in my throat. I figured a cigarette might help, but my hands were soaking wet, as if I had washed but forgotten to dry them. And where would I get a cigarette? My feet refused to move; they were glued to the ground. I looked down at them and said out loud, "Move, damn it! Why won't you move?" But they wouldn't budge. It was at this moment that I realized I was terror-stricken -- gripped in the claws of fear.

Okay, so I was talking to myself. That's what I'd been told crazy people did. I was also flailing my hands to try and dry them. People walking by were pointing at me and whispering. And to top it all off, I was crying without crying out. Tears were rolling down my face into my open mouth, which was gasping for air as if I had been running, which was what I wanted so frantically to do -- to run away and hide. I felt numb, and then everything started spinning around. Actually, it was me spinning around as I dropped to the ground and into darkness.

When I opened my eyes I was no longer crying, my hands were dry, and my heart was beating normally. Nothing hurt. I took a deep breath. A few people were standing around looking down at me, so I smiled up at them, and they smiled back. My feet appeared to be working again, so I got up and started walking. The plan, as I now remembered, had been to meet back at the truck in the parking lot if we got lost. So that was where I went.

But I had forgotten where the truck and camper were parked. Holy shit. Idiot! What had I been told? "Remember the color." How could I be so stupid? I was 15 years old, not 14 -- old enough to drive; old enough to get a girl pregnant; old enough to remember where we'd parked only a few hours ago. Okay, so I had been in the camper and not in the truck, but that was no excuse.

As I passed blue and green signs, I got more confused. Just when I was about to start crying again, I remembered that "orange soda" was how I had thought to remember where we parked. Now, where the hell was orange? I couldn't find the signs that were orange to save my life. Aha! Of course: They were between the red and yellow signs, like in the rainbow.

I was on the verge of tears again when I saw a red sign but no orange. And then, way over, there was what looked like an orange sign. I all but ran to find out, and sure enough, it was orange. Now I was looking for a truck and camper. There shouldn't have been that many of them, but it seemed like there were more of them than cars. And they were all white. "Calm down," I told myself. "Don't cry. Tears don't make things appear. Keep walking and checking the campers." I tried not to cry because I knew that if someone saw me crying, I'd feel like the piece of shit the twins were always calling me. Not even warm shit but cold, dry, turned-white kind of shit.

There was absolutely no movie I knew of where the star searched a parking lot for his or her car (or camper, as the case may be). I so wanted to pretend to be someone other than myself, but my knowledge of movie history wasn't helping. So I concentrated on finding our camper and tried to ignore the sound of my Tretorn tennis shoes on the gravel as I crunched my way around the orange area of the huge Expo '67 parking lot.

I knew that I would be able to distinguish our camper from the others because I was positive it would be the only one with South Carolina license plates. I could have taken my mind off the ever-tightening fear by playing the license-plate game, but it seemed like cheating to be walking around a parking lot ticking off plates from different states. Besides, I knew that if I played the game, I might forget to actually look for our camper and pass it by. So I diligently crunched on.

Eureka! I never thought I would be so happy to see that tiny cramped camper. My smile was almost as large as the parking lot. And I hadn't cried. I was okay. But wait: No one else was there. We were supposed to meet back at the camper if anyone got lost. So where was everyone? What if they'd already come back, and it had taken me so long to find the camper that they'd left? Shit. Fuck. I was still alone, in an ocean of automobiles, on the verge of tears. And wouldn't you know it. The goddamn truck was locked.

But of course -- we had left a key behind! I didn't want anyone to see me retrieve it, but someone may have been secretly watching. There could be spies anywhere. I had passed the Cuban pavilion and remembered the missiles and President Kennedy keeping America safe. The Cubans could have spies in the parking lot, and they would steal our truck and drive it into the United States. After circling the truck once, I reached the gas-tank flap, and with my hands behind my back I opened it slowly. I didn't see anyone watching, so I turned... and there was the key, resting peacefully and waiting for my hungry hands to snatch it. I may have been lost and alone, but I was finally in the truck.

Once I had calmed down, I had to fart. And the fart that I'd thought was only gas contained a little ball of shit. It snuck through and was resting peacefully between my butt cheeks. So on top of everything else, I had to take a dump. I urgently needed to get inside the camper to the toilet we weren't supposed to use except in an emergency (like now). But the truck key didn't unlock the camper door. I figured I could go beside the truck, but what was I going to wipe with, and what if someone came up and saw me? Could I get arrested? What if I got thrown into jail in Canada? Would they let me make one phone call? Probably not. I would be stuck in jail for the rest of my life, which was going to be a hell of a long time. Those dirt floors and concrete walls and ratty mattresses with no sheets didn't sound like fun. Did they even have a place where I could pee and shit? I didn't remember seeing a toilet in the jail cells on TV. What if the prisons in Canada were like the ones in Hogan's Heroes or The Great Escape? That was it: I'd escape if I was thrown in jail. Maybe I'd die trying, but they couldn't keep me behind bars. "Set me free why don't you babe." Oh, shit, I needed to get inside the camper to take care of business.

Staring right at me the whole time was the passageway between the truck and the camper -- my escape hatch. Sure it was small, but it was big enough to pass a glass and plate through. I was the skinny weakling on the beach like in the Bazooka bubble gum wrappers, the kid with sand all over him because the muscled guy had kicked it on him.

I figured that if I could get my shoulders through, the rest of me should be able to make it. I didn't have an ass to speak of -- it was totally flat. And my hips were all but nonexistent. So I went for it. I lifted the flap and stuck my head in sideways, because the opening was wider than it was tall. But my shoulders didn't want to follow. They were too wide. So I slunk back into the truck and lay on the seat feeling that tiny ball of shit smearing all over my ass cheeks.

I kept reaching up to pull the imaginary string on the light bulb that was perilously perched above my head. You know -- like in those cartoons where the light bulb over the cartoon character's head goes off when he has a bright idea. Then it hit me: What if I put my hands through first? Or I could try one hand in and the other behind so my shoulders would go in at an angle... So I stuck both hands through. Even before my head started to enter, my hands had pushed the flap inside the camper. I was so close I could almost smell the toilet -- not necessarily a pleasant thought.

It was tight, but my head and arms were squeezing through. I started pushing against the dashboard with my legs, and sure enough, I was making it. "Push!" God it was tight. My head and shoulders were in the passageway together, and my nose was getting scrunched into my armpit. I could smell my deodorant through my shirt. "Push some more. Keep pushing!" Suddenly there was a ripping sound and I realized my shirt was tearing. "Fuck it. Push!"

What if I got stuck? What if I died stuck in the passageway? I'd be the laughing stock of my school because I was sure I'd have shit all over myself if I died in that fucking rabbit hole. "Push, goddamn it! PUSH! PUSH!"

And my shoulders were through. I could push now, at least with my elbows against the wall, since my feet no longer reached the dashboard. It was tight, but I was confident I was going to make it. So what if my shirt was continuing to rip. I was going to make it!

I kept shimmying and pushing with my elbows. When I was further through I used my hands, all the time leaving more and more of my shirt behind. But I kept moving inch by inch. And then I hit my hips and butt. This was not going to be easy. I wasn't very strong. My legs were stronger than my arms, but my legs were useless now. "Push! Push! Push! PUSH! PUSH!"

I was truly stuck. I wasn't moving. I was going to lose my shirt and my shit, literally, in the cab of the truck, all over the seat, and no one would want to pull me back through. For the life of me I couldn't figure out why I had gotten stuck. Was my shredded shirt bunched up and stopping me? There I was, half-naked, trapped and with shit between my cheeks. I broke down and cried. Tears rolled down my face; snot filled my nose and began to drip out, and I had no shirtsleeve to wipe it with. How could I have done this to myself?! Now they were going to have to cut me out. I couldn't even push myself back out because there was nothing to grab hold of to push against. I tried screaming, pounding my fists on the floor, pulling my hair, and making a mess of myself.

Oh, god! What if I had a heart attack? It could happen. Now I was not only crying but fitfully crying and in a panic. This is what my life had come to. I would never be a Broadway star or in the movies. I was doomed.

And then I got mad. I couldn't go this way. With all my might, I gave a huge push and I moved. Maybe I could do this after all. I tried again, and sure enough, I moved some more. Not much, but a little. And a little was a hell of a lot better than not at all. I pushed again, and again I moved. I moved! I kept moving a fraction at a time. I was moving, and crying, and laughing, and pushing, and screaming.

Then I stopped moving. I figured out that the stuff in my pockets was catching on the truck side of the entry to the passageway. What the fuck did I have in my pockets? I tried to wiggle so things would move, but there was no wiggle room. Well, it didn't take long before I got mad as hell and began to push and move again. There was another tearing sound and I realized that I was ripping my pants. I didn't care. I needed to get through the passageway even if I did come out the other side naked as the day I was born. I don't know what it was about those tears, my anger, that high level of panic, but they all seemed to work in tandem to grease the passageway and I slipped through. Finally!

I was exhausted. Lying on the floor of the camper in nothing but my ripped pants and my dirty tennis shoes, I was too tired even to laugh. But a satisfied smile crossed my face. Too pooped to poop. But poop I did as soon as I could get the strength to stand and walk to the toilet. And wouldn't you know it: little, hard turd balls. Not even a decent dump. A deep breath and an audible sigh and I felt better. I was still alone, in a huge parking lot, but I felt safe inside that camper. I felt like I was home. I could sleep. I did sleep.

I had no idea how bad things would be when I awoke.

COMING UP IN CHAPTER 19: A lost wallet... a rare laugh... waiting in the parking lot for Daddy.

Want to read "World's Fair" from the beginning? Click here and start with "Prologue, Part 1."

For more on becoming fearless, click here.